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Clinton: 'Keep this prosperity going'

By SARA FRITZ

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 15, 2000


LOS ANGELES -- Despite his own moral lapses, President Clinton believes his stewardship over the past eight years has produced "a better country -- more tolerant, more decent, more humane, more united."

That was the way the president chose to sum up his record Monday night in his farewell speech to the Democratic National Convention. That was his answer to Republican allegations that his own moral failures cheapened the presidency and brought disgrace to the country.

"Our progress is about far more than economics," Clinton said. "America is more confident, hopeful and just, more secure and free, because we offered a vision and worked together."

Clinton's speech likely disappointed those who hoped he would use the opportunity to apologize to the nation for the pain it suffered as a result of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and to absolve his vice president, Al Gore, from any of the blame.

Some Democrats had hoped he would use this occasion to deliver the speech he failed to give on Aug. 17, 1998, when he went on nationwide television and defended himself against allegations that he lied under oath about his relationship to Lewinsky.

His speech on that night two years ago was defiant, not apologetic. On Monday night, his speech was boastful -- more of a litany of his own accomplishments. He made no mention of Gore's opponent, George W. Bush, but he did use his platform to make a pitch for his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is running in New York for the U.S. Senate.

The closest Clinton has come to an apology for the Lewinsky scandal recently was in a speech last week to a church audience in Illinois in which he said he was "in the second year of a process of trying to rebuild my life from a terrible mistake I made."

Clinton's speech Monday night was preceded by a slick self-narrated video that recounted his administration's accomplishments with a dramatic musical soundtrack that even an audience in this show business town had to admire.

The main point of Clinton's speech was simple enough: He said he brought unprecedented prosperity to the United States and therefore his vice president is the obvious person to keep it going.

"More than anybody else I've known in public life, Al Gore understands the future and how sweeping changes can affect Americans' daily lives," he said.

"We've worked closely together for eight years now. In the most difficult days of the last years, when we faced the toughest issues -- of war and peace, of taking on powerful special interests -- he was always there. . . .

"Everybody knows Al Gore is thoughtful and hardworking. I can tell you personally he is one strong leader. . . . Whether it was reforming welfare, protecting the environment, closing the digital divide, or bringing jobs to rural and urban American, there has been no stronger champion than Al Gore. . . .

"Finally, I'd like you to know Al Gore is a profoundly good man, who loves his children more than life. He has a wonderful wife who has fought against homelessness and for the cause of mental health, bringing it into the sunlight of our public life. America owes Tipper Gore our thanks."

Among the many improved economic indicators that Clinton cited: 22-million new jobs, the lowest unemployment in 30 years, the highest rate of home ownership in history.

Under his stewardship, Clinton said, "we have gone from the largest deficits in history to the largest surpluses in history -- and if we stay on course, we can make America debt-free for the first time since 1835."

But he said his legacy goes far beyond economic prosperity.

He said Americans are more hopeful because the administra-tion has ended the cycle of fami-lies living on welfare for generations, because it cut taxes and because it enacted the family and medical leave act.

He said Americans are more secure because the administration cut crime with tougher law enforcement, because it extended the life of Medicare and because it made the environment cleaner.

He said Americans are freer because the administration promoted cultural and racial diversity, because it promoted peace around the world and because it strengthened the military.

"Jobs are up, and so are adoptions," he noted. "The debt is down, and so is teen pregnancy. We are growing more diverse and more tolerant. But we're not just better off, we're a better country -- more tolerant, decent, more humane, more united -- moving forward and working together. . . ."

"We are more confident because of progress in education, higher standards and more accountability, more investment. . . . Thanks to teachers, students and parents, it's working. Reading and math scores are up."

He claimed direct credit for these improvements: "To those who say the progress of the last eight years was an accident, that we just coasted along, let's be clear: America's success was not a matter of chance, it was a matter of choice."

Clinton's jabs at the Republicans were brief, but hard-hitting. He noted that "not a single Republican" supported his original economic program, which was the beginning of renewed American prosperity.

"The Republicans said then they would not be held responsible for the results of our economic policies," he said. "I hope the American people will take them at their word."

He said the country would already have a patients bill of rights, a higher minimum wage, long-term disability care and other benefits if the Democrats -- not the Republicans -- controlled Congress.

"Al Gore and Joe Lieberman will keep our prosperity going by paying down the debt, investing in education and health care, moving more people from welfare to work, and providing family tax cuts that we can afford," Clinton said, adding that Republicans want to burden the nation with debt.

"In stark contrast, the GOP wants to spend every dime of our projected surplus and then some -- leaving nothing for education or Medicare, prescription drugs, nothing to extend the life of Medicare and Social Security, nothing for emergencies, nothing in case the projected surpluses don't come in."

Speaking up for his wife, he said she had been a great first lady and would be an equally great senator.

"When I first met her 30 years ago, she already had an abiding passion to help children," he said. "She's pursued it ever since."

Clinton ended his speech on a nostalgic note.

"Fifty-four years ago this week, I was born in a summer storm to a young widow in a small Southern town," he said. "America gave me the chance to live my dreams. I have tried to give you a better chance to live yours. Now, with hair grayer and wrinkles deeper, but with the same optimism and hope I brought to the work I love eight years ago, my heart is filled with gratitude."

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