NEW ORLEANS, MARCH 24 -- For five years Jesse L. Jackson and the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) have sniped at each other from opposite wings of the Democratic Party.
Today Jackson found a different way to get in his digs at members of the party's moderate to conservative establishment: He smothered them in a political bear hug.
In a speech entitled "Delighted to be United," Jackson welcomed the DLC to what he called the "new mainstream" and congratulated it for embracing his views on progressive taxation, military budget cuts and investments in education and economic development.
The speech, which was not interrupted once by applause, drew reactions ranging from amusement to bafflement to anger.
"Jackson and I are both Southern Baptists . . . and our church permits a lot of interpretations of common documents," quipped incoming DLC chairman Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas.
"The hug was, ahh, interesting," said a former DLC chairman, Sen. Charles S. Robb (Va.).
"It's bizarre, absolutely bizarre," fumed DLC Director Alvin From. "It is foolish for anyone to think that the party has moved in Jesse Jackson's direction."
Meanwhile in Indianapolis, the Democratic National Committee approved rules governing the 1992 presidential nomination contest that many Democrats think will help Jackson, should he decide to run again.
Unlike past years, when the party wrangled for a long time over the nomination rules, the DNC wrapped up the process with little discord, although Democrats in Illinois and Minnesota object to the changes and are likely to fight them.
Following the outlines of an agreement negotiated at the 1988 Democratic National Convention by representatives of Jackson and Michael S. Dukakis, the rules require that delegates be allocated to presidential candidates on a strictly proportional basis. The party eliminated systems that awarded winning candidates extra delegates or that allowed a winning candidate to receive all the delegates from a particular district.
The party also established a 15 percent threshold in all states, which means a candidate must win 15 percent of the vote in a primary or caucus to receive any delegates.
Critics said the changes will extend the nomination fight by making it more difficult for a front-runner to gather a majority of delegates and will encourage challengers, like Jackson in 1988, to stay in longer because proportionality guarantees a steady flow of delegates.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Ronald H. Brown dismissed charges from a number of Democrats that the rules are tilted to help Jackson. "I think that's a laughable accusation, absolutely absurd," he said in Indianapolis. "We have done everything we can to move this process without any consideration of the impact on any individual candidate."
The party also made it possible for California to move its June primary to the beginning of the process by opening the "window" -- the period of time the party authorizes states to hold their primaries or caucuses. The new window opens the first Tuesday in March, rather than the second, and closes the second Tuesday in June.
To accommodate tradition, the party gave exemptions to Iowa, site of the first caucus, and New Hampshire, the nation's first primary, and Maine, to hold their events before the authorized period.
But it denied a similar request from Minnesota to continue to hold its caucuses in late February.
The states most affected by the proportionality rule are those with so-called winner-take-all primaries: Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia.
Illinois Democratic Chairman Vince Demuzio warned that the Illinois legislature will resist the proposed change, but Jackson supporters, who long have clashed with the state's Democratic organization, said since Democrats control the legislature there should be no excuse for failing to adopt the new system.
The DNC also approved a resolution calling on presidential candidates to avoid personal attacks on one another and to cease attacking a candidate who appears to have the nomination wrapped up. Some Democrats said they thought it was aimed at Jackson, but Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Paul Goldman said it was aimed at no particular person.
In his New Orleans speech, Jackson engaged in what Clinton described as an "elastic reading" of a new DLC statement of principles to declare that the organization has embraced his issues. For example, where the DLC document said, "We believe the government should respect individual liberty and stay out of our private lives and personal decisions," Jackson's interpretation was that it had endorsed gay rights. "We never even discussed that," Clinton said.
The Arkansas governor added that the DLC's endorsement of tax progressivity differed from Jackson's rhetoric of "class warfare," and he said its support for "measured" reductions in defense spending differed from Jackson's advocacy of deep cuts.
The DLC statement of principles, called the New Orleans Declaration, said the group believes in "equal opportunity, not equal outcome" and the Democratic Party's "fundamental mission is to expand opportunity, not government."
Clinton, as new chairman of the 5-year-old group that calls itself the "idea development wing" of the party, cautioned fellow Democrats against starting the 1992 presidential campaign too soon.
"Thinking about 1992 now is hoping that something bad happens to George Bush -- and that is wrong and that is un-American," he said. "One reason I took this job is to define and communicate what we are. People don't know what a Democrat is. Until they know what we stand for we are not going to win elections."
Staff writer Dan Balz in Indianapolis contributed to this report.