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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It is the tone of the document that has changed most dramatically. The 1996 platform launched an attack on the opposition in the third line of the preamble ("The Clinton administration has proven unequal to the heritage of our past, the promise of our times, and the character of the American people") and became progressively more bellicose from there. It portrayed Bob Dole as a scarred warrior locked in mortal combat with Evil -- "a man who knew battle and so loves peace, a man who lives bravely and so walks humbly with his God and his fellow citizens. We walk with him now as he joins one more battle, every bit as crucial for our country's future as was the crusade in which he served." The language was stirring, if a bit over the top. (The '96 election was as "crucial" as World War II?) It was also about as sunny as Dole himself.

The new platform is nothing like that. It opens on the perkiest possible note, and sustains it. "Our commitment to the nation's economic growth," the first paragraph declares, "is an affirmation of the real riches of our country: the works of compassion that link home to home, community to community, hand to hand." Compassion. Communities. Hands. It's all there. It could be a Bush speech.

The Bush campaign believes that this sort of rhetoric is more popular with the voting public than the old, mean kind. It probably is. But it has done nothing to calm abortion activists, who back in the "family and community" subcommittee room in Philadelphia are spending their allotted hour Friday morning arguing over whether the current platform should remain pro-life.

A couple of pro-choice delegates make their case that it should not. Why does the platform have to mention abortion at all? asks one. "Why are we afraid of being inclusive?" wonders another. Representative Henry Hyde counters with an eloquent explanation of why it should. A vote is taken. By a count of 11 to 3, the pro-life language stays.

And then the raging debate is over. Most of the reporters in the room relocate to the hallway outside, where Ann Stone, head of Republicans for Choice, is dispensing sound bites. GOP platform hearings are what Stone lives for. Four years ago, the week before the convention in San Diego, she and Gary Bauer staged a kind of mock debate for the benefit of bored journalists. This year, Bauer is nowhere in sight. "I think he's coming here next week to do some commentary on FOX," explains Richard Lessner, a former aide. "That's his role at the convention."

Stone shows no sign of missing her sparring partner. "Outrageous, just outrageous," she barks as cameras roll. The fight over the abortion plank, she tells reporters, is far from over. Indeed, she implies, she and her allies may take their cause all the way to the floor of the convention.

Stone is almost certainly bluffing. In private, she makes it clear that she considers the Bush campaign sympathetic to many of her aims. "Bush had people appointed to the platform who are pro-choice, several of them. It was intentional." In fact, Stone says, many of the people she talks to on the Bush campaign are pro-choice. For the last week, she boasts, "I've talked to Tommy Thompson several times a day," mostly about "creativity in approaching the subject."

It's not clear exactly what Stone means by this, since she won't say. But it is clear that the Bush campaign has gone out of its way to solicit the opinions of Stone and other prochoicers. And it is obvious that everyone involved gets along well. "There's a lot of issues that prochoice women can feel very, very good about in this platform," Tommy Thompson told CNN the day before the hearing. "And I feel very good about it."

According to Stone, she and the Bush campaign have at least one thing in common: Both have disdain for organized pro-lifers. "We've been told time and again by the Bush people that we are much easier to deal with," Stone says with pride.

Tucker Carlson is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.