Vaudeville Politics Sucking the Heart Out of Party Platforms

The nation now knows that Bob Dole wants to cut everyone's taxes by 15 percent. President Bill Clinton wants to give every child a $500 tax break.But what the people haven't been told is whether Bob Dole supports the death penalty -- or merely time in prison -- for any woman who gets an abortion for any reason.Death or jail time is precisely what Bob Dole's party platform advocates for women who chooses to terminate a pregnancy. But since he was nominated two weeks ago, Dole has kept mum about the A-word, and much of the rest of his party's adopted platform.After Dole and Jack Kemp were nominated to lead their party into the White House, they -- as did House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- reportedly told USA Today that they hadn't even read the 94-page manifesto outlining the GOP's official positions on everything from abortion to the environment to foreign policy. However, if Dole admits he read the document, he would likely have to clarify whether he agrees with the supposition that any woman who gets an abortion is, in effect, guilty of murder."The unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment's protection apply to unborn children. Our purpose is to have legislative and judicial protection of that right against those who perform abortions," the platform reads.The 14th Amendment ensures that no state can "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." According to the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in the Media (FAIR), if fetuses are considered persons by the U.S. Constitution, any woman who gets an abortion "would have to be penalized the same as any other murderer.""Women who paid a doctor to perform an abortion would be guilty of a contract killing - which in many states is punishable by death," FAIR reported in its August newsletter.For which it stands:A political party's platform is a statement of the principles for which it stands. Even a decade ago, politicians considered their platform to be the heart and soul of their ideologies, and vowed to uphold their party's adopted creed. But in 1996, with a candidate who claims not to have read it, and the ultraconservative minority of the party claiming ownership, many Republicans, downplaying their own platform, are saying it doesn't really much matter anymore."It's probably helpful for someone from Mars who comes down to Earth and wants to know the positions of the two parties. But they have a limited shelf life," said Colorado Republican Chairman Don Bain of political platforms, including the one he helped write during the Republican National Convention two weeks ago in San Diego.The GOP platform was adopted after three days by a 107-member committee made up of representatives from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa. Dole was rendered powerless in his attempts to inject a more moderate position on abortion -- a tiresome issue that a majority of Republicans, Democrats and independent voters alike report is generally irrelevant to their everyday lives.In addition to the hard-core line on abortion, the Republicans' conservative platform supports eliminating the Departments of Commerce, Education, Housing and Urban Development (which vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp once headed), the National Endowment for the Arts and other programs.The Grand Old Party -- which touts itself as the inclusionary party for all -- this year adopted a platform criticized by its own members as dangerously exclusionary. It wants to refuse citizenship for children of illegal immigrants, make English the official language of the United States and kick gays out of the military.It also supports school vouchers, prayer in school and the elimination of sex-education programs. The official Republican position also supports scrapping U.S. involvement in United Nations peace-keeping missions, presumably to ward off the impending New World Order.So why did the Republicans adopt a platform that they don't even want to talk about? That's easy, say the pundits. It was to keep the face of party unity, to avoid a convention where the nation could watch Republicans fighting, and to placate the Pat Buchanan Brigade.The night before the convention started, Buchanan conceded the race to adversary Dole, rightfully claiming that while he may not have won the chance to own the Oval Office, the Republican Party's platform was his."We can't walk away, folks," he intoned to a conservative crowd of 1,500 followers."Before their eyes and before our eyes, this party is becoming the Buchanan Party," Buchanan reported. "We'll be there at its birth and, God willing, we'll be the cornerstone."Buchanan pointed out his ultra-conservative positions on immigration and the United Nations were included in the Republican platform, and reinforced his opposition to abortion."The day my party walks away from the rights of the unborn (is the day) it ceases to be my party," he said. "Because the Buchanan Brigade would not quit, the Republican Party remains the pro-life party."The platform apparently satisfied Focus on the Family President James Dobson, who last year sent a letter to two million people on his mailing list promising he would never again support a Republican candidate who went "squishy" on the abortion issue.Later in the week, Christian Coalition members threatened to walk out of Rep. Susan Molinari's keynote speech because the New York Congresswoman supports abortion rights. But Buchanan reportedly intervened, and called off the protest. Molinari, meanwhile, didn't utter a peep about abortion.Two nights later, Dole accepted his party's nomination, with a stern reminder to the diverse members of the Grand Old Party, who true to their word, fell into line in a show of public solidarity."The Republican Party is broad and inclusive. It represents many streams of opinion and many points of view," Dole said. "But if there's anyone who has mistakenly attached himself to the party in the belief that we are not open to every race and religion, then let me remind you:"Tonight this hall belongs to the party of Lincoln, and the exits, which are clearly marked, are for you to walk out of as I stand here and hold this ground -- without compromise"Of course, no Republican walked. Dole got the nomination, and Buchanan claimed the heart of the party. The Republican platform, good for the next four years, belongs to him, to the Christian Coalition and to James Dobson. In a perfect world:If challenged on their official party line, however, mainstream Republicans may find themselves in a sticky situation."If they get held to elaborating on special planks like abortion, they will end up alienating the very people they don't want to alienate," said Colorado College political science professor David Finley. "But to take a standoffish view is awkward."However, Colorado's Bain called the document "not a big deal.""The platform is an anachronism in this day and age, and no one considers it binding on anyone," he said. "In a perfect world, it would be a document that represents what the Republican Party stands for."But throw together 100 or so people for three days -- most of whom don't even know each other -- to write a manifesto, and the result is not likely to be pretty."Bain, who helped work on the foreign policy portions of the document, said there was little dissension within his subcommittee. Other parts of the platform -- like the position on abortion -- received far more scrutiny, he said.Bain, who supports a woman's right to choose, noted that portions of the adopted platform support positions that are much more conservative than Dole's views. He admitted he would be in favor of eliminating the platform process altogether, noting that a detailed platform has the potential of causing more trouble than good. He estimates any given Republican will embrace 80 percent of the party's adopted platform and oppose the rest."There are parts of it I agree with, and parts of it I don't agree with. I don't agree that we should seek a Constitutional amendment outlawing abortion, because it's not gonna happen," Bain said. "There's not enough votes (in Congress) to make it happen."It would appear the majority of the subcommittee (that deliberated on the abortion language) was more conservative than Sen. Dole." CC's Finley said that by tradition, party platforms offer a collective thumbprint of ideologies. While elected leaders are not bound to embrace all of their party's positions, they can be held accountable, he said."If (Dole) disregards it, he could be called to task politically." But, if elected, Dole could also sidestep the more controversial positions of his party, by placing more emphasis on other issues, Finley noted.Democrats at the bat:Democrats will debate and adopt their official platform during the national convention this week in Chicago. Their 1996 proposals -- colored in shades of law and order -- are far less controversial than many of the strident positions adopted by the Republicans two weeks ago.Rather than promising exclusion and closed borders, the Democrats platform highlights the Clinton/Gore presidency's accomplishments. When it attacks, the platform aims directly at Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress, and not at immigrants, gays and lesbians and teachers.Democrats reiterate their commitment to upholding a woman's right to choose. They promise less government and a strong commitment to personal responsibility. They pledge they are the party of law and order.The Republicans attacked Bill Clinton, who is accused of everything from catering to terrorists to personally indoctrinating teenagers into the world of drug use, including marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines. Citing a study that shows the use of marijuana doubled in the two years after Clinton was elected into office, the GOP platform suggests the president's "moral leadership" is to blame."Mr. Clinton's personal record has been a betrayal of the nation's trust, sending the worst possible signal to the nation's youth," the platform states. Because of their "hands-off approach" to the harvesting of dead and diseased trees, the Democrats also are responsible for making "our great forests vulnerable to ravaging fires, insects and disease," the Republican platform reads."For all environmental problems, we propose a common-sense approach based on flexibility and consensus, that builds a better future on free enterprise, local control, sound science, and technology development."The Democrats, meanwhile, take heavy aim at Dole and Gingrich throughout their platform. The Republicans are blamed for years of environmental neglect, sporting family-values talk with no action and shortsighted vision for the future."We believe government has a responsibility to enforce the laws that help keep toxic chemicals from our water, pesticides from our food and smog from our air," the Democratic proposal reads.Democrats also claim their president has made great strides in taking a bite out of crime, but the Republicans accuse Bill Clinton of making America "a more fearful place, especially for the elderly and for women and children.""Violent crime has turned our homes into prisons, our streets and schoolyards into battlegrounds," claims the GOP.And so on and so on. Examples can be found throughout both platforms of sniping and broad-brushed bashing against one another.Taking back the middle:Now that the Democrats are basking in party favors and American pie, the heat is at least temporarily off the extreme viewpoints adopted by the Republicans two weeks ago.However, their harsh rhetoric will likely come back to bite, said CC's Finley."Dole has to appeal to the people closer to the middle," he said.At least one group of moderate Republicans has already formed. Communicating via the Internet, they are vowing to take the party back from what they believe is a vocal minority of ultra-conservatives. Launched by Texas Republican Richard Moore earlier this summer, "Republicans of a Different Kind" is working to unite moderate Republicans around the country."After the Texas Republican Convention at which I was a delegate, it was painfully obvious... that the party had taken a very large step in the wrong direction," Miller said via the Internet. "I watched helplessly as the very well-organized Christian Coalition forced their agenda on everyone despite the fact that they represented only 20 to 30 percent of the total Republican Party."Having been a Republican candidate and party member for many years, I knew that I could not stand by and watch as a radical minority destroyed in a few short years what I and others had worked so hard to build. It was at this time that I realized that the communication opportunity that the Internet provided could enable a grassroots effort which could restore economic conservatism as the primary focus of the party."Miller said the group will work via the Internet and telephone to unite Republicans who are just as disillusioned with the direction of the party."Over the next year we will be putting together a list of our own platform demands -- just as the Religious Right has done," he said. Once this is done, we will give these members the tools they will need to become precinct chairpersons and take these demands on to the national party platform."SIDEBAR 1EXCERPTS FROM THE REPUBLICAN PARTY PLATFORM, ADOPTED IN SAN DIEGO EARLIER THIS MONTH:ON SOCIAL ISSUES: ¥ We are the party of the American family, educating children, caring for the sick, learning from the elderly, and helping the less fortunate. We believe that strengthening family life is the best way to improve the quality of life for everyone.¥ The unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protection apply to unborn children. Our purpose is to have legislative and judicial protection of that right against those who perform abortions.¥ Americans ... do not want to have to fight a constant battle against brutality and degradation in what passes for entertainment.¥ We also oppose indoctrination into the classroom.ON GOVERNMENT REFORM: ¥ As a first step in reforming government, we support elimination of the Departments of Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Education and Energy, and the elimination, defunding or privatization of agencies which are obsolete, redundant, of limited value, or too regional in focus. Examples of agencies we seek to defund or to privatize are the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Legal Services Corporation.ON IMMIGRATION AND ENGLISH-ONLY LEGISLATION: ¥ We must set immigration at manageable levels, balance the competing goals of uniting families of our citizens and admitting specially talented persons, and end asylum abuses through expedited exclusion of false claimants.¥ We support a Constitutional amendment or Constitutionally-valid legislation declaring that children born in the United States of parents who are not legally present in the United States or who are not long-term residents are not automatically citizens.¥ English, our common language, provides a shared foundation which has allowed people from every corner of the world to come together to build the American Dream ...We support the official recognition of English as the nation's common language.ON EDUCATION: ¥ The federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula or to control jobs in the work place ...We call for prompt repeal of the Goals 2000 program and the School-To-Work Act of 1994 ...We further urge that federal attempts to impose outcome- or performance-based education on local schools be ended.¥ Abstinance education in the home will lead to less need for birth control services and fewer abortions. We support educational initiatives to promote chastity until marriage as the expected standard of behavior.¥ We oppose school-based clinics, which provide referrals, counseling and related services for contraception and abortion.¥ We will continue to work for the return of voluntary prayer to our schools.ON THE ENVIRONMENT:¥ Republicans have always advocated conserving our animal and plant resources, but we recognize the current Endangered Species Act is seriously flawed and, indeed, is often counterproductive because of its reliance on federal command-and-control measures.¥ Republicans consider private-property rights the cornerstone of environmental progress.¥ We support a thorough review of the lands owned by the federal government with a goal of transferring lands that can best be managed by state, county or municipal governments.ON THE MILITARY: ¥ We are the party of peace through strength ...Republicans will not subordinate United States sovereignty to any national authority. We oppose the commitment of American troops to U.N. "peacekeeping" operations under foreign commanders and will never compel American servicemen to wear foreign uniforms or insignia.¥ We oppose Bill Clinton's assault on the culture and traditions of the armed forces, especially his attempt to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military. We affirm that homosexuality is incompatible with military service.¥ We reaffirm our support for the exemption of women from ground combat units and are concerned about the current policy of involuntarily assigning women to combat or near-combat units.¥ We will not tolerate sexual harassment or misconduct toward anyone in uniform, but we oppose politically motivated witch-hunts that smear the innocent and destroy honorable careers.SIDEBAR 2EXCERPTS FROM THE PROPOSED DEMOCRATIC PARTY PLATFORM, TO BE ADOPTED IN CHICAGO THIS WEEK:ON SOCIAL ISSUES: ¥ The first and most sacred responsibility of every parent is to cherish our children and strengthen our families. The family is the foundation of American life.¥ The Democratic Party stands behind the right of every woman to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of ability to pay... We believe it is a fundamental Constitutional liberty that individual Americans - not government - can best take responsibility for making the most difficult and intensely personal decisions regarding reproduction.¥ We believe in public support for the arts, especially for high-quality, family-friendly programming ...We are proud to have stopped the Republican attack on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting - we want our children to watch Sesame Street, not Power Rangers.ON THE ECONOMY: ¥ We believe that if we want the American economy to continue strong growth, we must continue to expand trade, and not retreat from the world... In the next four years, we must continue to work to lower foreign trade barriers.ON EDUCATION: ¥ Education is the key to opportunity. In the new global economy, it is more important than ever before. Today, education is the fault line that separates those who will prosper from those who cannot.¥ We should not bash teachers. We should applaud them, and find ways to keep the best teachers in the classroom. Schools should be held accountable for results ...We should expand public-school choice, but we should not take American tax dollars and give them to private schools.¥ We support schools that adopt school-uniform policies, to promote discipline and respect. We support community-based curfews to keep kids off the streets after a certain time.ON CRIME:¥ Today's Democratic Party believes the first responsibility of government is law and order.¥ We believe that people who break the law should be punished, and people who commit violent crimes should be punished severely. President Clinton made "three-strikes-you're-out" the law of the land, to ensure that the most dangerous criminals go to jail for life, with no chance of parole.ON IMMIGRATION:¥ We are a nation of immigrants. We recognize the extraordinary contribution of immigrants to America throughout our history. We welcome legal immigrants to America. We support a legal immigration policy that is pro-family, pro-work, pro-responsibility and pro-citizenship, and we deplore those who blame immigrants for economic and social problems.¥ We cannot tolerate illegal immigration and we must stop it ...However, as we work to stop illegal immigration, we call on all Americans to avoid the temptation to use this issue to divide people from each other. We deplore those who use the need to stop illegal immigration as a pretext for discrimination.ON THE ENVIRONMENT: ¥ We understand we have a sacred obligation to protect God's earth and preserve our quality of life for our children and our children's children.¥ We believe America should insist that toxic waste cleanup is paid for by those responsible for it in the first place - and not foisted off on the taxpayers.ON GOVERNMENT REFORM: ¥ Special interests have too much power in the halls of government. They often operate in secret and have special privileges ordinary Americans do not even know exist ...It is time to take the reins of democracy away from big money and put them back in the hands of the American people, where they belong.¥ The era of big government is over. Big bureaucracies and Washington solutions are not the real answers to today's challenges. We need a smaller government ... and we must have a larger national spirit.ON THE MILITARY AND FOREIGN RELATIONS: ¥ We believe the only way to ensure America's security and prosperity over the long run is to continue exerting American leadership across a range of military, diplomatic, and humanitarian challenges around the world.¥ Today's Democratic Party knows that peace and democracy are products of decisive strength and active diplomacy.

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