Mrs. Clinton rocks hall with reply to critics Ovation for appearance lasts almost 5 minutes; DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION; CAMPAIGN 1996


CHICAGO -- With supreme self-possession, an air of quiet defiance and a touch of humor, Hillary Rodham Clinton stood up to her Republican critics last night, and presented herself to the American public -- and an adoring convention audience -- as a caring, passionate advocate for families.

As the controversial first lady stepped up to the podium here in her hometown, the convention hall exploded in a volcanic ovation -- with the crowd waving "Welcome Home Hillary" signs, chanting and stomping their feet -- that lasted four minutes and appeared to deeply touch Mrs. Clinton.

"I'm overwhelmed by your warm welcome. I know and you now know that Chicago is my kind of town and Chicago is my kind of village," she said in a reference to her book, "It Takes a Village."

Seeking to persuade the American public to give her a second look and see her as a caring children's advocate rather than as an intrusive and deceitful policy-making spouse, Mrs. Clinton -- one of the most polarizing and fiercely attacked first ladies in modern times -- spoke about parents and children, offering personal examples from her own life.

Mrs. Clinton's performance provided a stark contrast with Elizabeth H. Dole's unusual, Oprah-esque convention speech to the GOP in which she wandered onto the floor of the hall to offer personal testimony about, as she said, "the man I love," and won rave reviews.

No less polished or articulate, Mrs. Clinton, dressed in a bright turquoise suit, instead stood at the podium and confined her remarks to topics traditionally embraced by first ladies. She spoke of her husband's achievements in passing bills that she said made life easier for parents and families, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Mrs. Clinton's performance last night afforded her the largest, perhaps most important, audience since January 1992, when she was introduced to much of the nation, sitting by her husband's side on "60 Minutes," defending him against charges of infidelity. Although she did not mention Bob Dole by name, Mrs. Clinton shot back at his recent attack on her book. In his acceptance speech at the GOP convention, Dole said it takes a "family," not a village, to raise a child, suggesting the first lady was advocating some sort of socialist idea.

"Of course, parents, first and foremost, are responsible for their children," she said. "But 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," she said.

Referring to her daughter, Chelsea, she said that no experience had been "more challenging, more rewarding or more humbling" for her and her husband than raising their daughter."

"It takes a family. It takes teachers. It takes clergy. It takes business people. It takes all of us. And yes, it takes a village," she said, bringing the crowd to a roar.

"And it takes a president."

Although she mostly avoided references to past controversies, Mrs. Clinton didn't duck health care reform, an issue that became a lightning rod for criticism after she was given a lead policy-making role early in the administration.

She spoke of the emotional toll on parents whose children are seriously ill and are worried about paying the medical bills.

"That's why my husband always felt all American families should have affordable health insurance," she said to more cheers.

Attempting to erase sour impressions of her, Mrs. Clinton opened her 20-minute speech with a few laugh lines.

She said many of her friends had given her advice on her speech, one of them suggesting she cut her hair and color it orange and then change her name to Hillary RODMAN Clinton, a reference to the flamboyant Chicago Bulls player Dennis Rodman.

In a last-minute scheduling rearrangement yesterday, Mrs. Clinton's speech was moved up to guarantee that it would be showcased, in its entirety, in prime time. Originally scheduled to be the evening's final speaker, the first lady was moved up about a half-hour, leaving keynote speaker Evan Bayh to close the proceedings.

Mrs. Clinton was preceded last night by Tipper Gore, wife of Vice President Al Gore, who introduced Mrs. Clinton as a woman who always maintains her dignity and humor "even while being subjected to unimaginable incivility."

Pub Date: 8/28/96

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