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Clinton touts success, boosts Gore in nostalgic farewell to Democratic convention

President Bill Clinton
Clinton gives the last address of Monday night's convention session  

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- President Clinton stood in the spotlight as his party's chief for one last time Monday during the opening night of a Democratic National Convention designed to give his successor, nominee-in-waiting Al Gore, the momentum he needs to overtake Republican rival George W. Bush in the race for the White House.

Part farewell address, part testimonial on Gore's behalf, Clinton's 40-minute speech was indeed the highlight of Monday night's events. He was expected to leave Los Angeles shortly thereafter, leaving the vice president firmly in place as the Democratic Party's standard-bearer.

"I am here tonight, above all, to say a heartfelt thank you," Clinton told a roaring convention crowd after a lengthy applause. "I thank you for supporting the new Democratic agenda that has taken our country to new heights of prosperity, peace and progress."

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President Clinton addresses the Democratic National Convention

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Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the Democratic National Convention

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Clinton did not mention the Republican nominee by name during his address, but included a partisan rebuke of GOP charges that the current administration deserves little credit for the nation's unprecedented economic boom.

"To those who say the progress of the last eight years was an accident, that we just kind of coasted along, let me be clear: America's success was not a matter of chance, it was a matter of choice," Clinton said.

GOP nominee George W. Bush, in his acceptance speech in Philadelphia, said Clinton had made no constructive use of his considerable talent and personal charm. "They had their chance; they have not led," Bush said of Clinton and Gore.

Taking the credit

Clinton spent equal time outlining how he believed his administration's economic and social policies have had a real impact on the nation, and why Gore -- after nearly eight years as his active understudy -- was best qualified to assume the mantle of the presidency.

"Al and I have worked closely together for eight years now. In the most challenging moments, when we faced the most challenging issues -- of war and peace, of taking on powerful special interests -- he has always been there. He has always told me what he thought was right."

Clinton recited a host of promises he and Gore made in 1992 and argued that the pair delivered on them, from balancing the budget and halving welfare roles to breaking down global trade barriers and investing in education, law enforcement and new technology.

"We sent our (budget) plan to Congress ... in a deadlocked Senate, Al Gore cast the deciding vote," Clinton said. "The Republicans said they would not be held responsible for the results of our economic policies; I hope the American people will take them at their word."

Clinton also included a list of administration priorities that remain stalled in the Republican-controlled Congress, priorities that will be handed off to Gore, his understudy for the last seven-and-half years, and Gore's newly minted running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

Among those: The so-called patients' bill of rights -- which would bolster the legal rights of individuals in dealings with their health maintenance organizations -- and a new prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients.

"Al Gore and Joe Lieberman will keep our prosperity going by paying down the debt, investing in education and health care, and in family tax cuts that we can afford," he said.

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

Clinton also trumpeted Gore as perhaps the most active and involved vice president in the nation's history. Gore served as a close adviser and policy architect in the White House and wielded significant influence in the shaping of his administration's economic and social policies, Clinton argued.

"Everyone knows Al Gore is thoughtful and hard-working," he added. "I can tell you personally he is one strong leader."

A plug for the first lady's Senate bid

In addition to offering enthusiastic support for Gore's candidacy, the president offered his support for first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's contributions to his administration and sought to boost her candidacy for the U.S. Senator from New York.

"She's been a great first lady. She's always been there for our family, and she's always been there for the families of New York and America," he said.

Clinton spoke in a wistful, nostalgic tone as he recounted what he said were additional administration achievements on the environment and international policy, but nonetheless exited graciously -- and on cue -- from the spotlight as Gore and convention officials had hoped.

"Now, with hair grayer and wrinkles deeper, but with the same optimism and hope I brought to the work I so love eight years ago, I want you to know my heart is filled with gratitude," Clinton said as he concluded his political farewell to the Democrats.

The end-of-an-era theme was underscored by a tribute video biography that played just before Clinton's speech, which included a series of unpublished photos from his nearly eight years in office, as well as sound bites of world leaders praising his leadership.

Farewell but not goodbye

Clinton is only the third president since Harry Truman to make his farewells to a party after having served two full terms. The others -- Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 and Ronald Reagan in 1988 -- were Republicans.

Clinton studied Reagan's address to the 1988 GOP gathering, where the two-term "Great Communicator" handed the GOP's reins over to then Vice President George Bush, after claiming credit for a strong economy and the resurgence of national pride.

At the sunset of his political career, Reagan also declared that "none of our achievements happened by accident."

White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said Monday that Clinton's address had gone through numerous revisions over the past week. Clinton cancelled a meeting with Hispanic and African-American leaders Monday morning to spend time reworking the draft by himself, and he met with aides later in the day to make even more changes.

The Monday night address marks Clinton's fourth to a Democratic nominating convention. He made his first during the 1988 gathering in Atlanta, where he delivered a long and rambling keynote address that received its loudest applause from the restless convention crowd when he uttered the phrase: "In conclusion."

Although regarded by many as a disastrous debut on the national political stage, the speech didn't damage the Arkansas governor's presidential prospects in 1992. That year, Clinton used his convention address to introduce himself to Democrats gathered in New York and the rest of the nation as the "Man from Hope," his birthplace in Arkansas.

While fending off a challenge from Republican nominee Bob Dole in 1996, Clinton asked Democratic conventioneers in Chicago to help him "build a bridge to the 21st Century" a much-repeated theme throughout the course of his successful re-election bid that year.

Clinton will join Gore on the campaign trail in Michigan on Tuesday, where he is expected to pass the torch to his vice president in a symbolic public ceremony.



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Tuesday, August 15, 2000


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