Republican Platform: Good on Life, Bad on Education and Immigration

The draft of the 2004 Republican National Platform delivered by the White House to the GOP platform committee members in New York last Tuesday night pleased conservatives with its planks on taxes and social issues, including abortion and same-sex marriage, according to conservative activists, but it was bad on immigration and disappointed many conservatives by not attempting to bring spending under control. As of last night the platform committee was still working on the final text.

“Basically, we are pleased with the pro-life language and pro-marriage language in the platform,” said Connie Mackey, vice president for government affairs for the Family Research Council. Mackey, who monitored the platform deliberations at New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Center, reflected a consensus among social conservative activists, saying, “Overall, this is a platform that can certainly be supported by pro-family groups.”

The Bush White House closely guarded the draft until releasing it to platform committee members August 24. The draft retained the strong pro-life plank that has been featured in GOP platforms since the Reagan years. It also calls for a federal marriage amendment. “The pro-life and marriage planks were locked in without controversy–the other side doesn’t dare challenge them,” said Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly. “But there are some things that reflect Bush’s philosophy but do not reflect those of the grass-roots Republicans. Most at the grass-roots, for example, favor tighter border control and no driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, more local control of education and less spending on federal aid to education. But the big government Republicans are now in control.”

One reason the platform turned out to be relatively conservative on social and tax issues is that White House staff aggressively reached out to conservative groups, including Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, while crafting it. Sources say the initial language was in large part written by Anne Phelps, a Bush education and health care policy adviser who formerly worked for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.), who was the chairman of the platform committee. Assisting Phelps were Jay Lefkowitz, a former Bush White House assistant counsel, platform committee spokeswoman Virginia Wolfe, and University of Texas Prof. Casey Pipes, who is reportedly close to former White House counsellor Karen Hughes.

On two issues in particular, however, the platform drew scowls from the right: immigration and education. The platform backs the President’s “guest worker” program, which conservatives see as an amnesty in disguise. “The President has a clear public position on this subject and the platform reflects it. He’s our incumbent President,” said Wolfe. Whereas the 1996 GOP platform called for abolishing the Department of Education, this one, like the 2000 platform, envisions a significant federal role in local schools through the President’s No Child Left Behind program.


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