President Bush swept across the South on Saturday, vowing to stake his reelection campaign against Democrat Bill Clinton on the question of “trust.”
With his rain-soaked shirt plastered to his torso at a rousing small-town rally here, Bush urged voters to “Tell Gov. Clinton and that gridlocked Congress, if you can’t run with the big dogs, stay under the porch.”
“For the next 73 days, I’m going to ask the American people: Who do you trust to bring it all home?” Bush vowed. “Foreign policy. Security policy. And economic policy. Who do you trust?”
Before Bush spoke, as if to intensify the attack on the issue of trust, a key Republican surrogate charged that Clinton and his running mate harbored “weird” cultural values.
Introducing Bush to a rousing rally here, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) drew a link between the party’s platform and the much-publicized case of filmmaker Woody Allen, who has acknowledged having an affair with the adoptive daughter of his longtime lover, Mia Farrow.
Seizing on apparently innocuous language in the Democratic document, which he called “the Woody Allen plank,” Gingrich quoted it as saying “Governments don’t raise children. People do.” He added “Our answer to that is, ‘Wrong. Families raise children.’ ”
He suggested that the Democratic approach encouraged unorthodox family structures and was consistent with the proposition that “Woody Allen is not having incest with his non-daughter for whom he has been a non-father because they have a non-family.”
“If the Democrats used the word ‘family’ to raise children . . . ,” Gingrich told a crowd of 15,000 Bush supporters, “half the party would have rebelled and the other half wouldn’t have voted.”
Clinton campaign press secretary Avis LaVelle responded: “What does Woody Allen have to do with presidential politics? This is just another one of those issues--just like they used Willie Horton--to try to distract the American public from what’s really important.”
Gingrich delivered his remarks before Bush arrived, but the White House did not itself from his comments.
“It’s a free country,” White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said. “He can say what he wants. The President is running for President.”
The attack served as a harsh symbol of the ever more combative nature of what new polls show to be a suddenly competitive campaign.
As Bush himself sought to maintain his post-convention momentum, he complained to an evangelical audience in Dallas later Saturday that Democrat’s platform had made no mention of three crucial letters: “G-O-D.”
“When I speak of family values, of restoring a little moral and religious fiber to our nation’s diets, my opponents accuse me of mouthing slogans,” he told National Affairs Briefing, the religious group. He said that while “some want us to get away from that . . . I simply cannot do it.”
The President himself has avoided personal attacks throughout the campaign. But his carefully chosen language about the issue of trust, delivered before the biggest crowds of his campaign here and at a rally in Hoover, Ala., was clearly intended, at least in part, to to resurrect voter’s concerns about Clinton’s personal conduct.
At last week’s convention in Houston, some Republican delegates carried professionally printed signs alluding to allegations that Clinton had engaged in extramarital affairs. “If Hillary Can’t Trust Him, How Can We?” the placards read.
Clinton sought this weekend to return the Republican fire by challenging the credibility of Bush’s economic promises, noting that the President has declined to detail how we would fulfill his pledge to cut both taxes and spending.
Bush campaign chairman Robert M. Teeter said again Saturday that Bush would not provide such specifics until after the November election. And Bush, even while drenched here by a summer rain, seemed only to intensify an attack in which he has portrayed his rival as a reckless tax-and-spender.
Winning cheers and boos on cue, Bush asked voters at both rallies to compare his new plan for tax-checkoff--allowing voters to dedicate up to 10% of their tax dollars to deficit-reduction-- with Clinton’s calls for increases in taxes and spending.
“If Congress won’t cut the spending, the people of America will,” Bush proclaimed. He charged that the Clinton plan included $150 billion in new taxes and $220 billion in new spending and said bluntly: “We cannot have that.”
In contrasting his tax-checkoff plan with the approach taken by Clinton and Gore, Bush also suggested that the Democrats had paid too little heed to the federal budget deficit. “They think the deficit is a big game of Wheel of Fortune,” he said. “You know what happens when they want to buy three vowels: I-O-U.”
Clinton has dismissed such tactics as scare mongering, and noted that the Bush analysis ignores some of his proposed tax cuts. But Mitchell, the Bush spokesman offered no apology for raising what he said were “legitimate differences” between the two proposals.
If the Clinton plan had left voters “fearful,” Mitchell added, “that’s probably for a good reason.”
The White House seemed fortified in its hard-line by the Los Angeles Times Poll and other new surveys adding to evidence that the convention had helped Bush to narrow the gap with Clinton.
With the Times Poll showing Bush having closed from 23 points to 8 points behind Clinton in the wake of the convention, spokesman Marlin Fitzwater proclaimed: “The polls look very good.” Teeter, the campaign chairman, added: “You got what you wanted after the convention.”
Some White House and campaign aides, however, appeared discomfited by the bombastic nature of the attack delivered by Gingrich before the rally here.
The passage of the Democratic platform he singled out as a sign of support for a Woody Allen lifestyle reads in its entirety: “Governments don’t raise children, people do. People who bring children into this world have a responsibility to care for them, and to give them values, motivation and discipline. Children shouldn’t have children.”
Not only did Gingrich link the Democrats to Woody Allen, but he also went to convoluted lengths to mock Clinton and Gore personally for words and deeds he said had “gone beyond radical.”
The Georgia congressman noted that Clinton, in an appearance before a youthful audience on MTV, had said that his statement that he “didn’t inhale” marijuana had gotten so much negative attention that it made him sometimes wish that he had inhaled.
Gingrich, who nearly lost a primary race last month after he was attacked for writing dozens of checks on the House bank with insufficient funds, charged that Clinton had “told the kids it was all right to inhale” because “he has a deep psychological need to pander to the worst instincts of whatever group he’s in front of.” He called the statement “the single most destructive action by a politician in my lifetime.”
Gingrich also charged that Clinton’s running mate, Albert Gore, applies an environmentalist’s standards to American culture.
He said that a recent book by Gore had characterized both the United States and Nazi Germany as among “dysfunctional societies,” and included as evidence of the nation’s problems “artificial flowers, Astroturf, air conditioning, windows that don’t open, and the final killer: frozen dinner for microwave ovens.”
“When the vice presidential candidate of a major party thinks that every time you walk through the frozen-food section of a grocery store that it’s like Gestapoism in Nazi Germany,” Gingrich said, “that is absolutely weird.”