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Democratic Platform Cautiously Balances Diverse Party Opinions

By Kevin Merida
The Washington Post
CHICAGO

The Democratic Party's platform is something of a balancing act.

It insists that illegal immigration must be stopped, but deplores "those who use the need to stop illegal immigration as a pretext for discrimination."

It boasts of the Democratic role in reforming the welfare system, but says portions of the new law President Clinton recently signed go "too far" and "should be fixed."

The platform commits to protecting the environment, but says "we do not trap business in a tangle of red tape."

It is, in short, a yin and yang blueprint for Clinton's middle-of-the-road fall campaign - with an emphasis on utilizing the bully pulpit rather than big government to effect change.

When Democratic delegates ratify this platform on Tuesday, they essentially will be endorsing a campaign strategy: It is better to focus on the enemy than to battle one another over policy differences.

"The major thing it says is we don't have a fight," observed Democratic pollster Peter Hart. "Usually we can spend days, weeks, fighting over the platform. That's probably why we're at the United Center - we're united."

There is still evidence of dissent within the party's coalitions, but what a difference four years - and an incumbent president - makes. By the time Democrats arrived in New York for their convention in 1992, there already had been several pitched skirmishes over the platform.

One of Clinton's vanquished primary opponents, former California Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown, Jr., blasted a draft document as "verbal cellophane" and managed to win concessions for liberals on the environment. Another beaten foe, former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas, had enough strength among fiscal conservatives that Clinton operatives allowed him to bring his economic proposals to the convention floor for debate - though he didn't have the votes to do so.

And then-New York Mayor David Dinkins pressed for and won a stronger commitment from the party to aid the cities and the poor.

In fact, the 1992 platform contained a separate section, labeled "The Cities," that promises a "national public works investment and infrastructure program," summer jobs and training programs for inner city youth and "targeted fiscal assistance to cities that need it most."

Some of these initiatives were contained in Clinton's economic stimulus package that Republicans defeated in 1993. No separate section on cities exists in this year's document.

Drafted by administration officials, the platform is largely a nod to Clinton's centrist impulses. And it contains, by omission, tacit acknowledgment of his political and policy failures.