CHICAGO -- Hometown girl Hillary Rodham Clinton received a hero's welcome at the Democratic convention on a day when the president's campaign highlighted themes of family and education.
She defended the first lady as "a woman who always maintains her grace, dignity and humor, even while being subjected to unimaginable incivility."
As Mrs. Clinton stepped onstage, the convention floor erupted in a thunderous roar and a sea of waving signs reading "Welcome Home Hillary."
"I'm overwhelmed by your warm welcome" she said, as the delegates stomped and cheered in the most enthusiastic demonstration at the convention thus far.
The earsplitting reception for Mrs. Clinton, who grew up in a Republican household in nearby Park Ridge, Ill., lasted four minutes.
"Chicago is my kind of village," she began, setting the tone for a 20-minute address that was a pointed response to Republican nominee Bob Dole, without mentioning him by name.
In his acceptance speech at the GOP convention this month, Dole acidly criticized Mrs. Clinton's book about child-rearing, "It Takes A Village," suggesting that it was somehow anti-family.
"We are all responsible for ensuring that children are raised in a nation that doesn't just talk about family values but acts in ways that values families," said Mrs. Clinton, who appeared confident and spoke in a deliberate manner.
"Yes, it takes a village. And it takes a president.
"It takes a president who believes not only in the potential of his own child but of all children, who believes not only in the strength of his own family but of the American family, who believes not only in the promise of each of us as individuals but in our promise together as a nation.
"It takes a president who not only holds these beliefs but acts on them. It takes Bill Clinton."
In a last-minute scheduling shift, her appearance was moved up from the closing spot on the program, which was then given to the convention keynote speaker, Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh.
The change did not prevent Mrs. Clinton from overshadowing Bayh, whose 12-minute address was given before a largely empty United Center, with little audience reaction.
Delivering the most important speech of her life, Mrs. Clinton did not dodge the issue of health care.
After noting that a new health insurance measure recently signed into law by her husband contains some of the provisions of the failed reform plan she spearheaded, she said the "next step" was guaranteed health insurance for the unemployed and affordable coverage for the working poor.
She also praised administration-supported efforts to prevent hospitals from forcing new mothers to leave the hospital within 24 hours after giving birth and proposals that would require employers to give workers time off to attend to personal needs, including doctor's appointments and parent-teacher conferences.
The first lady's focus on family and children -- part of an effort to soften her image and counter attacks on her by Republicans -- was echoed yesterday by the president, when he announced a $2.75 billion literacy initiative during a campaign stop in Michigan.
Clinton, whose campaign train arrives in Chicago today, will be formally renominated, without opposition, at tonight's session.
Last night, two spellbinding old-style Democrats, Jesse L. Jackson and Mario M. Cuomo, deviated from the convention's carefully written centrist script, metaphorically wrapping their arms around the president while at the same time delivering a call for a return to the liberalism that Clinton has moved away from in the second half of his term.
Cuomo and Jackson, who were shunted into early evening speaking slots, before the major TV networks began their convention coverage, repeated their opposition to Clinton's decision to sign a Republican welfare reform measure.
Jackson pointed out that he had demonstrated outside the White House this summer to dramatize his displeasure.
But they argued that Clinton's re-election -- and regaining Democratic control of Congress in this fall's election -- are the only ways to repair the damage they fear the new welfare law would produce.
Cuomo went a step further, arguing that Clinton's rebound in the polls over the past two years was paving the way for a comeback by the party's liberal wing, its most loyal supporters.
"We are free, once again, to be Democrats, progressive, constructive Democrats," said the former New York governor, who was unseated in 1994. "And we are ready now to continue the work of restoring the American dream that was invented by Democrats six decades ago."
To cheers of approval from the delegates, Cuomo called for an ambitious agenda of government activism -- job creation, health insurance reform, more day care, additional spending for schools and government promotion of high-speed computer networks.
"President Clinton, with the help of a Democratic Congress, can do for education what President John Kennedy did for space," he said.
Cuomo said, "The radical right and the rabid revolutionaries led by [House Speaker] Newt Gingrich drove Democrats out of power. It was a low point in our modern history as a party.
"Now, less than two years later, most of America believes that Bill Clinton and his incomparable vice president, Al Gore, will win the election," he said to loud cheers.
Jackson, who was introduced by his son, Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. of Illinois, noted that the 60-year-old guarantee of federal welfare payments to poor women, begun during Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, had been "abandoned" by Clinton.
But, he added, in the longest speech of the night, Democrats "are mature enough to differ without splitting."
Clinton, he said, deserves four more years because he is "the best option" and "our first line of defense" against Gingrich.
Jackson also held out hope that Clinton might be persuaded to shift to the left in a second term, despite the centrist tone of his campaign.
The civil rights leader mentioned other presidents, including FDR, who turned out to be more liberal than their campaigns had made them.
"When we the people coalesce with an enlightened president, we can change America for the better," said Jackson, who left the stage to chants of "keep the faith."
The speeches by Jackson and Cuomo, who reprised the America-as-family theme from his keynote speech that electrified the 1984 convention, stood in sharp contrast to the brief address of the Indiana governor.
Bayh's keynote speech included a long recitation of the positive economic statistics that Clinton touts in his campaign speeches.
The 40-year-old governor, who has cut welfare rolls in his state and is regarded as one of the party's rising stars, attacked the Dole tax cut plan in the same terms as Clinton often does, calling it "too expensive."
"It will explode the deficit, raise interest rates, slow the economy and still require deeper cuts in the things we care about," he said.
Many of the speakers last night singled out Gingrich and the Republican Congress for verbal abuse, while avoiding personal attacks on Dole.
Georgia Gov. Zell Miller, a keynoter four years ago, delivered one of the sharpest assaults on the GOP nominee, without mentioning his name.
"We Democrats are justified in being proud of our platform," he said, moments before the delegates unanimously approved that document. "The Republicans are justified in being ashamed of theirs.
"They talk a lot about shame, the Republicans. Yet they see no shame in criticizing movies they have not seen, songs they have not heard, books they have not read and a first family they cannot match. All in the name of a platform they will not even admit they've read."
Like speakers at this month's Republican convention, most of the Democrats kept their remarks short for a national audience thought to have a brief attention span for politics.
In continuing the Clinton celebration that began Monday, convention producers began the evening session with a video tribute to the president, which included scenes from throughout his life. Delegates cheered his image.
Hours earlier, before a nearly empty convention hall, the party made good on its promise to allow anti-abortion remarks from the podium. Rep. Tony P. Hall of Ohio, said that as "a prolife Democrat" he had "felt left out" in recent years.
Pub Date: 8/28/96