CLEVELAND - Democrats from across the nation approved their party's platform yesterday, calling it a "centrist, progressive document" that reflects Vice President Gore's positions on major issues in the presidential race.
The outcome of the six-hour meeting was another sign of how "New Democrats," who helped move the party to the center after Bill Clinton's victory in 1992, retain tight control over the party's agenda.
Platform committee members crushed two attempts to change the party's stance on international trade - an issue expected to be at the center of citizen protests when delegates gather next month in Los Angeles for the Democratic national convention. Delegates will vote then.
The platform says about one-third of U.S. economic growth in recent years has been from selling goods and services to other countries, and exports "sustain about one in five factory jobs - jobs that pay more than jobs not tied to the global economy."
"It's clear we live in a globalized world - and that there is no turning back," the platform says. "But globalization is neither good nor evil. It is a fact and we have to deal with it. Democrats believe we must be leaders in the new global economy, not followers."
Gloria Allred, a Los Angeles civil rights attorney and radio talk-show host, tried to amend the platform to oppose expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement or any trade pact "without the incorporation of full labor protections and environmental safeguards."
"I believe our party members support free trade and not slave trade," she said.
Ms. Allred called on Democrats to oppose "fast-track" authority for trade agreements, and tried to add a clause stating that Mr. Gore will negotiate to ensure that NAFTA and the World Trade Organization trade tribunals include public hearings and a "meaningful appeals process."
The Democrats' platform states that the president should be able to negotiate trade agreements, and pledges that "Al Gore will insist on and use the authority to enforce worker rights, human rights, and environmental protection in those agreements."
Ms. Allred, needing at least 15 votes to trigger a debate on her amendment, could muster only three votes from the 130 committee members at yesterday's meeting. She received only two votes for her next amendment, which she said was aimed at "narrowing the gap between rich and poor."
The amendment called on Democrats to support raising the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour, to reduce tax breaks for companies with large numbers of temporary workers, and to eliminate tax breaks to corporations that pay "below living wages." Congress raised the minimum to $4.25 in 1996 and to $5.15 in 1997, but has not acted on President Clinton's proposal to increase it $1 an hour over two years.
Tom Hayden, a state senator from California and a delegate to the national convention, said the platform could damage Mr. Gore's support among labor unions.
"The platform seems to imply the damage for Al Gore is he's too liberal an'We need a platform that is all things to all people,' which infuriates the rank-and-file," said Mr. Hayden, who rose to prominence as a protester against the Vietnam War.
But U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who is co-chairman of the platform committee, said the language on trade issues resulted from compromise.
"We worked night and day with labor leaders, and I am confident they will come out firmly and say the platform is consistent with their beliefs," Mr. Durbin said.
Al From, president of the Democratic Leadership Council, said the party made the right move in rejecting Ms. Allred's two amendments.
"They were designed to restrict trade and you can't do that. Free trade has been a fundamental element of our economic success," he said.
Mr. From said Democrats in 1992 changed how they built their party's platform and yesterday they adhered to a strategy that helped Mr. Clinton defeat George W. Bush's father in 1992.
"We used to have these meetings and dump in everything and the nominee had to run away from it. In '92, we decided we'll go with Bill Clinton and his views would be the platform of our party," he said.
But U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland) said the platform committee's stance on trade won't broaden the party's appeal and could cause apathy among traditional Democrats.
"If you keep moving the center to the right, you're missing out on representing a lot of people," Mr. Kucinich said.
Mr. Hayden added: "It means the strongest case for Al Gore is Dick Cheney, and it may be hard to lift enthusiasm on that."
But David Leland, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said despite the debate over free trade - which occurred just in the corridors outside the meeting room - the party is unified. He noted that Ms. Allred, Mr. Kucinich, and Mr. Hayden are Gore supporters.
"We'll disagree on the sides of the issues. But on the most important issues, from protecting Social Security to keeping the economy booming, we're united behind our candidate and party," he said.
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