RECONSTRUCTING the Democratic Party, or any unwieldy institution, will take time. But the Democrats, led by nominee Bill Clinton and his running mate Albert Gore, have shown in New York that they are well on their way with that task. The new formula is unity - a contrast to the party's prior image as a sprawling shopping mall of disconnected special interests. And the platform is not Mondale-Dukakis liberal, but Clinton moderate - a new balance of pro-growth economics with a traditional focus on minoriti es and civil rights.
It is now up to Messrs. Clinton and Gore to prove this new formula is workable, and more than pleasing talk. That means addressing intractable problems - like cutting entitlement programs and congressional pork. And it means keeping the faltering trust and hope of less enfranchised groups, like blacks and Hispanics, alive.
All told, at least in symbol and rhetoric in Madison Square Garden, the Democrats gave a very different look. They want change, and it may be early to get cynical about whether they can deliver it. In 1988 George Bush attacked Michael Dukakis for being liberal and out of the mainsteam. Clinton moderates want to redefine this formula to read: A multicultural, multifarious America is the mainstream - but one requiring responsibility and compromise.
Madison Square this week was itself an example. While nominating two young white males, the speakers and faces were a study in diversity: So many women, blacks, Hispanics, gays, labor, whites, Asians. Sober Sen. Bill Bradley offered the keynote; renegade Jerry Brown was kept on a leash. Jesse Jackson had fewer cards to play on the left; Paul Tsongas's call was held at an economical arms length to the right. Jimmy Carter came home, presumably forgiven.
Even new Democrat distinctions on abortion - that being pro-choice is not the same as being pro-abortion - suggests a set of values less rigid.
Perhaps the presence and speech of Barbara Jordan, the august black former congresswoman from Texas, best summed up the new formula. Ms. Jordan spoke eloquently for civil rights and diversity, but argued against a creeping spirit of separatism, and even political correctness. "As we seek to unite people, we reject both white racism and black racism.... We are one, we Americans."
Jordan also offered a tougher admonition: that Democrats must recognize and face their own complicity in the huge federal deficit and in the lack of trust Americans have in Washington.
Unity and redemption: That will be quite a task.