AllPolitics - News

First Lady Defends Views On Raising Children

By Mo Barrett/AllPolitics

Hillary Clinton

CHICAGO (AllPolitics, Aug. 27) -- In a measured appeal, America's controversial First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton told delegates at the Democratic convention that raising children in strong families depends on leaders who promote family friendly policies.

"As Christopher Reeve so eloquently reminded us last night, we are all part of one family -- the American family -- and each one of us has value," Mrs. Clinton said in her first prime-time speech, which focused on her favorite themes of families and children. "Each child who comes into this world should feel special."

Securing that vision, she said, depends on a "nation that doesn't just talk about family values, but acts in ways that value families." Her speech, because of a reshuffled schedule, became the night's de facto keynote address. (256K WAV sound)

"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," she said. "It takes Bill Clinton."

In the face of persistent Republican attacks over her management of the Clinton Administration's failed health care initiative and her roles in the Whitewater and Travelgate affairs, Mrs. Clinton faced high personal and political stakes tonight.

In response, she delivered a spirited address designed to rebut criticisms leveled by GOP nominee Bob Dole, who recently took aim at her book on raising children, "It Takes A Village."

Dole, in his acceptance speech in San Diego, didn't mention the first lady by name, but he clearly referred to her ideas, implying that she encouraged intrusive government meddling into the private work of nuclear families.

"We are told that it takes a village, that is, a collective, and thus the state, to raise a child," Dole said. "And, with all due respect, I am here to tell you it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child."

Hillary Clinton

Family vs. Village

That sets the stage for the newest campaign controversy: the family vs. the village. It is a debate whose echoes will likely carry through the November election.

Tonight the first lady staked out her ground by countering that the complex challenges facing modern families -- securing health care, spending time with children, doing laundry, finding time to attend teacher-parent conferences, and a litany of other needs -- depend on a complex interaction of family, community and government.

"It takes a family," she said. "It takes teachers. It takes clergy. It takes business people. It takes community leaders. It takes those who protect our health and safety. It takes all of us.... (512K WAV sound)

"Yes, it takes a village," she said, bringing a roar of approval from the delegates.

Tipper & Hillary

Mrs. Clinton pointed to the Family and Medical Leave Act as a crucial law for families, reminding delegates the measure had been vetoed twice before being signed by her husband. "Already, it has helped 12 million families -- and it hasn't hurt the economy one bit," she said. (576K WAV sound)

She called for an expansion of the law to allow parents to attend school and their children's medical appointments. She also endorsed the president's proposal to prohibit hospitals from discharging mothers from hospitals within 48 hours of giving birth.

Wading into controversial territory, the first lady called for renewed efforts to expand health coverage for poor and unemployed Americans. She also praised the bipartisan measure to ensure portability of health insurance for workers changing jobs. (544K WAV sound)

"Now the country must take the next step of helping unemployed Americans and their children keep health insurance for six months after losing their jobs...," she said. "And our nation still must find a way to offer affordable coverage to the working poor and the 10 million children who lack health insurance today."

Though some are ambivalent about the president's wife, tonight she was greeted as a conquering hero by jubilant delegates. Applause rocked the cavernous hall as she beamed for minutes at the podium.

Tipper Gore

"I am overwhelmed and very grateful to all of you," she said, unable to begin her speech because of the cheers.

Speakers throughout the evening voiced support for the first lady. Rev. Jesse Jackson called attacks on her "beneath the dignity of American citizens." Earlier, Gov. Gaston Caperton of West Virginia said, "Over and over again, they (Republicans) attacked Mrs. Clinton's best-selling book. They so misrepresent it, I doubt that they even read it."

There had been speculation whether Mrs. Clinton would attempt to one-up Elizabeth Dole's sensational, Oprah-style stroll through the GOP convention hall in San Diego two weeks ago. After the first lady's high negatives in opinion surveys forced her to assume a lower profile, many wondered what about the political impact of tonight's speech.

Raised in conservative Park Ridge, Ill., Hillary Clinton may be the most controversial first lady ever. A recent CBS/New York Times poll showed her disapproval rating topping her approval, 39-35 percent.

Mrs. Clinton was introduced by the vice president's wife, Tipper Gore, who called her "a woman parents and children are proud to call their champion."

In her comments, Mrs. Gore plugged two of her favorite issues: "a civil society" and health insurance coverage for mental illnesses.

"I began a difficult fight long before it became fashionable," she said, "to give parents the tools to protect their children from violence, obscenity and degradation of women."

Mrs. Gore credited the president for fighting "alongside compassionate members of Congress for equal coverage for mental health -- and worked to change the lives and outlook of families living with mental illness."

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