Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr., backed by his party's top congressional leaders, sent word yesterday that he wants his party's 1988 platform to be brief and bland, not dealing with "narrow issues" such as abortion.
Saying that he wants the "equivalent of an 'open letter' . . . to the families of America," Kirk said at a luncheon of the Democratic Governors Association that he will use his influence to keep the platform from expanding into "a document which Republicans quote to attack Democratic candidates more frequently than Democratic candidates do to promote themselves."
"A litany of social, cultural or ideological litmus-test buzz words may be a source of comfort to some narrow-issue pressure groups," he said, "but it is not necessarily a winning national party platform."
Kirk told reporters later that he regards abortion as a "narrow issue," and he declined to say whether he thinks the next platform should have specific language on such issues as gay rights, the Equal Rights Amendment or apartheid in South Africa -- all topics in the last Democratic platform. "I would not want to prejudge that," he said.
In a display of leadership support for his proposal, Kirk was flanked by House Speaker Jim Wright (Tex.), Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.) and Michigan Gov. James J. Blanchard, the association's chairman. All strongly support keeping the platform "short and strong," as Byrd put it.
The move is the latest in a series of efforts by Kirk to keep the national party out of controversy. In the last three years, he has canceled the midterm policy convention, abolished special-interest caucuses within the DNC and barred presidential straw polls. These steps have earned him the "just say no chairman" title, he said.
Trimming the platform from its 45,000 words of 1984 to a length that "an eighth-grader could memorize," Kirk's goal, may be a tougher challenge, his aides conceded. Democrats traditionally have used platform planks to court varied constituencies and appease supporters of losing presidential candidates.
Former Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson, active in the 1984 platform battle by supporters of Jesse L. Jackson, reacted guardedly to Kirk's speech. "It's a daring approach," he said, "but, if you're silent on major issues in a way that implies rejection of major issues, there may have to be a debate."
Kirk said no objections were made when he presented his plan this week to managers of the six candidates seeking the 1988 Democratic nomination.
Kirk likely will control at least the early stages of platform-writing. He will pick the platform committee chairman and 25 of the committee members next month and has decreed that the committee will hold only two hearings before it begins drafting the document.
Kirk said yesterday that multiple debates are forcing presidential candidates to be "as specific and substantive as the voters . . . demand them to be," freeing the party to build a broader platform "around which every Democratic candidate at every level in every region of the country can rally with pride."
Saying he did not want to see Democratic office seekers in the South and West campaigning against the national party platform again, Kirk said that, if the Democratic manifesto is kept short and simple, "it cannot be used as a target of opportunity by the Republican Party. They will be left to defend their sorry record of debt, deficit and division."
Earlier yesterday, Kirk said that DNC fund-raising reached almost $10.5 million in the first 11 months of the year, up 20 percent from 1986.