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New presidential 'loyalty' test -- how long will it last?

For the first time in American political history a presidential nominating convention demanded and got from its candidate an advance comment on its platform, including economic planks which the candidate had previously opposed.

President Carter declared in a statement distributed to the delegates at the Democratic National Convention that he enthusiastically endorsed "these ideals" in the platform, which had been incorporated in Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's ringing speech the evening before.

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But Mr. Carter said he had "concerns" with one minority report that had been written into the platform with Mr. Kennedy's endorsement. This plank would commit him to "take no action whose effect will be a significant increase in unemployment." This referred to possible anti-inflation steps by the government that might put industrial groups out of work.

The President added gently in the course of his lengthy review of the convention platform that "responsibility in these matters must ultimately rest with the President and Congress: This responsibility should not be delegated to staff officials of either branch of government."

The formula of approval worked out by Carter was submitted to Kennedy and appeared to hang fire for a tense, crucial period. No other convention has imposed a written approval requirement on the man nominated, usually giving him only the option of explaining his reservations if he held any. The situation indicated the hold which the senator had at the convention on his stalwarts, whose support is vital to President Carter. The requirement of a written and signed loyalty test injects what some see as a new phase in government which might bring the quadrennial nominating convention into the legislative process.

Amid the roar and flag-waving of the delegates in the nominating process of Wednesday evening, what amounted to bulletins came from the chairman, House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr., indicating that the two sides were coming together.

It began informally the day before with congratulations by President Carter on Senator Kennedy's rousing speech attacking Republican candidate Ronald Reagan. At 9:55 Wednesday night Mr. O'Neill read a message from Kennedy releasing all his delegates. Pandemonium broke out, a great roar went up and mingled Kennedy-Carter banners waved (including one enigmatic, hand-written sign which merely said "I Love Fall River.")

Then, in the midst of a series of set partisan declamations, word was read, this time from President Carter, that he would sign and "enthusiastically" endorse the platform as required. It did not go into specifics. Again it set off a noisy response.

Finally, when the roll call of the states reached Texas and the state's Carter majority put him over the top, the delegates began the longest ovation of the night.

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At 20 minutes after midnight came a bulletin from Senator Kennedy congratulating the victor.It was "imperative," Mr. Kennedy told the great hall, that they make common cause against Ronald Reagan. A spontaneous cry rose different from any other yell in the convention. All sides jumped to the conclusion that the way had been assured for the standard reconciliation scene to conclude the party's convention Aug. 14 with Mr. Kennedy joining newly renominated President Carter on the platform for the final harmonious tableau.

Most delegates by then had seen hastily prepared copies of Carter's lengthy analysis and eulogy of the party platform. Here and there in this unique document are tactful reservations from the specific details of the platform, though never against its "spirit and aims." The President, for example, frankly declares that "I have personally opposed federal funding of abortion." This refers to a Democratic plank which opposes the Republican proposal for a constitutional amendment to restrict abortion.

The lengthy Carter statement concludes:

"With these understandings, and with the few reservations expressed above, I pledge to do my best to carry out the recommendations and to fulfill the principles of the 1980 Democratic Party platform."

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