COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After months of all but ignoring Bob Dole, President Clinton unleashed a barrage of barbs yesterday when confronted by hecklers supporting his Republican challenger.
"I would be screaming, too, if I wanted a country that took Head Start and Big Bird away from 5-year-olds, school lunches away from 10-year-olds, summer jobs away from 15-year-olds and college loans away from 20-year-olds," Clinton said without showing a hint of his famed temper. "I might be screaming, too.
"We are not afraid of honest discussion and debate, so we don't have to shout our opponents down," he told several thousand students at Ohio State University. "But I might be screaming if I had that kind of record -- either that, or running and looking for a rock to hide behind."
His attack on Dole referred to the 1995 Republican budget, which the president vetoed. The GOP Congress would have raised borrowing costs for college students and cut summer jobs for teen-agers. But on other points, Republicans backed down even before they finished their budget.
Head Start would not have been cut. Proposals to end subsidies for public television got shelved. And a drive to replace the federal school lunch program with grants to the states was dropped amid public outcry. Dole was a key player in the budget process, but the plan had many co-authors.
At Ohio State, Clinton was interrupted repeatedly by pro-Dole chants that echoed through a cavernous arena. Clinton shot back by suggesting the Republican had done little for his vocal supporters or their classmates.
"They must not have any student loans. Senator Dole voted against creating the student loan program," Clinton said, as the crowd roared approval. "They must not be in the direct loan program, which gives you the right to pay your loan back as a percentage of your income, because Senator Dole led the fight against the direct loan program."
The exchange shifted the spotlight away from Clinton's attempt one week before Election Day to continue laying out proposals for a second term.
His message yesterday, delivered here and later in the day at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, centered on education, and offered the kind of small, noncontroversial proposals that have marked the president's quest for re-election.
This time, Clinton called for states and communities to publish "report cards" on public schools, appraisals that parents could use to decide where they wanted to place their children.
Clinton also renewed a call to improve academic standards.
"We have to raise standards, define them, expect them and measure them and hold people accountable," he told more than 10,000 on a field in Philadelphia.
The heckler-induced distraction from his main agenda didn't seem to bother Clinton, who later told an aide, "We got some juice in the audience. That was great."
Pub Date: 10/30/96