Democrats debated a platform Saturday that seeks to rally the party behind Barack Obama's policies and satisfy supporters of his vanquished rival for the nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
A draft of the platform was taken up by the party's 186-member platform committee for debate, amendments and adoption. The Democratic National Convention will vote on it in Denver later this month.
"We can rise together and form a new kind of government," Democratic Chairman Howard Dean told the committee. "We will pledge to return to core moral principles like stewardship, service to others, personal responsibility, shared sacrifice and shared opportunity for everybody."
Presidential candidates are not bound by platforms and tend to give them little regard once they are approved.
Still, careful work goes into drawing up the statement of principles and ensuring it doesn't drift from the nominee's own positions, yet keeps party activists and defeated candidates in line.
That usually means haggling over distinctions in words and phrases that may mean little to the average voter but carry great import with party loyalists.
On Iraq, the draft states that Democrats "expect to complete redeployment within 16 months," reflecting Obama's time frame but not the tone of certainty he brought to it when he was running in the primaries.
Similarly, on health care, the draft aims for universal coverage without promising it.
"We believe that quality and affordable health care is a basic right," the preamble states, using words often heard from Clinton.
Later, it asserts: "We believe that covering all is not just a moral imperative, but is necessary to making our health system workable and affordable."
Obama proposes to make health insurance mandatory for children and affordable for all. Unlike Clinton's plan in the primaries, his would not require everyone to have it.
The 51-page draft shows the influence of Clinton's supporters not only in the extensive section on health care but in its assertions about the treatment of women. Some of her backers believed sexism dogged her campaign for the nomination.
"We believe that standing up for our country means standing up against sexism and all intolerance," the document states. "Demeaning portrayals of women cheapen our debates, dampen the dreams of our daughters and deny us the contributions of too many. Responsibility lies with us all."
Even so, the proposed platform is thoroughly tuned to Obama's proposals.
It reasserts his promise of energy rebates to struggling families, pension subsidies, a crackdown on predatory lenders, higher taxes for families earning over $250,000, tax breaks for others, billions for economic stimulus and "direct high-level diplomacy, without preconditions," in the case of Iran.
The draft was prepared after more than 1,600 hearings around the country.
Promises on improving NAFTA
On trade, it promises a multilateral approach to improving the North American Free Trade Agreement, without saying specifically what those changes should be. Obama criticized NAFTA when campaigning in states that felt disadvantaged by it, but the platform offers no suggestion he would take unilateral action against the deal.
Instead, it says: "We will work with Canada and Mexico to amend the North American Free Trade Agreement so that it works better for all three North American countries."
Four years ago, when John Kerry held the reins going into the convention that affirmed his nomination, the party resisted efforts by some Democrats to have the platform declare the Iraq war a mistake.
Now, under the influence of a candidate who opposed the invasion from the start, the draft calls the war "ill-considered" and "unnecessary."
Republicans will go through a similar platform process just ahead of their convention and, if the past is any guide, argue over abortion and other social issues without making substantial changes to the GOP's core beliefs.
The Democratic draft:
- Promises "tough, practical, and humane immigration reform in the first year of the next administration."
- Favors restoration of the ban on assault-type weapons and other "reasonable regulation" that recognizes the constitutional right to own and use firearms.
- Favors helping religious groups provide social services as long as "public funds are not used to proselytize or discriminate."
- Promises to close the Guantanamo detention center.
- Promises to double the Peace Corps.