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'Platforms R'nt Us

As activists from the parties' extreme wings have come to dominate first the Democratic and now the Republican conventions, presidential (and other) candidates have spent a lot of time running away from their official party platforms.

So Republican candidate Bob Dole tells the San Diego Union-Tribune that he has neither read the GOP Platform Committee report nor will be bound by it. On the convention floor, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a pro-choice moderate, told reporters that the platform "doesn't matter much; it's a 64-page document no one has read. You can't have a national convention write a platform everyone will agree on."

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Sen. Alfonse D'Amato of New York was also doing the northeast Republican shuffle: "No Democrat or Republican must agree with every part of the party platform."

The Dole campaign and other officeholders are doing their best to turn attention away from the GOP's abortion controversy. This year's plank calling for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion is basically a more-detailed repetition of the platform position since 1980. The difference was the willingness this year of abortion-rights advocates, who polls show represent the overwhelming majority of GOP voters, to dig in their heels on the issue.

While Mr. Dole was unable to get the platform committee to water down the plank with a "tolerance" paragraph, the committee agreed to publish a minority report setting forth the pro-choice position.

The moderates appear to be paying dearly even for this concession, however. So eager is the Dole campaign to keep the convention "on message" by spotlighting Dole's economic proposals that several moderate governors - William Weld of Massachusetts, Pete Wilson of California, and maybe George Pataki of New York - have withdrawn from speaking roles or been disinvited. Mr. Weld intended to push a pro-choice position. Being bounced probably helps him, since it distances him from the national party. That will help back home in his neck-and-neck race to unseat incumbent Democrat Sen. John Kerry.

One platform plank everyone ought to run from is the pointless proposal to repeal the 14th Amendment to the Constitution so that children born in the US to illegal immigrants would no longer be considered United States citizens. Currently, all children born here are citizens unless their parents are on the diplomatic list or are members of an occupying army. Platform committee members claim people are coming to the US to have children so they can get immigration status.

That was true once but hasn't been the case since the law was changed more than 20 years ago. It used to be that minor citizens could qualify their parents for immigrant status. No longer. Now a citizen must be an adult before his or her parents can qualify as legal immigrants on the basis of their relation to a US citizen.

Reducing the number of legal immigrants is one thing. But this proposal would create a new class of stateless persons. Fortunately, Congress can be expected to reject the idea. Senator D'Amato, grandson of immigrants, says there is no support for such a proposal in the Senate.

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When nonsense makes it into the platform of a major political party (and Democrats will have their own forms of silliness), perhaps the time has come to heed Governor Whitman's advice and reduce platforms to short statements of principles.

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