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The Clintons Tag Team Bush on Record, Campaign

August 30, 2004|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The first lady of New York politics and her husband, the former president of the United States, offered a blunt-spoken welcome Sunday to President Bush and the Republicans flocking here to nominate him for a second term in the White House.

It wasn't quite a Bronx cheer, but it was more prickly than polite.

Republicans are staging "sort of a bait-and-switch convention" and waging "a pathetic campaign," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

She made the rounds of Sunday morning chat shows, then her husband, former President Clinton, spoke at a church in Harlem. He contended that the GOP was "putting on its once-every-four-years compassionate face" and smearing Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry with lies about his Vietnam War record.

Asked about the his-and-her Bush bashing, a GOP official noted that Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, avoided partisanship during last month's Democratic National Convention in Boston.

"It's unfortunate that members of the New York congressional delegation are not following his lead," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

At the interfaith Riverside Church in Harlem, Clinton delivered a low-key but passionate denunciation of Bush and the campaign he has waged for reelection.

"Sometimes I think our friends on the other side have become the people of nine commandments," Clinton said, suggesting Republicans were ignoring the biblical injunction against bearing false witness by attacking Kerry's military service in Vietnam.

Rodham Clinton used a pulpit of a different sort to accuse Bush of stinting on money that New York needs to guard against terrorism and betraying the temperate image he put forth in the 2000 presidential campaign.

"You know, back in 2000, people didn't have any experience," Rodham Clinton said on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopolous."

"The governor from Texas said, you know, 'I want to be a uniter,' and he's run one of the most divisive administrations in our country's history," Rodham Clinton said. "He was going to be compassionate and conservative; he's been neither."

On CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer," Rodham Clinton accused the GOP of talking "about things that they are ... not really committed to."

In Harlem, her husband picked up where the senator left off.

Together, the Clintons strode into Riverside Church, drawing prolonged cheers and a standing ovation from the interracial audience of several hundred worshipers. Any doubts about the prevailing political sentiment was dispelled by the sermon of the Rev. Dr. Thomas L. Stiers, who began by condemning the "very sad war in Iraq that's bogged us down in chaos."

The former president spoke before a backdrop of soaring stained-glass windows and intricately carved stonework. His tone was conversational and laced with references to the Bible.

He suggested the federal money that could have been used to better fortify New York for this week's convention was squandered on people such as himself -- a millionaire, thanks to his new autobiography -- who did not need the tax breaks.

His voice echoing inside the cavernous cathedral, Clinton took aim at Bush by recalling the attacks his campaign waged against Sen. John McCain of Arizona during the 2000 GOP primary.

"Now the same things happened with this Swift boat ad," Clinton said, referring to the controversial spot run by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an independent group of Vietnam veterans, that made unproven charges that Kerry lied to earn his medals for bravery in Vietnam.

"We have values too, those of us who respectfully disagree," Clinton said of Democrats. "And we believe God redeemed us too."

A spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, Christine Iverson, responded by saying, "John Kerry's Democratic Party today is far to the left of the party Clinton led in 1992."

She said that was why Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, the keynote speaker 12 years ago at Clinton's nominating convention in New York, will appear on Bush's behalf this week.

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