PERSPECTIVE ON POLITICS : Contempt for the Constitution : The GOP platform is a grim reminder of a willingness to embrace the hard right at any cost.

John E. Frohnmayer was chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts until forced to resign earlier this year.

The Republican platform is now available in print for public scrutiny, which it richly deserves, for it is a document worthy of the convention that spawned it--a dismal and bloodless exercise in name-calling and blame-shifting. But most dismaying to those of us who would like to feel a part of the Republican Party, it juxtaposes patriotic rhetoric with utter contempt for our Constitution. Consider just seven examples:

The First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . . . " The Republican platform says, "We believe our laws should reflect what makes our nation prosperous and wholesome: faith in God . . . . " How could the First Amendment be more directly contradicted and rejected? Martin Mayer, president of the Christian Action Network, said, "If I didn't know any better, I would assume the platform was written by the religious right." The Rev. Pat Robertson's group bragged that it controlled 28 of the 100-plus delegates to the platform committee. It shows.

The platform calls for control of blasphemy, in particular through the projects funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Leave aside that the art the platform's authors consider blasphemous might be interpreted differently by others of equal faith. Both the free-exercise clause and the establishment clause of the First Amendment prohibit such laws. To punish a blasphemer, one must first define the religious dogma that the law would protect. Obviously, that cannot be done in fealty to the Constitution.

The religious infiltration of the Republican platform, and thus Republican politics, is hardly isolated. The President excoriated the Democratic Party for not including God in its platform. Prayer in schools and aid to parochial schools (promoted as school choice) restate the theme in the platform. Aside from the constitutional invasion (a significant aside, indeed) this surrender of politics to religion is deeply troubling. If you think that unifying religion and politics is a good idea, just look at countries like Iran where thousands of citizens were killed in the process of government doing just this.

On to the fourth example of the platform's excesses: The Constitution, and particularly the Bill of Rights, protects the dissenter, the unpopular idea. The platform, a cleansed and starched ideal of monolithic family values, is as American as the Playboy centerfold--airbrushed, stapled and sexless. Appreciation of individual freedom is a major theme, but the platform disclaims, in the same breath, divergent lifestyles (read: homosexuality), abortion and those "waging guerrilla war against American values." As Justice Robert H. Jackson said in 1945: "Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order." When Republicans so surely "know" what is right and wrong (and that phrase appears repeatedly), the rest of us, including those Republicans who are so thoroughly disenfranchised by this platform, deserve to be uncomfortable.

The Republicans' attempt to prohibit abortion constitutes such an absolute in their hierarchy of values that they don't even want it mentioned in schools. What ever happened to free speech? Rust vs. Sullivan, the abortion counseling case, was used by a high-ranking member of the Administration's Justice Department to justify government license to determine which books could be shelved in a federally supported library.

Further: The line-item veto sought by President Bush and supported in the platform is a direct attack on the doctrine of separation of powers. A line-item veto cedes legislative power to the executive, diminishing the checks and balances so carefully preserved by the Constitution.

Example No. 7: The platform cries that the legacy of liberalism has elevated criminal rights above victim rights. "Criminal rights"--the right to confront one's accuser, to have a jury of one's peers, the right to legal counsel, the protection against self-incrimination--are not "criminal rights" at all, but rights of all citizens. Nobody is for criminals; but intelligent people certainly are for the Constitution and its guarantees against abuses by the government.

I just can't resist two more howlers. Protection of private property rights is a hot topic that appears at least four times in the platform. "Every rule that reduces the value of private property is what our Constitution calls a 'taking,' " it proclaims. Who says? What about zoning and comprehensive land-use planning? Those are just a couple of instances in which reduction of value--or an owner's expectation of value--are not "takings" at all. And the second howler: "Protection of environmentally sensitive wetlands must not come at the price of disparaging landowners' property rights." In other words, the government shouldn't be able to preserve the environment (for all of us) if a landowner objects. The Fifth Amendment doesn't say that the government can't pursue the greater good. It only requires due process and payment if property is taken.

Religious zealots did write this platform--zealots who have forgotten that the Kingdom of God on Earth is spiritual, not political. Religion is allegiance to the unenforceable, a moral code that results from faith, not a morality that is crammed down our throats by the muscle of the government. The framers of our Constitution understood this distinction. The Republican Party has lost it entirely.

The Republican platform is a grim reminder of this Administration's willingness to accommodate, indeed to embrace, the hard right. George Bush has bought this line completely, and if he wins, it will be his mandate.

This platform sets out a choice for those of us who are moderate Republicans: Support the party or support the Constitution. It's not a hard choice. I will vote for Bill Clinton.

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