Democratic Platform: 2008 vs. now

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 4, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER: Welcome back to the Democratic convention. Just heard from Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. Moving on in the schedule here in front of a packed house in Charlotte.

I had a bit of a fiery interview earlier in the show with Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin. I asked about the Democratic platform and two words that are missing, were taken out from 2008, one of them "God." We have the references in the platforms of past Democratic platform of positions. In 2008 there was one mention of "God," as I mentioned, 2012 it's taken out. In 2004, there were seven. In 2000 there were four. The Republicans, this year, have 12 mentions. Senator Durbin was saying that we were drawing conclusions, and we were asking the question, why was the change made?

The American Atheists president put out a statement moment ago saying this, "We are obviously happy that the Democrats are taking these positive steps. We are looking for the inclusion of everyone and we are hopeful that the inclusion will continue to the point that we can depend on Mr. Obama to repeal the faith-based initiatives and reinforce the separation of church and state." The president of the American Atheists. What about this, we're back with our panel. Juan, your thoughts? First on the "God" issue.

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE HILL: To my mind what is important here is the affirmation of the importance of faith in American family life. And I think that comes through clearly. There are several references to faith in the document.

BAIER: nbsp; -- 11 times, faith, religious, religion nine times. You're right. Big sections about that.

WILLIAMS: You know, the whole argument, I don't know the basics, the basis of taking it out but I think it clearly feeds into kind of the cultural wars argument that suggests to many conservative Republicans and church-goers among them that somehow the Democratic Party lost touch with how much religion means to the American people. And so it exposes them, I think, to that kind of argument.

BAIER: Mara, the Democrats say that the "God-given" part was talking about an economic section and they point to the faith section. But yet the change was made and that's simply what I was asking about to Senator Durbin.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: The change was made. And the platforms are always something that the other side can point to as a real caricature of the other party. "God" is missing from here. And any Republicans who care about that were probably not going to vote for President Obama in the first place. And it reminds me of the fuss that Democrats made about the Republican platform which of course included a ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape and incest or life of the mother. So, Mitt Romney famously said or maybe it was Reince Priebus, "this is the party's platform, not Mitt Romney's platform." I think the platforms have a short life and then they are hustled pretty quickly offstage.

BAIER: Steve, on the issue of Israel, The wording is different than it was in 2008. And one of the words taken out is Jerusalem as the capital.  You heard Charles' comments about that earlier. What about that?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, look, I agree with Mara as far as she goes that platforms don't always reflect exactly the positions of the presidential candidates. On the other hand, these words disappeared for a reason. There were discussions about them, there were debates about them and they are no longer in the text. So, there is a reason that they want to. What I found so interesting about your exchange with Senator Durbin on both the issue of "God" and the issue of "Jerusalem" was that this is a Democratic Party that has wanted to talk about virtually anything other than the economy for a long time. On the culture wars, they are eager to engage, and he did not want to touch either one of those questions. He wanted to move right beyond those.

I think the change on Jerusalem is significant. I think there was a big Confab yesterday in which Democrats made the case to Jewish voters that they were still the party of Jewish voters and that they were the strongest Israel party. I think that they are playing defense on this and it's because of the policies that we've seen for the past three-and-a-half years and I think this sort of puts an exclamation mark on it.

BAIER: A.B., let me read this. This is the Democratic response on "Jerusalem." Quote, "The platform makes clear that the president seeks peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and that he firmly believes that any Palestinian partner to recognize Israel's right to exist, reject violence and adhere to existing agreements. The official position of this administration on Jerusalem is no different than the position of numerous previous administrations of both parties -- that it is a final status issue to be negotiated directly by the two parties." And then they reference that it's "another attempt by the Romney campaign to turn our support for Israel -- into wedge issue."  The Romney campaign jumped on this, saying it's indicative of their stance.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: That's what I was going to point out. The Romney campaign jumped to put a statement out about this. George W. Bush made this very promise, that he would move the embassy to Jerusalem, and then he never did. And he went with longstanding tradition, which is that it's a final-status issue to be negotiated by the parties. They were taking -- according to people that I spoke to, who are familiar with the drafting of this -- there was consensus around this document. They wanted to leave final-status issues like borders and refugees and the Jerusalem issue out of a political document they say. They also consulted with many Jewish groups, including AIPAC, and nothing was ever awry. No one ever had a problem with this.

Mitt Romney did not talk about Syria or Afghanistan in his speech. He talked about this president throwing Israel under the bus. He's trying to create a wedge issue on something that's always been nonpartisan.

BAIER: A lot of people say platforms don't matter. They're still interesting, they're still wordy, and we will continue to go through them. Final thoughts, thank you, panel, when we come back from the Democratic National Convention here in Charlotte.

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