Comparing the Republican and Democratic party platforms is like comparing the ride in a Learjet with travel on a crowded 747: Both will get you there, but, my, are the experiences different.

The Republican platform is heavy with specifics - from the heifer tax to protecting "the Pledge of Allegiance in all schools."The Democratic document is much slimmer and sticks to themes - from "the American dream of opportunity" to "good jobs at good wages."

The Democratic platform is about 5,000 words; the GOP document more than 30,000.

"What we have done is be overly specific. If there is any complaint you can make, it is going to be tough for someone to read the whole thing. But we're not planning on people doing that," said Sen. Robert Kasten of Wisconsin, a Republican Platform Committee co-chairman. "We were rushing in order to emphasize the vagueness in the Democratic platform by becoming specific in ours."

The Republicans bash Michael Dukakis over and over again - without ever mentioning his name, calling him only "the Democratic presidential nominee." The Democrats never mentioned George Bush or Ronald Reagan - and included the word "Republican" only once.

Party platforms are not crucial documents that shape the course of the presidential campaign. Few people outside the party faithful even read the rhetoric. And presidents don't usually feel bound by platform promises when they take office.

But this year, the platforms do provide a reading on what the candidates want to tell the voters. And this year, each document is undoubtedly what each party's nominee wanted. While the candidates had to make some concessions - Bush to the hard-line conservatives and Dukakis to Jesse Jackson - those adjustments were really at the margins.

"The vice president is comfortable with this platform," declared aide Charlie Black on Friday as the GOP platform committee wrapped up its work.

Committee chairman Kay Orr, the Nebraska governor, said Bush called her Saturday morning to say he was proud of the document.

The GOP planks are resolutely conservative, strongly anti-communist and anti-abortion with a leavening of stances on such non-traditional issues as day care.

The Democrats' is a mix of liberal touchstones such as a "full-employment economy," the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion availability, accompanied by conservative-sounding declarations such as "a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility."

The Star Wars missile defense system, aid to the Contras and opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state highlight a GOP foreign policy plank that boasts of Reagan administration successes and promises more of the same.

The Democratic document says, "We will cease dealing with drug smugglers and seek to reconcile our differences with countries in Central America." It also talks of "clearheaded, tough-minded, decisive American foreign policy" and "a role of responsible active international leadership."

The Republicans were quick to say that they had covered all the major issues, while accusing the Democrats of "ducking 125 major issues" ranging from tax increases to pornography.

The Democrats accused their opponents of retreading the 1980 and 1984 platforms, "talking about the future through a rear-view mirror."

Rhetoric aside, both platforms duck difficult issues. The Republicans talk about Bush's flexible budget freeze without explaining how promised new programs - and "rapid and certain deployment" of the Strategic Defense Initiative - could be paid for.

The Democrats talk about finding the "resources" to pay for government programs without ever mentioning the dreaded "t" word - taxes.

Of course, there are many themes that are shared by the platforms.

There are commitments to equal rights, a strong economy and a strong defense, a clean environment and drug-free schools.

One interesting similarity is that both talk about the need for change.

Obviously, the Democrats focused on change because they want to change control of the White House after eight years in Republican hands.

But Bush and the Republicans, seeking to build on the Reagan legacy, are also talking about change - no doubt because the polls say Americans want changes in the nation's direction.

"An election is about the future, about change," says the GOP platform preamble. "The election will bring change. The question is: Will it be change and progress with the Republicans or change and chaos with the Democrats?"