Republicans Rework Party Platform

Friday, July 28th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Playing up a ``progressive'' side, Republicans are adopting a more conciliatory tone toward government while hewing closely in substance to their conservative fundamentals on taxes, abortion, defense and more.

The GOP's platform committee begins work Friday on a draft that drops the party's call for making English the official language and proposes a stronger federal role in education and the environment than Republican policy has favored.

``Government does have a role to play, but as a partner, not a rival, to the armies of compassion,'' states the draft.

A document of the party, not the presidential candidate, it is infused nonetheless with the optimistic bearing of George W. Bush.

On the other hand, the draft leaves unchanged the party's uncompromising stand against abortion rights. It also maintains the position that homosexuality is incompatible with military service.

Platform committee members received the draft late Thursday and are expected to make mostly cosmetic changes. The full Republican National Convention, opening Monday, will ratify the document next week.

Although the platform draft strays from Bush's stand on abortion, ``I think he'll have no problem at all'' endorsing it, Republican National Chairman Jim Nicholson said Friday on NBC's ``Today.''

``What's important is that we remain the party that believes strongly in the sanctity of life,'' Nicholson added. ``We're going to have a vigorous discussion . ... The majority will decide how that document will really read.''

While the 1996 GOP platform was packed with biting, sometimes dour attacks on President Clinton, the new tome mentions Clinton and Democratic candidate Al Gore once or twice in passing.

``We want to be uplifting,'' Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, chairman of the platform committee, said Thursday on CNN. ``We want to be visionary and progressive.''

Gone, too, is the zeal to close half a dozen federal departments — the draft does not propose shutting any — and a portrayal of the federal government as not just intrusive, but practically villainous.

Even so, the draft sits upon the conservative foundation that less government is best.

``In recent years, America seemed to move away from some of the qualities that make her great, but we are now relearning some important lessons,'' it says.

``We're coming to understand that a good and civil society cannot be packaged into government programs but must originate in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and in the private institutions that bring us together.''

The draft gives no ground to abortion-rights advocates, asserting as before that ``the unborn child has a right to life which cannot be infringed,'' and proposing to ban abortion through a constitutional amendment and legislation.

That topic is a likely flash point for debate in two days of platform meetings. Bush believes abortion should remain legal in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman — exceptions not specified in the platform — but he chose not to challenge the party's social conservatives on the issue.

Otherwise the draft is compatible with his policies on deep tax cuts, partial privatization of Social Security and other major areas.

Thompson said he thinks Bush ``is going to feel very comfortable with the platform. I don't think anybody can embrace it in total.''

The draft does not propose dramatic departures in a GOP environmental policy that favors cooperation with private interests and an emphasis on state regulation over mandates from Washington.

But it scales back criticism of the Endangered Species Act, celebrates advances in wetlands restoration and air and water quality, and asserts, ``There should be a strong federal role in environmental protection.''

In a section billed in advance by platform leaders as an example of the ``compassionate conservatism'' promoted by Bush, the document supports large increases in spending on behalf of women's health, in particular, and medical research in general.

Such research is ``one of the few areas in which government investment yields tangible results,'' the draft says.

But overall, ``we will promote a health care system that supports, not supplants, the private sector.''

On immigration, the draft drops language from the 1996 platform that sought to forbid giving social services to illegal immigrants and said even legal immigrants should not depend on taxpayers for help.

Instead of favoring making English the official language, the new platform would consider English ``our common language.'' It encourages ``respect for other languages and cultures throughout our society.''

The draft proposes pulling out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the required six months notice if Russia does not agree to change it to permit a ``robust'' national defense system.

It presents as the ``central values of our party and our country'' a reduced role for government, more personal liberty, ``economic freedom,'' reliance on the market and decentralized decision-making.