The following editorial appeared in Monday's Los Angeles Times:
Eight years ago, Bill Clinton won the presidency by taking the Democratic Party toward the middle of the political spectrum. Now, George W. Bush is trying to pull the GOP toward the center, but without alienating its strong conservative core. The next four days may tell us whether this big-embrace strategy can keep all parts of the GOP in tow and still draw fresh blood to the party, which is what Bush must do to win the White House.
Not far from where the nation's founders fomented rebellion with the Declaration of Independence, Republicans open their national convention Monday, hoping to cement party unity behind Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney. The four-day run promises to be more bland than bombastic, with such nonthreatening daily themes as "Prosperity With a Purpose" and "President With a Purpose." Even the keynote speech, the traditional forum for attacking the opposition, will be dispensed with. The approach would seem to suit a confident incumbent, not an administration's challenger, whatever his standing in the polls.
The climax will come Thursday night when the Texas governor accepts the nomination and sets the course for the fall campaign. Bush's tricky balancing act is to argue the need for change in the middle of unprecedented national prosperity and to sell the GOP as both conservative and compassionate.
Bush solidified the conservative leg of his base by selecting Cheney, who as a congressman from Wyoming had a 100 percent voting record against abortion, gun control, the environment and women's rights. But it is Bush who must carry the ticket, and he needs to flesh out his notion of governing "with a purpose" and put forward his ideas on the challenges of the next four years. How can he extend economic prosperity and provide health care for those who cannot now afford it? How can he shore up Social Security and Medicare and pay for these programs at the same time he makes the massive tax cuts he proposes?
He will also need to parse the meaning of "compassionate conservatism," a brilliantly vague phrase that California's former Gov. Pete Wilson used before Bush made it his own. One signal came this past week when the GOP issued a platform that abandoned many of the harsh planks of four years ago, among them a hostile stance on immigration and abolition of the U.S. Department of Education.
Nevertheless, as presented by its drafters -- with no public hearings -- the platform sticks to a long-held GOP call for a constitutional amendment banning abortion with no exceptions, even in cases of rape, incest or when the woman's life is endangered. The document reaffirms the "right to bear arms," a code phrase for no more gun-control laws. To win the election, Bush must draw a considerable number of votes from independents, Democrats and women, especially in a state such as California, and those worn planks won't wash with the swing voters. Watch for Bush to wrap and soften them with words about inclusion and tolerance, trying to keep the old guard with him while he extends a hand toward the middle.
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