Clinton Disputes Republicans on Family Values
Delicately navigating through days of volatile polls that have shown a surge for President Bush, Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton sought Sunday to steal the Republican campaign theme of family values as well as to disparage the GOP version of it.
The Democratic strategy actually took two forms during the last of three days on a Northeast bus tour, with candidate Bill Clinton lashing out at his opponents while his wife, Hillary, gave a poignant description of the modern issues facing children and working mothers.
“It’s a difficult journey we’re on,” Hillary Clinton told a crowd of more than 13,000 people in this resort town where a seminar on the American family is under way. “It is hard for both men and women to know how to fully define themselves in this new world.”
Mrs. Clinton, who was the target last week of attacks by Republican leaders who questioned her dedication to motherhood while she sought a career, quoted a recent letter by Roman Catholic bishops on the cooperation needed between government and families to support children.
“Our children’s future is shaped both by the values of their parents and the policies of our nation,” she said. About her own childhood, she said: “As a little girl, my family always told me I was special and they also told me that, you may be a girl, but you can do anything you want.” In his remarks, the Democratic nominee also offered a caring view of family issues. But he lamented the distortions about the problems caused by the presidential campaign.
“The tone of the family values debate is too polarized for short-term political gain,” he said. “We can’t just yell at each other across a large divide. . . . Unless we lift all of our people up, we’re all going to be dragged down.”
But in a stinging attack Sunday, Clinton also added fuel to the sharpest exchanges of the campaign by charging that Republicans have used the issue of family values to distract voters from the poor economy and to improperly impose a moral standard for political inclusion.
"(President) Bush is promoting an atmosphere of intolerance in this country,” Clinton said Sunday morning after leaving a church service in Erie, Pa. “He has basically said: Unless you believe in the Republican platform, you don’t believe in God and you’re not really an American. . . .
“The implications he has made that Democrats are somehow Godless are deeply offensive to me, to Sen. (Al) Gore, and all of us who cherish our religious traditions but also respect America’s tradition of religious diversity.”
Several recent polls have shown the Democrats holding a lead over Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle in the high single digits, well under their lead before the Republican National Convention. Clinton strategists now are trying to gauge which way the surveys are heading and how best to influence their course.
If the Republicans’ surge is transitory, as some believe, the Democrats could inhibit a natural return to their previous double-digit lead by appearing too negative. But if there is a trend toward the GOP, Democrats want to check it fast.
The Democratic attack had cooled on Saturday. But Sunday, it erupted again when the Arkansas governor responded to Georgia Rep. Newt Gingrich’s comment Saturday that the lifestyle of film director Woody Allen is consistent with policies in the Democratic platform.
“That remark by Gingrich was off the wall and out of line and, you know, he just has no shame,” Clinton said.
While the White House sought to distance itself from low-ball politics, Clinton insisted that Bush should be held personally responsible. Gingrich “was speaking for him (Bush) and he picked him to speak,” Clinton said.
Clinton had complained Friday that Republicans have distorted his proposals for economic recovery. And he has continued to charge that Bush and assorted surrogates have focused their attention on social issues like family values to distract voters from their poor record on the economy.
“They’re concerned because we have transformed our party,” Clinton said. “It’s now a pro-economic growth, pro-environment, pro-family party. And since they can’t defend their record or their proposals, they have to hit us with an off-the-wall attack.”
The Democrat’s bus trip has been blessed with large and enthusiastic crowds throughout its three days, which ended Sunday evening in Buffalo, N.Y.
A crowd of nearly 1,000 people waited until after midnight at a highway rest stop for a brief glimpse of Clinton, who was more than three hours late. The nearest town was miles away--and it is solidly Republican.
While political campaigns are adept at manufacturing positive images for their candidates, this one clearly was not faked.
“Nobody has done this in years--go out to the rural areas. We had to come and see it,” said Bob Cunningham, a 78-year-old retired dairy farmer with a shock of black hair and a sense of humor.
“She is a good-looking gal, isn’t she?” Cunningham said when Sen. Al Gore’s wife, Mary Elizabeth (Tipper), stepped from the bus. “My wife says if I go blind, I might as well die.”
One hour later on the bus tour, another 5,000 people were waiting outside the candidates’ hotel. Clinton and Gore didn’t finish shaking hands until after 2 a.m.
“I know why you’re here,” Clinton said. “You want your country back.”
The Great Lakes bus trip began in Cleveland Friday, hoping to focus attention back to the Democratic ticket after four days of Republican news from the GOP convention in Houston.
There was another motive: to convince voters in states that have been decisive for Republican presidents to consider the two newcomers.
The Clinton entourage traveled through Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Sharp union-management conflicts have translated into strong Republican-Democrat competitions in both Ohio and Pennsylvania. Ohio is the only major state to have had a Republican-controlled House delegation most of the last 40 years, yet it has not elected a GOP senator since the early 1970s.
Pennsylvania has cast a majority for the winning presidential candidate in all but one election since 1960.
Along with New York, where the campaign bus tour ended in a Democratic enclave in a Republican upstate area, the candidates reached voters in states representing more than 77 electoral votes, nearly a third of those needed to win.