The Magazine

The Well-Tempered GOP Platform

This year, the traditional pre-convention fight didn't happen

Aug 7, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 44 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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CATHIE ADAMS is one of the people who decide what the Republican party believes. Adams, who is from Dallas, is a delegate to the GOP platform committee. She has been to two previous Republican conventions, and she came to Philadelphia last week eager to meet with other members of her subcommittee and begin hashing out the details of the "conservation, agriculture and natural resources" section of the platform.

Adams arrived at the meeting Friday morning ready to work. She expected to spend all day tweaking and improving the draft platform, voting on amendments, debating ideas with fellow delegates. Instead, she and her group were informed that their deliberations were to be completed by noon.

The whole thing was a bit confusing. Like the other delegates, Adams had not received a copy of the platform until the evening before, leaving barely enough time to read it, much less consider its specifics. (Reporters, by contrast, were given copies of the platform hours earlier on the condition they not tell delegates what was in it.) Adams began to suspect that the Bush campaign wasn't very interested in hearing her opinions on conservation, agriculture, and natural resources. "Rather than recognizing the process as a reflection of the grassroots," Adams says carefully, "there is more emphasis on reflecting Gov. Bush's positions."

And the positions of some of his supporters. Toward the end of the Friday morning meeting, one of the delegates on the subcommittee, a man from Alaska, offered an amendment that would affect the plank that calls for the construction of a nationwide high-speed passenger rail service, something that, in case you didn't know, the Republican party officially supports. Suddenly, as from nowhere, Tommy Thompson appeared in the room. Thompson is the governor of Wisconsin and the man George W. Bush selected to run the platform hearings. He is also, as Adams discovered, the chairman of Amtrak, and therefore someone with a keen interest in railroad policy. Thompson walked over to the delegate from Alaska and instructed him to make certain the word "national" stayed in the platform -- as in a "national high-speed passenger railroad system." Adams, who was sitting one seat away, says it didn't matter one way or the other to the Alaskan. "He said, 'I don't care if you want to call it 'global.'" So "national" it was.

Cathie Adams wasn't impressed by the exchange. She sounds dispirited by her experience on the platform committee generally. Some delegates come to political conventions for the parties. There are others, however, who come because they want to participate in running their party. These are the ones who are apt to like politics because of the ideas. They tend to be ideologues, true believers -- in other words, troublemakers. The Bush campaign has tried hard to keep them under control.

This year's platform hearings lasted two days, rather than the traditional four. Party officials refer to these and other changes as "streamlining," and say that many of them were designed to save the time and money of delegates, who must pay their own way to the convention. This may be true. It is also convenient. A shortened platform process left little time for abortion activists on both sides to make embarrassing, televised scenes over the platform language. The Republican party did hold a platform hearing in June where there was limited debate about abortion. But it was in Billings, Montana, on a Friday. Very few people came, and there was almost no news coverage of it. "There were a lot of elk there," chuckles a Bush staffer. Meanwhile, the party, under the firm and vigorous guidance of the Bush campaign, set about writing a new platform. The result is the kindest, gentlest statement of Republican dogma in memory, maybe in history. There is not a word about Monica Lewinsky or Buddhist temple fund-raising, not even a single direct reference to Bill Clinton or Al Gore. Many of the policy positions are similar to earlier versions, though some of the more controversial and unlikely ones have been removed. "We don't shut down or de-fund any federal agencies," explains one Republican official proudly.