Democratic Party platform writers have a problem in 1984: How can they make everybody in the party - from feminists to Hispanics to conservative Southerners - happy at the same time?
Answer: Don't get too specific. Don't mention controversial bills. In fact, don't even mention the Equal Rights Amendment.
The idea surprises some Democrats. ERA, for example, has been a litmus test in the party for years. It has been the badge that Democrats said proved they were on the right side of the women's rights issue.
But ERA, along with other controversial proposals, may be mentioned only indirectly when Democrats are through writing this year's platform.
Democratic leaders hope a platform that has its sharp edges taken off will be a little easier for voters in all parts of the country to swallow.
That wasn't the case in 1980. Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro of New York, who chairs this year's Democratic Platform Committee, says that in the election four years ago, many Democratic candidates simply ''walked away from the platform and felt no responsibility for it.'' There was too much in the '80 platform that they could not accept.
Mrs. Ferraro says that by avoiding a direct confrontation over specific bills and constitutional amendments, things could be different this time, even though the sentiments are the same. Says a Ferraro aide:
''It does boil down to semantics, but in politics, semantics is extremely important.''
This time, Mrs. Ferraro says, party leaders are working behind the scenes with political activists to win agreement on a platform that won't get too specific - a platform that will be as palatable in Biloxi as it is in Boston.
''What I've got to do,'' says Representative Ferraro, ''is convince every single constitutent group that I'm treating everybody exactly the same way.''
She concedes that what she is trying to do is ''very hard.''
''I don't know if I'll be successful. We haven't even started on a staff draft yet.'' But the goal is urgent:
''I don't want a platform . . . that can be used in a negative way against those of us seeking reelection.''
Mrs. Ferraro has been consulting with feminist leaders such as Judy Goldsmith , president of the National Organization for Women, and Eleanor Smeal, a former NOW president, to find just the right language. She says her conversations have led her to believe that they will not demand that the party include specific language about ERA.
''If you are going to say that Judy Goldsmith and Ellie Smeal have one thing in mind, which is the specific words, I say you are wrong. I say there is something much larger than that, and the much larger thing is we have to beat Ronald Reagan.''
Four years ago, the Democratic platform contained a 372-word statement supporting the ERA. It said, in part:
''The Democratic Party commits itself to a Constitution, economy, and society open to women on an equal basis with men. The primary route to that new horizon is ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. . . . The Democratic Party must ensure that ERA at last becomes the 27th Amendment to the Constitution.''
Immigration is another prickly area for platform writers.
Wending its way through Congress in recent months has been the Simpson-Mazzoli bill, named for Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R) of Wyoming and Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli (D) of Kentucky.
The bill is a hot potato for Democrats. It angers one Democratic constituency , the large Hispanic vote in California and other Western states. But the bill has the strong support of many labor-union members, who want to slow the loss of jobs to illegal aliens, primarily from Mexico.
Mrs. Ferraro says current plans are to leave out any view for or against Simpson-Mazzoli, and to couch the platform in terms that do not endorse any specific immigation legislation.
Democrats have been listening to views of various groups around the country for weeks, and will wrap up their hearings June 11 and 12 with a final session in Washington, D.C. Mrs. Ferraro expects to have a draft of the the platform completed by June 24.
While ERA may cause a flurry of interest, Mrs. Ferraro says the most difficult parts of the platform to resolve will probably lie in other areas. She mentions three of them: dual primaries, homosexual rights, and possibly immigration.
The struggle over dual, or second, primaries is a focal point of Jesse Jackson's campaign for the White House. He insists that runoff primaries, particularly in Southern states, make it more difficult for blacks to be elected to office. But Southern Democratic leaders say that doing away with second primaries could be a serious blow to the party, and be a boon to Republicans.
The issue of homosexual rights could be damaging to Democrats. Their convention will be in San Francisco, which has a large homosexual community. Activists are demanding that Democrats support homosexual rights in employment, including the US military services and federal intelligence agencies.