By Ceci Connolly
Vice President Gore headlined the final day of speeches to the Democratic National Committee with a caustic attack on the "do-nothing" GOP-led Congress, along with some behind-the-scenes politicking on his own behalf.
"Instead of rolling up their sleeves and doing their jobs, they give us nothing but personal, partisan, political attacks on the president," he said. "Who would've thought we would look back on the 'Contract With America' as the good ole days?"
The counteroffensive is part of an evolving White House effort to rescue Clinton from the morass of scandal and to salvage the upcoming midterm elections. Party strategists hope the public's disgust with the barrage of material coming from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr outweighs voters' disgust with Clinton's affair and coverup.
"There's a building sense of frustration in the country that the Republican investigations are an obstacle to action on the issues," said one White House strategist who has been briefed on the latest polls and helped shape the new message.
"They want to investigate, not legislate," Gore said, summing up the line of attack.
Echoing that theme, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said that if voters choose Republicans this fall, "we will get two more years of inquiries and investigations and looking into everybody and everything that exists in the country."
Jesse L. Jackson, in a fiery 50-minute address that drew on the divergent lessons of the Bible, the civil rights movement and major league baseball, said the political world has lost its way. "Our destiny is determined by your house and my house," he told the cheering delegates, "not the White House."
It was a morning of podium thumping, foot stomping and amens from a trio of men who up until now have been more circumspect in their remarks about Clinton's affair with Monica S. Lewinsky. Gephardt, for instance, was the first prominent Democrat to publicly muse about the nation's ability to survive impeachment.
Gore, aides said, decided late Friday to inject more anti-Republican rhetoric into his standard stump speech. The shift was a result of the calendar (Election Day is five weeks away), the White House damage control effort and urgings from activists to "go on the offensive more," as one adviser put it.
"We have seen the GOP's record on economic policy," Gore said. "They've recycled, reheated, rehashed Republican retronomics that drove this nation into a fiscal ditch."
The vice president also drew on a story he heard earlier this week in Dearborn, Mich. He recounted to the 200 delegates the tale of a man brought into an emergency room in cardiac arrest. The man miraculously was saved, but the bureaucrats at his HMO refused to pay, Gore said, because it was not deemed an emergency. "He was dead," Gore said, sarcastically. "To some [Republicans] not having a heart is not exactly an emergency."
Jackson said the current debate on morality is misguided. Morality of public leaders should be measured by their public deeds, and on that score, he said, many Republicans fall short in areas such as education, health care, affirmative action and tax breaks for the rich. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) recently gave a speech lauding Nelson Mandela, he said, but "did nothing to end apartheid in South Africa or South Georgia."
Delegates approved a resolution blasting Starr for a "highly partisan . . . investigation that has lasted longer than the Civil War." The resolution concludes: "We commend the president for accepting responsibility for his actions and we accept the sincerity of his apology."
Although Clinton's survival and the November elections take precedence, the delegates found time during the three-day meeting for some early 2000 jockeying.
Jackson was the only speaker to publicly refer to the next presidential contest, albeit in a cryptic way. "I have not decided to run the race for 2000, but I will set the pace for 2000," he said, as fans interrupted his remarks with the refrain "set the pace."
Gore did his campaigning in private, hosting a party for 180 at the Birchmere music club in Alexandria, a breakfast Friday at his residence and three meetings at the hotel where the DNC gathering took place. Supplementing the vice president, more than a dozen of Gore's aides -- including his chief of staff, two deputies and a consultant who flew in from Boston -- spent several hours yesterday working the darkened ballroom.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company