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Democrats scramble to rectify platform snafu

This news story was published on September 6, 2012.
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By Matea Gold and Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau –

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The second night of the Democratic National Convention began in confusion and dissent Wednesday over a last-minute effort to reinsert language into the party’s platform invoking God and affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, an embarrassing episode that marred what otherwise has been a high-flying gathering.

The maneuver triggered booing by delegates in the Time Warner Cable Arena and raised questions about how President Barack Obama’s campaign overlooked the omissions in the drafting process — a failure that handed the Republicans fresh fodder to levy attacks about the administration’s values.

As GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, piled on Wednesday, Obama himself intervened to clean up the mess, directing top political aides to get the language reinserted.

Four years ago, the party document called for a government that “gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.” The platform also said Jerusalem “is and will remain the capital of Israel” said the city “should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”

It does not appear that any leaders noticed the omissions this year — or realized the trouble they could cause.

On Wednesday, Romney told Fox News that absence of the word “God” in the Democratic platform showed that the party “is veering further and further away into an extreme wing that Americans don’t recognize.”

Obama was also taken aback by the omission, according to a Democratic official, who said the president asked, “Why was it changed in the first place?”

Democrats noted that the document used the word “faith” 11 times. Some party activists said there was an effort to use the most inclusive language possible when referring to religion, especially in the aftermath of the shooting this summer at a Sikh temple.

The platform’s silence on Jerusalem was puzzling. The city is a flashpoint in Israeli-Palestinian relations: while Jerusalem is the country’s legal capital, it is also where Palestinians want to locate the capital of an independent state. The matter is an issue to be resolved in final negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Several experts on the Middle East participated in the platform drafting, including former Florida Rep. Robert Wexler and Colin Kahl, an associate Georgetown University professor and former Pentagon senior policy adviser.

People familiar with the platform drafting process said the committee focused on highlighting Obama’s accomplishments and did not make an overt decision to remove the Jerusalem reference.

“It wasn’t like it came out,” Wexler said in an interview. “That wasn’t the case. The whole thing was redrafted.”

Matters that are considered “final status” items for the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate “were not included in the platform in large part because there are no negotiations now,” he added.

One Democratic strategist involved with Jewish issues said that none of the groups — including the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee — compared the 2012 platform side-by-side with the 2008 version.

Amid the furor, less attention has been paid to the fact that the Republicans also changed the language in their official party platform this year, eliminating a sentence referring to Jerusalem as the “undivided capital of Israel” and supporting moving the U.S. embassy there.

RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said the GOP platform “ is unequivocal in its support of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

When Democrats tried to reinsert references to God and Jerusalem back in their platform Wednesday evening, a large contingent of delegates on the floor objected.

After three voice votes, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the convention chair, declared that the motion passed with two-thirds support. In response, the arena echoed with boos and shouts of objection.

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