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Thursday, 3 August, 2000, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
Conference talk - Republican speech writer Peter Robinson

Every four years the two major political parties in the US hold a convention to launch the campaigns of their presidential candidates. This week, the Republicans have descended upon Philadelphia.

Peter Robinson was a speechwriter for then Vice President George Bush and President Ronald Reagan. He appeared online in a live webcast to take your questions about issues arising from the conference.

  Click here to watch the forum from Philadelphia  

The highlights

Choi Yong O, South Korea: What is "compassionate conservatism"?

Peter Robinson: It's an odd term for a liberal because compassionate conservatism would be a contradiction in terms. The question is when George W Bush first used the term, did he intend to blur conservative Republican principles? But he has demonstrated otherwise - he has a tax plan, he intends to (what amounts to) privatise social security, he wants to re-build the military - these are conservative principles.

Guy Chapman, UK: How does the soundbyte "compassionate conservatism" square with George Bush's very public support of the death penalty?

Peter Robinson: It's compassionate to reduce crime, and that is the concerted effort behind the application of the death penalty in Texas.

Paul, UK: The Conservatives in the UK are proving themselves to be intolerant of lifestyles different from what some people would call "the norm". One of their advisors has just quit the party because of the way it deals with gay people. What assurances can you give to gay people in America that your party will defend their rights and make certain they are treated equally in law in every way?

Peter Robinson: Yesterday or the day before, an openly gay congressman from Arizona gave a speech at the convention, invited to do so by the Bush campaign. I think they handled that about right. He was not asked to do so because he was go, he was not asked to assert special preferences for gays, he was asked to speak because he was an expert on the topic.

Republicans should certainly not be in the business of making homosexuality some sort of protected or preferential right. Affirmative action in my judgement is a bad idea. On the other hand they should certainly not be in the business of being nasty or mean.

We have in this party a large element, not by any means a dominant element, of devoted Christians, particularly Evangelical Christians in the South - they believe that homosexuality is flatly wrong. We're making an effort to appeal to Roman Catholics - who teach that homosexuality is a disorder. The Republican Party should not be attempting to re-write 5,000 years of Judeo-Christian teaching on these matters.

Reagan's position on homosexuals was - as long as they don't do it in the street and frighten the horses leave them alone. It's a private matter, unless the homosexuals make it a public matter. The Republican Party must refuse to grant special preferences based on sexual orientation.

Richard Conway, UK: Do you agree that a missile defence system, under any guise, is a bad idea?

Peter Robinson: Absolutely not. A missile defence system that doesn't work is a very bad idea, and it's turning out to be a very tricky technical problem as the tests that are going forward indicate. But that is no longer a debate in this country. The Clinton administration has now moved behind a missile defence system.

The distinction now is the Democrats want to spend a little less money and move at it a little more slowly. Whereas George W Bush says I'm going to get elected and build this thing.

Robert Rooney, Ireland: How will the Republican Party benefit the Northern Ireland Peace Process? The party claims to support the process, but appears to have little productive to offer, bar two paragraphs backing the Clinton Peace Push.

Peter Robinson: I am not aware of a difference between the GOP and the Democrats on the Northern Ireland peace process. Everybody wants peace in Northern Ireland.

Senator George Mitchell may have been a former Democrat but he seems to have been able to have made some progress. Tony Blair may be a labour prime minister, but there seems to be progress taking place. I am absolutely certain that George W Bush and his secretary of state - perhaps it'll be Colin Powell - will support the peace process in Northern Ireland. The general commitment will be there.

Ed Clarke, England: Will Governor Bush, if elected, favour closer economic and political ties with Britain?

Peter Robinson: You won't hear George W Bush advocating that Britain gets out of the European Union and join NAFTA that we've established with Mexico and Canada. But the special relationship between Britain and the US begins at least with Franklyn Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and there's no doubt in Europe and the world itself that Britain has to rank as one of our closest and most important allies.

Pat Bond, UK: What can Republicans do to convince the world that they are serious about addressing the debt crisis in the poorest nations?

Peter Robinson: The general point is this - you want the developing nations to stop being poor, and so what you want to do is set an example of democracy and free market and action. A buoyant economy in the US is the best policy that Republicans or anyone else can pursue if what they are attempting to do is eliminate poverty in poorer countries - set an example.

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