Bill Clinton kept up his latest strategy of political uncorrectness by pushing a U.S.-Mexico free trade pact to a union that opposes the deal.
The Democratic presidential candidate's trade comments Monday to the United Auto Workers was his latest attempt to cast himself as gutsy enough to be at odds with fellow Democrats. It followed his weekend slap at black rap singer Sister Souljah while speaking to the Rainbow Coalition, Jesse Jackson's civil rights group.Clinton aides said that in this last month before the Democratic National Convention, the prospective nominee is trying to show he's willing to stand up to the party's special interests and core constituencies.
He's also getting a much-needed burst of publicity - attention that had largely been stolen by likely independent candidate Ross Perot.
In his UAW speech, Clinton got a tepid response to his trade comments and lukewarm support, too, in pushing abortion rights and gun control.
"That's all right," Clinton told reporters later. "You've got to say the same thing everywhere."
In part, Clinton is trying to shed the "pander bear" tag that rival Paul Tsongas placed on him in the primaries, his aides said.
"That's what this period of the campaign is all about - getting beyond the caricature," said spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers.
The Arkansas governor earlier had used the tack of going to certain groups and pushing policies not directly related to, and even counter to, their specific interests. For instance, in the Michigan primary he preached racial harmony to white "Reagan Democrats" in suburban Detroit and a few weeks ago urged retirees to fight for improved education funding.
Before the UAW appearance, Clinton refused to back down from his criticism of Sister Souljah and rejected suggestions he should have warned Jackson of his remarks. Jackson had praised the singer just moments before Clinton criticized her Saturday.
Jackson is "not in the habit of clearing his public remarks with me," Clinton said, clearly unworried about any potential fight with the influential black leader.
Jackson, interviewed Tuesday morning on NBC's "Today" show, denied he was angry with Clinton but added: "The extent to which he came into our house as an invited guest and had this plan to project himself as a moral leader in contrast to Souljah is a matter of some concern to me."