The proposed 1980 Democratic Party platform, finally released yesterday, reveals in the flowery rhetoric of modern politics just how far Jimmy Carter has moved from traditional liberal Democratic positions, many that he himself embraced four years ago.
In 1976, the Carter-dominated platform committee called for a war on unemployment (at a time when the jobless rate was 7.3 percent). This year, with joblessness at 7.8 percent, the platform puts top priority on spending restraint, and calls for no new action to reduce unemployment.
In 1976 the platform said it would be possible to cut defense spending by $5 billion to $7 billion, and gave no hint that the Democrats thought too little was being spent on defense. The new platform declares, "We have had to reverse the steady decline in defense spending that occurred under the Republican administration" of 1969-77.
The 1976 platform lambasted the idea that the government could fight inflation by "curtailing production and increasing unemployment." Now, after the Carter administration has accepted a recession, high interest rates and high unemployment as the necessary cost of cooling the economy, the 1980 draft problem says "fiscal prudence is essential to avoid destroying the progress made to date in reducing the inflation rate."
The 1976 platform attacked the Republicans for favoring high energy prices. After the Carter administration has adopted energy policies that deliberately raised the costs of oil and gas, the 1980 platform boasts of the reductions in consumption and increased domestic supplies and exploration that have resulted.
Though change in the party line like these are dramatic, the Carter camp simultaneously has sought to reorchestrate old Democratic tunes in the 1980 platform, emphasizing its continued loyalty to the concerns of women, minorities, the poor and the handicapped.
Rather than run from Democratic to Republican positions, the platform shows how Carter is trying to move the Democratic Party -- all of it -- to a new position on the political spectrum.
In effect, Carter is asking fellow Democrats to accept his perception that a fundamental change has taken place in American politics, one symbolized by the fact that middle-class concerns became the dominant issues in the nation's public life during his term in office.
In areas like foreign policy and defense, where the 1980 draft platform takes a palpably harder line than the 1976 version, Carter is asking for acceptance of the perceived fact that world conditions have changed substantially in four years.
The changes in Democratic policies contained in the new draft platform have agitated Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and his supporters, who are fighting for the old liberal verities. But they lost in the primaries, and they are losing in the platform drafting process, too.
The thrust of the Kennedy arguments is that the Democratic Party should remain loyal to its oldest traditions, specifically to a commitment to use government to help the weakest members of society. Kennedy's substantive proposals amount largely to a plea to return to the big-government approaches that Democrats embraced from 1960 to 1972.
From time to time in the new, 154-page draft platform the language reads like it might have come from Republican pens. For example:
"In the eight years preceding the first Carter budget, real federal spending had been growing at an average rate of 3 percent each year. By contrast, between fiscal years 1978 and 1981, real federal spending will have declined [original emphasis] at an average annual rate of .6 percent."
At the same time the platform-drafters reinvoked old Republican bogymen, occasionally at the expense of credibility. The draft platform says most of the country's problems "we inherited" as a legacy from eight years of Republican rule.
"As a result of this legacy, despite our progress, inflation still erodes the standard of living of every American," the draft platform declares. "As a result of this legacy, despite our progress, too many Americans are out of work . . . ."
Much of the mammoth platform document is devoted to substantive and symbolic reaffirmations of old-fashioned Democratic philospophy, as Carter loyalists have been emphasizing. Gov. Richard Riley of South Carolina and Mayor Coleman Young of Detroit -- chairmen of the platform drafting and full platform committees, respectively -- made this point yesterday.
The platform supports the wish-list of organized labor, from repeal of the provision of the Taft-Hartley Act that permits state right-to-work laws to a "common situs" picketing bill for the construction trades, to a pledge to resist any attempt to weaken the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
The draft supports national health insurance, though without promising its full implementation at any fixed time. It sounds the trumpet for consumerism, welfare reform, federal aid to education, aid to mass transit, tax reform, stricter civil rights enforcement and support for minority-owned businesses. Many of these planks reflect changes proposed by Kennedy delegates -- or by Carter delegates seeking to assuage the Kennedy camp -- during the drafting process.
Rhetorically the draft platform contains many flowery passages extolling liberal Democrtic traditions. A typical one reads:
"The Democratic Party has a proud record of responding to the human needs of our citizens. After eight years of Republican government and the systematic Republican efforts to dismantle all of the hard-won social programs of the New Frontier and the Great Society, the Carter administration and the Democratic Congress have resurrected, preserved and strengthened those programs which have proved effective.
"In health care, in housing, in education, in civil rights, in care for the disabled, the elderly, and the veterans, and in welfare and social services, a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress have put the federal government back in the business of serving our people."
These passages, as well as many specific proposals aimed at traditional elements in the Democratic coalition that Franklin D. Roosevelt formed, demonstrate Carter's desire to hold on to the old Democratic constituency even as he tries to move the party toward the middle-class attitudes of today's national majority.
But the platform contains passages that indicate the difficulties Carter faces in winning back some Democrats. For example, the section on nuclear energy shows a chance from 1976 that will displease the vocal and energetic antinuclear forces that have supported first Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. and then Kennedy this year.
In 1976, the platform said "U.S. dependence on nuclear power should be kept to the minimum necessary to meet our needs . . . We must be honest with our people concerning its problems and dangers as well as its benefits."
The 1980 draft is much more positive. "Nuclear power plants provide vital energy to many areas of the country," it says. "For the foreseeable future, we will continue to to rely on nuclear energy . . ."
At other points, the draft platform makes boasts that may invite Republican refutations. For example, the draft says the administration has enacted two tax cuts "reducing taxes on individuals and businesses by an amount equal this year, to about $40 billion." Republicans can be expected to note that the Carter administration has also requested or allowed tax increases many times that size.
The draft platform says: "A defense bill containing unnecessary expenditures for a new nuclear carrier . . . was vetoed and the veto was sustained" resulting in "a leaner, stronger American military posture." There is no mention of the fact that a year later that same nuclear carrier was approved by the president after Congress effectively insisted on its being built.
The foreign policy section of the draft platform also contains a potential political pitfall for Carter with pro-Israel Jewish voters, a pitfall that the Kennedy delegates on the drafting subcommittee happily helped to dig.
After initially refusing to endorse language from the 1972 and 1976 Democratic platforms favoring the moving of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- a symbolic act meant to endorse Israel's claim to Jerusalem as its capital -- the Carter faction acquiesced, but only after adding a sentence saying:
"At the same time, it is recognized that the Democratic administration has special responsibilities resulting from its deep engagement in the delicate process of promoting a wider peace for Israel." Apparently, that sentence eliminates any chance of actually moving the embassy.
The draft platform's section on Soviet-American relations takes a hard line. But elsewhere in the draft the Carter camp comes out strongly in favor of SALT II, describing the treaty as a major accomplishment and promising to seek its ratification "as soon as it is feasible."