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Jackson, Liberals Offer Tepid Endorsement of Clinton Run

By John M. Broder and Paul Richter
Los Angeles Times
CHICAGO

Touching on a fissure that divides their party, leading liberal Democrats, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, expressed disdain Tuesday for President Clinton's compromise with Republicans on welfare reform but told delegates to the national convention they must fight for Clinton's re-election.

Jackson, echoing recent comments from other liberals gathered here for Clinton's renomination, offered the president a tepid endorsement but spared him the kind of harsh criticism that would have roiled the celebration of party unity or embarrassed Clinton in a highly visible campaign forum.

"The last time we gathered in Chicago," the preacher, activist and two-time presidential candidate said in prepared remarks, "high winds ripped our tent apart. We could not bridge the gap. We lost to Nixon by the margin of our despair.

"In 1968, the tension within our party was over warfare. In 1996, it's welfare," Jackson said. "Last week, over the objections of many Democratic Party leaders, and the opposition of millions of Americans, Franklin Roosevelt's six-decade guarantee of support for women and children was abandoned. On this issue, many of us differ with the president."

Jackson said although Clinton's re-election may seem unpalatable because of his concessions on benefits for the poor, it is necessary to defend against worse evils from the Republican Congress.

"Sometimes," Jackson said, "you have to play good defense before you get back on offense. President Clinton has been our first line of defense against the Newt Gingrich-Contract on America-right-wing assault on our elderly, our students, our civil rights. We must re-elect the president and take back the Congress, and stop the right-wing train in its track."

"In 1996, Bill Clinton is our best option. The cross is on his shoulders," he concluded.

Much of the convention's second day was given over to speakers representing the party's liberal wing. In addition to Jackson, they included former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and abortion rights activist Kate Michelman.

As these voices of a philosophy that Clinton has largely rejected were given the convention platform, White House officials announced new multi-billion-dollar programs aimed at assuaging their concerns and their constituencies.

At the same time, in the convention's two final days, party leaders will shift the focus to issues and speakers that underscore the president's top-priority effort to appeal to moderates and the middle class.

At a stop in Wyandotte, Mich., on his four-day train journey to Chicago, Clinton announced a $1.75 billion program to improve reading skills among schoolchildren. Later in the day, aides outlined a $3.4 billion program of aid to cities.