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Obama's game plan rules as platform takes shape

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[August 09, 2008]  PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Democrats have put together a platform that embraces Barack Obama's ambitious agenda while leaving him wiggle room on Iraq, health care and trade in case the realities of governing make promises hard to keep.

A draft of the platform was going to the party's 186-member platform committee Saturday for debate, amendments here and there, and adoption. The Democratic National Convention will vote on it in Denver later this month.

Presidential candidates are not bound by platforms and tend to give them little regard once they are approved.

Still, careful work goes into drawing up the statement of principles and ensuring it doesn't drift from the nominee's own positions, yet keeps party activists and defeated candidates in line.

That usually means haggling over distinctions in words and phrases that may mean little to the average voter but carry great import with party loyalists.

On Iraq, the draft states that Democrats "expect to complete redeployment within 16 months," reflecting Obama's time frame but not the tone of certainty he brought to it when he was running in the primaries.

Similarly, on health care, the draft aims for universal coverage without promising it.

"We believe that quality and affordable health care is a basic right," the preamble states, using words often heard from Obama's primary rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Later, it asserts: "We believe that covering all is not just a moral imperative, but is necessary to making our health system workable and affordable."

Obama proposes to make health insurance mandatory for children and affordable for all. Unlike Clinton's plan in the primaries, his would not require everyone to have it.

The 51-page draft shows the influence of Clinton's supporters not only in the extensive section on health care but in its assertions about the treatment of women. Some of her backers believed sexism dogged her campaign for the nomination.

"We believe that standing up for our country means standing up against sexism and all intolerance," the document states. "Demeaning portrayals of women cheapen our debates, dampen the dreams of our daughters and deny us the contributions of too many. Responsibility lies with us all."

Even so, the proposed platform is thoroughly tuned to Obama's proposals.

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It reasserts his promise of energy rebates to struggling families, pension subsidies, a crackdown on predatory lenders, higher taxes for families earning over $250,000, tax breaks for others, billions for economic stimulus and "direct high-level diplomacy, without preconditions," in the case of Iran.

The draft was prepared after more than 1,600 hearings around the country.

On trade, it promises a multilateral approach to improving the North American Free Trade Agreement, without saying specifically what those changes should be. Obama criticized NAFTA when campaigning in states that felt disadvantaged by it, but the platform offers no suggestion he would take unilateral action against the deal.

Instead, it says: "We will work with Canada and Mexico to amend the North American Free Trade Agreement so that it works better for all three North American countries."

Four years ago, when John Kerry held the reins going into the convention that affirmed his nomination, the party resisted efforts by some Democrats to have the platform declare the Iraq war a mistake.

Now, under the influence of a candidate who opposed the invasion from the start, the draft calls the war "ill-considered" and "unnecessary."

Republicans will go through a similar platform process just ahead of their convention and, if the past is any guide, argue over abortion and other social issues without making substantial changes to the GOP's core beliefs.

[Associated Press; By CALVIN WOODWARD]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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