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Democrats Fashion Broad Platform

Clinton and party offer `new covenant' to American voters

DEMOCRATIC leaders are trying to bridge a lot of gaps in the 1992 presidential campaign, now officially under way at this week's Democratic National Convention here.

Running on a platform called "A New Covenant with the American People," Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, promises to fill a void created by "12 years of Republican irresponsibility and neglect" that has left "our people torn by divisions."

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Calling his party the most unified in two decades, Ron Brown, the Democratic national chair-man, told reporters at a Monitor lunch that his party's "plan for the future" is a departure from old and tired Democratic calls for redistribution of wealth.

Mr. Brown and other party officials concede that the new "growth policy" is the best way to overcome the great divide between the Democratic Party and American voters, who associate Democratic liberalism with dramatically higher taxes and runaway government spending.

With a platform geared toward economic expansion (a favored Republican rallying cry), Brown asserts that Mr. Clinton will reach a broad spectrum of voters.

The new Democratic language conveys a message directed at the nation's many disaffected voters. This week party officials season their statements to the tens of thousands of delegates, press and other attendees here with phrases such as "inclusion," "leadership for change," and "a new generation." The two-page preamble to the platform itself invokes the word "revolution" eight times.

The Democrats promise a youthful campaign over the next four months, an upbeat House of Representatives Speaker Thomas Foley (D) of Washington told reporters at a Monitor breakfast this week.

He said Clinton's choice of United States Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee as his running mate makes "this the youngest ticket in the history of the country, and the first ticket in which the nominees-to-be were born after World War II."

While the ticket is in the great tradition of the Democratic Party's "concerns for the problems of poor and disadvantaged American citizens with the commitment to civil rights, civil liberties," Speaker Foley stresses that "it is also a ticket committed to economic growth, jobs, and employment, and dealing with the critical problems of health care, education, and infrastructure."

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The party is dedicated to meeting the needs of Americans across the economic spectrum of minorities and disadvantaged groups as well as middle-income and working-class people, he said.

Countering Vice President Dan Quayle's family values message, the Democratic platform offers a number of prescriptions for strengthening the family: a crackdown on deadbeat parents, a systematic effort to establish paternity for every child, preventative programs for spouse and child abuse, and child-care opportunities.

John White, who was Democratic Party chairman during Jimmy Carter's 1980 presidential campaign, says this year's platform beckons to broad-based special interests, such as teachers, organized labor, and women.

"We have to give them and others a stake in this election, or they'll sit it out," he says.

The platform, which will be debated among delegates today, contains commitments ranging from reversing urban decay to arresting ozone depletion.

As a concession to former Democratic challenger Paul Tsongas, the ex-Massachusetts senator will be allowed to submit four minority planks for the overall platform.

Mr. Tsongas proposes a broader capital-gains cut than Clinton supports; federal spending caps that would mean a rigid approach to cutting the country's burgeoning deficit; postponing middle-class tax cuts until the federal deficit is under control; and an annual 5-cents- per-gallon increase in the gasoline tax in order to conserve energy and help pay for improvements in public works. (Tsongas speaks out, Page 6).

In an effort to win support from voters strongly swayed by Tsongas's "business first" economic message, the platform's drafters must be careful not to alienate labor groups that are already wary of Clinton's earlier support for replacing striking workers. In the platform, Clinton tries to close the distance between him and this important constituency. With his specific call to protect workers' rights in general and in the US-Mexico free trade accord in particular, he may gain ground with unionized worke rs who strongly oppose the free- trade agreement out of fear that US jobs will be undercut by cheaper, less-regulated markets across the border.

"The Clinton organization understands how important it is to get Tsongas's support," says Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman Steven Grossman, who served on the Platform Drafting Committee.

Mr. Grossman says the Bay State - where Tsongas won handily in the spring presidential primaries - is "disproportionately represented in its political importance." He cites a number of Clinton advisers who hail from Massachusetts. "Clinton recognizes what Tsongas can do for him in Massachusetts and in other states where Tsongas was very successful."

Democratic leaders agree that Tsongas will lose the battle to include his four minority proposals, but say that the decision to air them at the convention is a demonstration of the party's respect.

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