President Bush got just what he wanted today from Republican platform writers: a tightly controlled, highly conservative statement of party principles that lauds his administration and glosses over internal dissent.
The platform drafted by a 110-member delegate committee, scheduled to be ratified after the Republican National Convention begins Monday, is a paean to Bush's record in office and a guide to at least some of his goals for a second term.
It backs Bush's offensive against terrorists and his invasion of Iraq, urges Congress to make the president's tax cuts permanent and defends his education program known as "No Child Left Behind." It also reiterates the party's longtime opposition to abortion rights and takes a firm stand against gay marriage, echoing Bush's views on those and other social issues.
"This platform makes clear that the American people will have a choice on Nov. 2," the preamble states, framing the contest between Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic challenger. "A choice between strength and uncertainty. A choice between results and rhetoric. A choice between optimism and pessimism. A choice between opportunity and dependence. A choice between freedom and fear."
However, critics said that the platform — titled "A Safer and More Hopeful America" — was loaded with hard-line policy positions that belie the lineup of prime-time convention speakers featuring such party moderates as former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both favor abortion rights and gay rights.
"The bottom line is, the platform still says we're not welcome," said Ann Stone, leader of an abortion rights group called Republicans for Choice. She said language inserted into the platform to "respect and accept" differing viewpoints was "a crumb, pathetic."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), chairman of the platform committee, said he was pleased with a document that hewed to Bush policies. He said he couldn't think of any instance in which the platform differed from the administration position.
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, co-chairman of the committee, said: "This platform committee debated. We occasionally argued, but we did it in a way that led to a very united platform and a very united party."
While the platform backs Bush positions enthusiastically, drafters squirmed over some administration policies. These tensions were especially apparent during a committee debate on education.
At one point, Linda Davis, a delegate from North Carolina, sought to delete a passage that boasted that Bush and the GOP-led Congress had provided "the largest increase in education funding in history."
This rhetoric, a standard GOP line these days in Washington, "somehow doesn't sound like the Republican Party to me," Davis said.
But others said that the money complemented Bush's school reforms and that the platform plank rebutted liberal criticism of the No Child Left Behind law.
"We would do the president a great disservice if we cut this language," said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, another delegate. "The left likes nothing better than to call this a huge unfunded mandate, when it's not."
The committee voted to keep the passage.
At another point, delegates inserted a plank that stresses that education is primarily a local concern. That is a sensitive point to some Republicans who fear that the president's education program — requiring testing of students in reading and math, and measurement of their progress from year to year — intrudes too far into local affairs.
Delegates also debated at length whether to delete a sentence that declared: "Public education is a foundation of a free, civil society."
Some feared that the plank gave short shrift to private education and home schooling.
A motion to strike the sentence fell short. But a compromise was struck: "Public education, access for every child to excellent education, is a foundation of a free, civil society."