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Democrats Unite Under One Big Tent

But Philosophy Shows Signs of Wear and Tear

By C.r. Mcfadden, Special to The Crimson

CHICAGO--About all you'll find in the middle of the road, goes the old Southern saying, is yellow stripes and dead armadillos.

President Clinton is trying to throw the Democratic Party into that eclectic mix as well.

Since the disastrous 1994 midterm elections, when his party lost control of Congress for the first time since 1946, Clinton has found a niche in the center of the political spectrum and surprisingly stayed there.

Clinton's strategy, crafted with help from recently departed adviser Dick Morris, is winning back moderates who abandoned the Democratic party during the 1980s.

He's on the brink of a resounding reelection--the first for a Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt '04 in 1936.

It hasn't come without a price.

As Democrats gathered last month to renominate Clinton and Vice President Al Gore '69, their big tent philosophy showed signs of wear and tear.

Its core constituents, including blacks and organized labor, are upset with the president's move to the center, epitomized by his signature of this summer's welfare reform bill.

And its centrists are still wary, remembering all too well the president's early attempts to allow gays to serve openly in the military and to nationalize health care.

When Democrats cast their ballots November 5, some will do it with enthusiasm, applauding his recent moves to the center.

Others will simply do so because the other choice is worse.

Uniting a Big Tent

As Rev. Jesse L. Jackson finished his emotional plea for party unity, delegates leapt to their feet in applause.

Oregon delegate Ann Phan, 21, scanned the convention floor, chanting "Four more years!" and waving her Clinton/Gore sign into the air.

"What a snapshot of America," said Phan, a first-generation Vietnamese-American. "I believe what Jesse said: in our diversity is strength. It's a tent that holds everybody."

In front of television cameras in the United Center, Jackson led the party liberals in a rally around Clinton.

Outside the convention hall, however, Jackson denounced the president's signature of a strict welfare reform bill. About a dozen other activist groups protested Clinton's moderate stances.

Another Democratic mainstay, the National Organization of Women, protested with Jackson outside the White House on the day Clinton signed the bill on the South Lawn.

The question for Democrats is writ large: Their big tent might hold everyone, but for how long?

"That's the puzzle," said U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), a delegate and a staunch liberal. "Left, center, right--any time there's so much diversity, there's a lot of balancing to do."

Rangel, who represents poverty-stricken Harlem, was one of 93 Democratic Congressional representatives who opposed the welfare reform bill, which cuts $60 billion in funding and requires recipients to find employment within two years.

"It has caused tremendous pain and disappointment that the president hasn't had the political courage to veto the welfare bill," Rangel said. "To mandate jobs and not mandate that a job has to be available is hypocritical. Are they [the jobless] going to disappear?"

The 13-term representative also criticizes Clinton's willingness to exempt states from other federal programs.

"If we leave issues to the states, we have to mandate that certain things be done and provide the money to do it," said Rangel, who will chair the powerful Ways and Means Committee should the Democrats win back control of the House.

Clinton's centrism infuriates many in the traditionally liberal Northwest.

"We're some of Clinton's strongest supporters up here, but if he keeps this up, there'll be a big protest vote," said Phan, a Portland State University junior.

"It tears me apart. Clinton moderating himself has pissed me off," Phan said. "I'm a liberal Democrat, and you really wonder why you're supporting him."

While Phan disagrees with the president on welfare and immigration, she is more concerned that the Republicans would hurt immigrants more.

"With a Republican administration, people like my parents might not be citizens, much less myself," said Phan, a Beaverton resident who was born in Guam. "I'm gritting my teeth and bearing it."

Rangel, like Phan, has his differences with Clinton. But he tells anyone who'll listen that Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole is just too extreme.

"I gather there will be a lot of areas where Democrats would not be pleased with our candidate. We back him because we're facing a Republican crusade," Rangel said.

That's precisely Clinton's political strategy as he begins his final campaign.

Wooing Moderates

The party's liberal wing has no place to go. So the president is targeting moderate voters, who might defect to Dole or an independent like Ross Perot.

One of them is 80-year-old delegate Hilda Kaye Burtis of central Texas. Burtis, like many delegates in the South, applauds the President's decision to end "welfare as we know it" and to "mend, not end" affirmative action programs.

"I'm not a bleeding heart liberal," said Burtis, who manages a 325-acre potato farm with the help of her two daughters. "A person should be responsible for himself, and the government doesn't owe us anything.

The question for Democrats is writ large: Their big tent might hold everyone, but for how long?

"That's the puzzle," said U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), a delegate and a staunch liberal. "Left, center, right--any time there's so much diversity, there's a lot of balancing to do."

Rangel, who represents poverty-stricken Harlem, was one of 93 Democratic Congressional representatives who opposed the welfare reform bill, which cuts $60 billion in funding and requires recipients to find employment within two years.

"It has caused tremendous pain and disappointment that the president hasn't had the political courage to veto the welfare bill," Rangel said. "To mandate jobs and not mandate that a job has to be available is hypocritical. Are they [the jobless] going to disappear?"

The 13-term representative also criticizes Clinton's willingness to exempt states from other federal programs.

"If we leave issues to the states, we have to mandate that certain things be done and provide the money to do it," said Rangel, who will chair the powerful Ways and Means Committee should the Democrats win back control of the House.

Clinton's centrism infuriates many in the traditionally liberal Northwest.

"We're some of Clinton's strongest supporters up here, but if he keeps this up, there'll be a big protest vote," said Phan, a Portland State University junior.

"It tears me apart. Clinton moderating himself has pissed me off," Phan said. "I'm a liberal Democrat, and you really wonder why you're supporting him."

While Phan disagrees with the president on welfare and immigration, she is more concerned that the Republicans would hurt immigrants more.

"With a Republican administration, people like my parents might not be citizens, much less myself," said Phan, a Beaverton resident who was born in Guam. "I'm gritting my teeth and bearing it."

Rangel, like Phan, has his differences with Clinton. But he tells anyone who'll listen that Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole is just too extreme.

"I gather there will be a lot of areas where Democrats would not be pleased with our candidate. We back him because we're facing a Republican crusade," Rangel said.

That's precisely Clinton's political strategy as he begins his final campaign.

Wooing Moderates

The party's liberal wing has no place to go. So the president is targeting moderate voters, who might defect to Dole or an independent like Ross Perot.

One of them is 80-year-old delegate Hilda Kaye Burtis of central Texas. Burtis, like many delegates in the South, applauds the President's decision to end "welfare as we know it" and to "mend, not end" affirmative action programs.

"I'm not a bleeding heart liberal," said Burtis, who manages a 325-acre potato farm with the help of her two daughters. "A person should be responsible for himself, and the government doesn't owe us anything.

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