Bill Clinton said Thursday that President Bush had "sunk to a new low" in making a campaign issue of Clinton's college trip to Moscow and overseas war protests of two decades ago. Bush said he merely had "expressed what was on my heart" and wasn't about to stop.
"I just think he's desperate," Clinton said before leaving Little Rock, Ark., for Missouri to prepare for Sunday's leadoff presidential debate. "I felt real sad for Mr. Bush yesterday. Here we are on our way to debate the great issues facing this country and its future, and we've descended to that level."
Bush said Wednesday night on CNN that Clinton should "level with the American people on the draft, on whether he went to Moscow, how many demonstrations he led against his own country from a foreign soil." He steered clear of the subject Thursday but said, "I'll probably have more to say about that later."
Clinton and his aides were once again put to explaining his involvement in actions that marked his generation. The Arkansas governor has repeatedly denied allegations that he pulled strings to avoid the Vietnam draft, and his campaign had appeared to ride out that controversy when Bush raised the ante.
The Democratic candidate has said he did protest the Vietnam war and did visit Moscow on a college vacation, but he has bristled at Bush's attempts to suggest there was something wrong _ even unpatriotic _ in his actions.
He said he did not talk to government officials _ or to KGB agents as far as he knew _ while visiting Moscow. The reference to Soviet security forces was in answer to Republican Rep. Robert Dornan, who has wondered aloud whether Clinton's visit was "handled" by the KGB. Dornan had been trying for more than a week to make the Moscow trip a campaign issue when Bush did just that on CNN's Larry King Live.
President Bush, campaigning in New Orleans on Thursday, ripped into Clinton as an indecisive leader and then in a later speech complained that the rule in politics this year is "be ugly, be nasty, everything goes."
"It has been the worst political year I believe I've ever seen, the ugliest, the nastiest _ everything goes, no accountability, the press in the foulest mood," he said.
Meanwhile, Clinton was endorsed Thursday by nearly 600 economists who said they like his plan to revitalize the economy through government spending and tax breaks for business investment.
"We believe that Gov, Clinton's program is a good foundation for rebuilding the U.S. economy over the next four years and reflects a solid understanding of the need to increase both public and private investment," the economists said in an endorsement statement.
The signatories include nine Nobel prize winners, said Jeff Faux, president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute, who helped round up the support for the Arkansas governor.
The move is a stab at Bush's claim in a television commercial that 100 economists said Clinton's plan could mean higher taxes and higher deficits.
_ Information from Reuters was used in this report.