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Liberals Stand Behind Clinton

Politics: Jackson, other convention speakers decry welfare reforms but call on fight for president's reelection.

August 28, 1996|JOHN M. BRODER and PAUL RICHTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

CHICAGO — Touching on a fissure that divides their party, leading liberal Democrats--including the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson--expressed disdain Tuesday for President Clinton's compromise with Republicans on welfare reform but told delegates to the national convention that they must fight for Clinton's reelection.

Jackson, echoing recent comments from other liberals gathered here for Clinton's renomination, endorsed the president and spared him the kind of harsh criticism that would have roiled the celebration of party unity or embarrassed Clinton in a highly visible campaign forum.

"The last time we gathered in Chicago," the preacher, activist and two-time presidential candidate said in prepared remarks, "high winds ripped our tent apart. We could not bridge the gap. We lost to [Richard] Nixon by the margin of our despair.

"In 1968, the tension within our party was over warfare. In 1996, it's welfare," Jackson said. "Last week, over the objections of many Democratic Party leaders and the opposition of millions of Americans, Franklin Roosevelt's six-decade guarantee of support for women and children was abandoned. On this issue, many of us differ with the president."

However, Jackson said, while Clinton's reelection may seem unpalatable because of his concessions to reduce benefits to the poor, it is necessary to defend against worse evils from the Republican Congress.

"Sometimes," Jackson said, "you have to play good defense before you get back on offense. . . . President Clinton has been our first line of defense against the Newt Gingrich contract [with America]; America's right-wing assault on elderly, our students and our civil rights. . . . We must reelect the president and take back the Congress and stop the right-wing train in its track."

"In 1996, Bill Clinton is our best option. The cross is on his shoulders," he concluded.

Much of the convention's second day was given over to speakers representing the party's liberal wing. In addition to Jackson, they included former New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and abortion-rights activist Kate Michelman.

As these voices of a philosophy that Clinton has sought to subordinate were given the convention platform, White House officials announced new multibillion-dollar programs aimed at assuaging their concerns and their constituencies.

In the convention's two final days, party leaders will shift the focus to issues and speakers that underscore the president's top-priority effort to appeal to moderates and the middle class.

At a stop in Wyandotte, Mich., on his four-day train journey to Chicago, Clinton announced a $1.75-billion program to improve reading skills among schoolchildren. Later in the day, aides outlined a $3.4-billion program of assistance to cities to soften the blow of the welfare reform bill the president signed last week. They also previewed a $1.9-billion environmental initiative that Clinton will announce today to speed the cleanup of polluted industrial sites.

The convention's evening schedule was revised several times during the day Tuesday to assure that the overall message of Democratic moderation and devotion to mainstream values would dominate the prime-time hour carried live by the television networks.

Dodd Touts Diversity

The Democratic Party chairman, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, said that Jackson and Cuomo were invited to speak to demonstrate that the party does not stifle dissent. He drew a distinction with Republicans, who he said stacked their convention to showcase only moderates and vetted every speech to assure that it toed the party line.

"No one's going to be telling either one of them [Jackson and Cuomo] what to say. . . . We're not afraid of having somebody stand at the podium and express a different view." He said he expected Jackson to criticize Clinton's decision to sign the Republicans' welfare reform plan.

The final televised hour was to feature addresses by Tipper Gore, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and the keynote speaker, the young governor of conservative Indiana, Evan Bayh--who has been labeled a "Republicrat" by more liberal Democrats.

Bayh used his moment in the national spotlight to extol the president's efforts to preserve the values of the heartland.

"They are the values that President Clinton has worked to restore to meet the challenges of our time: opportunity for all Americans; responsibility from all Americans, and a sense of community among all Americans," the boyish Bayh said in prepared remarks. "But we must go beyond these historic gains because our progress has yet to touch all Americans. In quiet corners across our country, families still struggle to pay the mortgage, save for college, make ends meet."

He praised Clinton's signing of the welfare reform bill, saying it mirrored efforts that had been successful in Indiana in moving welfare recipients into jobs. "And, thanks to this president, we did it without orphanages or cutting health care or food."

Emphasis on Families

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