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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

GOP Platform Draft Toes Bush Administration Line

Conservative positions contrast with lineup of relatively moderate convention speakers.

August 27, 2004|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — President Bush got his wish from Republican platform writers Thursday: a tightly controlled, highly conservative statement of party principles that lauds his administration and glosses over internal dissent.

The platform, drafted by a 110-member delegate committee and set to be ratified after the Republican National Convention begins Monday, is a paean to Bush's record in office and a guide to at least some of his goals for a second term.

It backs Bush's offensive against terrorists and the invasion of Iraq, urges Congress to make the president's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent, and defends the education program known as "No Child Left Behind." It reiterates the party's longtime opposition to abortion rights and takes a firm stand against same-sex marriage, echoing Bush's views on those and other social issues. It acknowledges that an "unwelcome but manageable" budget deficit has piled up on Bush's watch, but speaks only generally about how to erase it.

"This platform makes clear that the American people will have a choice on Nov. 2," the preamble states. It frames the contest between Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic challenger, as a "choice between strength and uncertainty ... between results and rhetoric ... between optimism and pessimism ... between opportunity and dependence ... between freedom and fear."

Critics charged that the platform -- titled "A Safer and More Hopeful America" -- was loaded with hard-line policy positions that belied the lineup of prime-time convention speakers, featuring such party moderates as former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both favor abortion rights and gay rights.

"The bottom line is, the platform still says we're not welcome," said Ann Stone, leader of an abortion-rights group called Republicans for Choice.

Earlier this month, the group joined with a gay GOP organization, Log Cabin Republicans, to propose a "unity" plank that would specifically acknowledge party splits over abortion and gay and lesbian issues.

But they failed to persuade anyone on the platform committee to introduce the proposal for debate.

Instead, an antiabortion delegate, James Bopp of Indiana, teamed with an abortion-rights advocate, Stephen Cloud of Kansas, to pass a more generic plank saying the party would "respect and accept" -- rather than merely "recognize" -- people with differing views. A White House aide helped to broker the arrangement.

Stone called it "a crumb -- pathetic." The Log Cabin group was also irate.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the committee chairman, said he was pleased with a platform that dovetailed with Bush's views. He could not name any instance in which the platform veered from administration policies.

"This platform committee debated," said the co-chairman, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens. "We occasionally argued, but we did it in a way that led to a very united platform and a very united party."

Although the platform backs Bush's positions, drafters at times squirmed over some administration policies. These tensions were especially apparent during a debate on education.

At one point, delegate Linda Davis of North Carolina sought to delete a passage contending that Bush and the GOP-led Congress had provided "the largest increase in education funding in history." This rhetoric, a standard GOP line these days in Washington, "somehow doesn't sound like the Republican Party to me," Davis said.

But others said that the money complemented Bush's school reforms, and that the platform plank rebutted liberals' criticism of the "No Child Left Behind" law.

"We would do the president a great disservice if we cut this language," said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a delegate and former party chairman. "The left likes nothing better than to call this a huge, unfunded mandate, when it's not." The committee voted to keep the passage.

At another point, delegates inserted a plank describing education as primarily a local concern. That is a sensitive point to some Republicans, who fear that federal school reforms -- which require testing of students in reading and math and measurement of progress from year to year -- intrude too far into local affairs.

Delegates also debated at length whether to delete a sentence that declared: "Public education is a foundation of a free, civil society." Some complained that the plank ignored private education and home schooling. A motion to cut the sentence failed. But a compromise was struck: "Public education, access for every child to excellent education, is a foundation of a free, civil society."

The platform zings the Democrats, charging that Kerry "insulted our allies by calling the nations fighting in Iraq 'window-dressing' and referring to them as a 'coalition of the coerced and the bribed.' "

Delegates also voted to delete references to two 20th century Democratic presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, mentioned in passing in the draft platform.

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