HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – Democratic leaders on Saturday rejected suggestions that their party’s platform condemn the war in Iraq and offered instead a platform heavily stressing national security.

Overall, the platform offers principles and goals but few details while attempting to buttress presidential candidate John Kerry’s claim that he would be better than President Bush at protecting the country, boosting the economy and helping the working and middle classes.

Approved by a voice vote, the platform will be submitted to the Democratic National Convention later this month for ratification.

Liberal Democrats dropped several anti-war planks after they were unable to muster even the 14 votes needed on the 186-member platform-writing committee to take up their proposals calling the Iraq war a mistake and urging withdrawal of American troops.

Instead, the entire first half of the platform document is dedicated to Democrats’ plans to bolster national defense. That compares to about a fifth of recent past platforms.

Its emphasis on national security was designed to ward off fears that Americans will see the Democratic Party as habitually anti-war and weak.

“Democrats are stronger than ever on national security issues and are going into the election confident of winning the debate over who will keep Americans safe,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Republicans called the platform an effort to make Kerry look more conservative than his record suggests.

“It seems to be designed to hide his values and the things he has done in the everyday of American politics,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie on Friday. “It’s not a platform to stand on. It’s a facade to hide behind.”

To put forward their tough face on defense, Democrats first had to sidestep the question of whether it was right or wrong to invade Iraq and reject proposals that the United States should withdraw its troops.

Iraq is a politically delicate question for Democrats. Majorities of rank and file Democrats now say going to war was wrong, according to polls. But both Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, voted to authorize the war.

The platform acknowledges that division: “People of good will disagree about whether America should have gone to war in Iraq.”

The panel also concluded the United States must remain in Iraq. “We cannot allow a failed state in Iraq that inevitably would become a haven for terrorists and a destabilizing force in the Middle East,” it states.

A small group of anti-war activists, mostly allied with the presidential campaign of Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, wiped tears from their eyes and hugged one another in a hotel hallway as a Kucinich campaign aide explained they would not get to debate their proposals. Instead, he told them, they would accept compromise language from the Kerry campaign that Kerry allies said represented no change.

To fight terrorism, the blueprint stresses getting allies to do more, but offers no specifics on how to accomplish that. It criticizes Bush for endorsing “unilateral” pre-emptive war, but notably does not condemn or reject the right of the United States to act pre-emptively if threatened.

Among the platform’s other national security goals are:

-Adding 40,000 troops to the military;

-Doubling the capacity of Special Forces;

-Improving intelligence gathering;

-Freezing out countries that finance terrorism and getting tougher with Saudi Arabia;

-Negotiating unilaterally if necessary with North Korea to curb its nuclear weapons program;

-Increasing energy conservation and finding “more diverse” sources of oil to ease dependence on Mideast oil.

The Democrats also urge improvements in homeland security. They vow to improve security at airports, ports, chemical and nuclear plants, railroads and subways. They urge more federal aid to fire and police departments.

The platform recommends changes in the USA PATRIOT Act to strengthen money laundering provisions while removing parts that threaten individual rights, particularly one allowing searches of library records.

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

On the economy, Democrats promise to create jobs, improve productivity, and curb spiraling costs for education and healthy care.

“Our great middle class is hard pressed,” the platform committee concludes. “Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and millions more are struggling under the mounting burden of life’s everyday costs.”

In a departure from Clinton-era policies, the party urges a step back from free trade by adding protections for labor and the environment to new trade deals and reviewing existing deals.

(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)

Among other economic proposals:

-Ending tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas, creating new tax breaks for companies adding jobs at home;

-Providing a new college tax credit;

-Increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit and extending child tax credits for families;

-Providing more job training for those losing jobs;

-Providing universal access to high speed Internet service.

On the federal budget, the party platform urges raising taxes on those making more than $200,000 a year and cutting taxes for many making less.

The platform promises new controls on government spending and a Constitutional line item veto to help a president cut pork barrel spending by Congress. It does not repeat Kerry’s pledge to cut the deficit in half. Kerry has not explained how he could create new federal programs while cutting the deficit.

(END OPTIONAL TRIM)

On health care, the platform also reflects Kerry’s agenda. It promises to control spiraling health care costs for those with insurance and provide tax credits to help the rest buy insurance.

It would expand Medicare to help the elderly pay for prescription drugs, presumably replacing the drug benefit recently enacted by Congress and signed into law by Bush. The party would expand family and medical leave and lift restrictions on research using stem cells from human embryos.

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

The party leaves much of its liberal agenda to the closing paragraphs of the document. There, it reaffirms the party’s commitment to abortion rights, affirmative action, equal pay for women, and providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants

The party said it wants federal laws to protect gays and lesbians from workplace discrimination and hate crimes. But it says it would leave it to states to define marriage, rejecting as “divisive” a proposed Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman. The party said it seeks “full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of our nation.”



The Democratic Party’s draft platform will be available Wednesday at www.dems2004.org.



(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-07-10-04 1709EDT



Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.