THE LATE PLATFORM
BY WALTER CRONKITE
The Kerry campaign and the Democratic Party have blown a chance to be far ahead today in the presidential campaign and the equally important campaigns across the nation for control of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
They have clung to past routine in drawing up their 2004 platform while ignoring an important lesson that polls revealed about their losses in the elections of 2000 and 2002. Pollsters then found that many of those who might have voted Democratic said they did not do so because they didn't know what the Democrats stood for.
With that record in front of them, how could the presumptive presidential candidate and the party leaders have permitted the mistake to be repeated?
The national Platform Committee has been following the pattern of the past half-century. Since May, members of the Drafting Committee have been holding regional meetings to hear suggestions of interested groups and individuals -- trade unions, business leaders, farmers, educators, economists and the like.
The Platform Committee will meet in Miami beginning July 9 to finalize the draft platform, which then will be submitted to the party's Boston convention for approval.
This is a democratic way of producing a platform, but the party at least should have accelerated the process this year. The moment Sen. John Kerry's sweep of the primaries was obvious, he and the party elders should have begun the platform process.
An early start would have been particularly helpful to the party's congressional candidates as the model for their campaigns -- with, of course, such minor divergence as might play to their constituents.
The early platform would have given the party precious weeks to drill home the principal pledges of action that could be expected from a Democratic administration -- a more formal pledge than the campaign promises that have been emerging from Kerry's speeches and his release of some position papers. Comparatively free of campaign rhetoric, the early platform would specify, as presumably will the late draft, how the Democratic White House would propose to remedy the many faults of which Democrats accuse the Bush administration -- everything from Iraq to the national debt to the children left behind.
Some political strategists argue that the earlier the platform is revealed, the longer the opposition has to attack it. That reasoning would seem to suggest a certain lack of confidence and commitment to the platform.
Other strategists would prefer to see the platform unveiled as a feature of the party's convention, with all the accompanying thunder and hoopla. Since there is little other substance in modern political conventions, they might have a point.
However, much time has been lost and millions of dollars wasted as an electorate that leans to the Democratic cause and the ouster of the Bush administration awaits a coherent, organized guide on which to commit its faith -- and its voting strength.
The platform might be well-drawn and persuasive among the electorate -- but it will be unnecessarily late, and months of valuable time to win the voters to it will have been lost.
Write to Walter Cronkite c/o King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail him at mail(at)cronkitecolumn.com.
(c) 2004 Walter Cronkite
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