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August 26, 2004

JEWS DECIDE: 2004

GOP vows tough platform but holds risks on Jewish vote.

http://www.jewishjournal.com/world/article/jews_decide_2004_20040827

Republicans promise that a substantive, tough party platform this year will present Jewish voters with a sharp contrast from the relatively scrawny Democratic document -- but they may find that delving into details could prove devilish.

The Bush campaign is emphasizing its adherence to old-fashioned platform-writing techniques, going into particulars, yet leaving open an element of surprise by allowing a platform committee to hash through the proposed document on the eve of the convention next week.

That means the platform is more likely to approach the 100-some pages of the GOP's 2000 version than the svelte 37 pages of the Democrats' 2004 platform, said Ginny Wolfe, one of the senior Republican platform staffers.

Going into such detail will help reinforce Bush's reputation as a friend to Israel, but it carries risks for the president on domestic issues, where Republican views are less in line with those of many U.S. Jews.

Wolfe said she could not go into specifics before the delegates get the draft platform but offered some guidance based on the 2000 platform.

"There will be an extensive section on foreign policy and our commitments around the world and strong support for our friends around the world, including the State of Israel," she said. "The difference between the Republican platform and Democratic platform is that ours is both broad and substantive. It reflects the principles and policies; it will very much reflect our party and presidential candidate."

Democrats, stung in the past by Republican accusations that the party is divided and weak, wanted to avoid the raucousness often associated with platform drafting. They therefore sought to avoid issues that divide the party base, focusing instead on unifying issues such as job creation, health care and promotion of alternative forms of energy.

The result is that the Democrats devoted just 223 words to the Middle East, against the thousand-plus words the Republicans gave the issue in 2000 -- and which Wolfe suggested the GOP will match this year.

"This section of the document will reflect a deep understanding of world realities today," Wolfe said. "There are many friends around the world, and there are those who are not so friendly. It will reflect that understanding and will again make clear the president's accomplishments in these areas."

Wolfe said the platform likely would reflect Bush's historic recognition in April of some Israeli claims to the West Bank and rejection of any "right of return" for Palestinian refugees to Israel. The Democratic platform echoed those assurances.

Also likely to make an appearance, Wolfe said, is Bush's goal of a Palestinian state, the first such explicit call by a U.S. president.

"All of these issues that he has made public will be reflected in the draft working document that delegates receive," Wolfe said.

Such detail is likely to work for Bush in areas where his administration is in accord with Jewish voters. For example, the length of the 2000 platform allowed Republicans to slam not only Iranian extremism but the persecution of Iranian Jews. That document also repeated three times the party's commitment to maintaining Israel's military edge over its Arab neighbors.

On the other hand, where Bush's record is less popular in the Jewish community, there's likely to be some concern. For instance, the 2004 Democratic platform mentions abortion only once, saying that "abortion should be safe, legal and rare."

By contrast, the Republicans' 2000 platform mentions the topic eight times, using words like "infanticide" and "shocking." If this year's platform repeats that language, it's unlikely to attract the vast majority of Jewish voters who consistently say they favor reproductive choice.

Wolfe complained that the Democratic platform tries to be all things to all people.

"Lay them side by side; you'll see a huge difference," she said.

Still, meeting some issues head-on could alienate Jewish voters. In the 2000 platform, for example, Republicans call embryonic stem-cell research -- endorsed by the Democrats and by all Jewish religious streams -- an "abuse."

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