DEMOCRATS, whose presidential candidates were out-of-fashion for so many years, are donning a fresh suit of clothes. Now they hope someone notices their new duds.
The new suit is the party's 1992 platform, crafted in the moderate image of Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. The chairman of the party's platform-writing committee, Rep. Bill Richardson (D) of New Mexico, promises that when Americans get a look at this latest mode, "no one will run away" as millions did in previous years.
Gone will be the usual Democratic litany of favors for special interest groups, Mr. Richardson says. Gone, too, will be the promise, made by Mr. Clinton during the New Hampshire primary, of a middle-class tax cut. Gone will be any support for big, bloated government, once synonymous with Democratic ideology. Change cited as key
At a recent breakfast meeting with reporters, Clinton explained that, to capture the White House this fall he, and his party, must be seen by voters as "the instrument of ... change." Otherwise, he warns bluntly, "we won't win."
One way he hopes to convince Americans that Democrats really will shake things up in Washington is by putting forward a platform unlike anything seen in 20 years. The final draft, currently being hammered out here, could be approved as early as Saturday.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D) of Connecticut, who is Clinton's representative on the platform-writing committee, says the platform will reassure Americans who worried in recent years that Democrats "forgot their way." Emphasis on growth
The principal emphasis will be on economic growth. "The main point we try to convey is [support for] economic growth, rather than economic redistribution, which used to be the basic thrust of the party," Richardson explains.
Senator Lieberman says that, in the minds of many Americans, Democrats have become "a social-policy party, not an economic-policy party." He says: "Unless we say to people that we also care about economic growth, ... about whether they have a job, ... then they're not going to see us as what we have traditionally been in American politics, which is the party of upward mobility."
Unless American voters see Democrats making the economy priority number one, "we [can] forget it as a successful national party," Lieberman warns.
The draft platform says: "We can no longer afford business as usual - simply new programs and new spending without new thinking. We call for a revolution in government - to take power away from the entrenched bureaucracies and narrow interests in Washington and put it back in the hands of communities, families, and citizens."
The draft platform promises to do that in four ways.
First, it supports expanded opportunity. That would be done, in the language of the platform, with "first-rate schools, high-skill jobs, steadily-growing wages, and world-class businesses that can out-compete anyone."
Second, in exchange for greater opportunity, the platform demands more responsibility on the part of individuals. "Opportunity and responsibility cannot be separated," the draft says. That means doing high-quality work, being ethical, and accepting responsibility for "ourselves, our families, our communities, and our country...."
Third, the platform says that only by restoring a sense of community can democracy succeed. This demands a strong economy that provides income for families and a tax base for communities and states. It means special help for large, decaying cities. It means an overhaul of welfare to encourage work. It means empowering the poor by eliminating rules that penalize savings by those on welfare.
Fourth, it calls for new thinking about national security, including a broad restructuring of the military in the post-cold-war era. It also calls for stronger support for democracy abroad, including the creation of a "democracy corps," using American volunteers to teach political expertise to other nations. And it puts defense of the world's environment as a security consideration, including the threat of overpopulation.
The platform covers such areas as the deficit, health care, education, investment, innovation, productivity, and conversion from defense to civilian production.
On the deficit, "everything will be put on the table" for cuts, except social security, the platform draft states. In addition, it notes that the middle class and the poor must be treated fairly.
Within those guidelines, it calls for control of "soaring health-care costs" with "tough measures." Health-care reform is particularly important, since that sector accounts for the fastest-growing drain on government budgets. It would also limit increases in federal spending to the percent increase of workers' paychecks; cut federal administrative costs by 3 percent; impose a pay-as-you-go rule on new spending; and hike taxes on the wealthy. Education a concern
Clinton is particularly keen on improving education. The platform supports public school choice, but rejects President Bush's call for putting public money into private and church-related schools.
It supports full-funding of Head Start. It would create a domestic GI bill that "gives all young Americans the means to pay for college if they will repay it as a small percentage of their income, or with a year or two of national service...."