Now that some time has passed since the Texas Republican Party Convention, copies of the platform have finally become available. It may be the longest party platform ever, and while it does have some good parts, it also has some glaring flaws when compared to past platforms of the Republican Party and to the ideals which I’d like to see the party continuing to embody today. It seems to be the result of a process where no restraint was applied at all and space was given to issues based on how loudly their advocates could shout. As a result it’s a mishmash of every kind of extreme position representing every outspoken faction in the party.
As those who’ve been reading my articles are aware, I was a delegate to the Texas GOP Convention. Resolutions which eventually made it into the platform were one of my special interests. I had a lot of success at my precinct and district conventions presenting arguments against certain proposed resolutions which I thought were intolerant and reflected badly on the party. In particular I was able to stop dead two proposed resolutions, one condemning homosexuality and one opposing any form of gay unions. But the way the resolution process works, resolutions from all the districts come to the state convention through the Resolutions Committee, and even though a resolution is defeated in one district, it’s quite likely to show up again from another district. Activist groups circulate resolutions they like to their agents all over the state, so the same resolution may get sent to the convention for consideration by dozens of different districts. So my success in SD25 meant relatively little in the face of all the other districts contributing to the process. Of course, all of this then gets sent on to the national Republican convention where all the state platforms are drawn on to create a national platform.
The primary characteristic of the 2008 Texas Republican Party Platform is that it’s insanely long. In small print it is 25 pages long with over 250 separate resolutions included in it. It’s like they took every district convention, edited out only the duplicate resolutions and mashed it all together into one huge and ridiculous compendium of the trivial and bizarre. As a result, I can’t even begin to address the content of the platform in a single article, so this is the first in what will probably be a three part series.
In the formation of the platform a number of special interest groups were competing to get their particular agendas represented as heavily as possible. These included the religious right, nationalistic warhawks, libertarian leaning republicans and through the Ron Paul movement a significant number of paranoid John Birch Society fanatics. My hope was that most of the crazier and more extreme ideas of all of these groups would get weeded out, but because the bar for inclusion was set so low, a surprising number of really unappealing ideas made it into the platform. In an ideal world the platform would represent primarily the views that all elements of the party hold in common, but as a result of what I can only conclude was laziness or fear on the part of the Resolutions Committee the platform instead tries to represent every possible viewpoint to some extent and the result isn’t pretty.
A Good Start
Before I get down to looking at some of the worst aspects of the platform, let me say that on some of the largest issues the thrust of the platform is relatively positive. There is a preamble and an initial statement of principles which are pretty reasonable. In fact, I’d take the statement of principles as the entire platform and be satisfied with that. The statement of principles makes a great start when it says:
“We respect and cherish the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and our Founders’ intent to restrict the power of the federal government over the states and the people. We believe self-government, based on personal integrity of a proper moral foundation, is the best government. This is best balanced with limited civil government, coupled with public trust, to provide collectively for the people those services not efficiently achieved individually.”
It also goes on to endorse school choice and smaller government and private enterprise. All great stuff. It also includes two very strong statements which represent a real victory for the religious right. One is the strongest statement possible on abortion, declaring that life begins at fertilization. The other is a fairly strong statement against gay marriage, though it comes up short of condemning civil unions or attacking homosexuality in general. I sort of suspect that they put the statement of principles out front in the hopes that people wouldn’t read any further and get a positive impression based on the statement and then never read some of the pure rat-brained craziness in the main body of the platform.
Section by Section
The platform addresses specific issues in a number of topical sections. Some of those sections were clearly dominated by certain interest groups. Basically it looks like each group with an agenda to push got a section for its agenda, with the result that these sections often read like a manifesto from the most extreme elements in the party. Some of them are very positive. Others are very specialized and of limited applicability. A few are truly troubling and offensive.
It’s clear that civil libertarians had some successes, especially where their interests dovetailed with those of some traditional republicans and conservatives, but what is even more clear is that where their interests are the strongest the religious right had a substantial victory. The sections of the platform which they were interested in influencing are among the most strongly worded and most extreme.
Preserving American Freedom
Under this heading we see some of the best stuff in the platform. Right up front there’s a moderately worded resolution suggesting that the Patriot Act should be reviewed and revised for constitutionality and in consideration of citizens rights. That’s a great thing to see in the platform. Another nice thing to see is a clear statement opposing a constitutional convention, something which the party had previously endorsed. The vocal opponents of toll roads had some victories, with strong statements opposing annexation, property forfeiture and eminent domain seizures and endorsing substantial property rights protections, calling property ownership an ‘inalienable right’. Also good to see was a resolution proposing that union members should have a say when their dues are used for political purposes. There’s also a strong and clear resolution explaining in detail which affirmative action is a bad idea. Some reasonable ideas on judicial reform are also proposed, many of them very specific to Texas law.
Of particular interest in this section are a couple of resolutions about how the platform is to be used, urging the State Republican Committee to require candidates to indicate where they stand on all 250+ items in the platform and then decide whether or not to give them money based on how they line up with the platform. I’d have to hope the standard of compliance would be set pretty low, because I can’t imagine a candidate in 100% agreement with the platform being electable even in a Republican dominated state like Texas. I’m tempted to run for office again just so I can see how the party leadership would react to my much marked up responses (with comments in red ink) to a platform compliance test.
At the end of this section there’s a nasty little sub-section called “Honoring the Symbols of Amerian Heritage” which basically endorses every unnecessary, uberpatriotic first-amendment violation they could think of. It’s got an endorsement for posting the ten commandments publicly, for keeping ‘god’ on the money and in the pledge of allegiance and prohibiting flag burning. It’s trivial stuff, but it’s stupid and uncalled for.
Strengthening Families, Protecting Life and Promoting Health
It’s hard to know where to start with this section. It’s like a wet dream (which they would probably like to ban) for the religious right. Imagine every possible extreme idea coming out of the craziest evangelical churches and then add a few ideas you didn’t think even the worst godflogger would be willing to sign off on in public. The presence of some of the stuff in this section makes me embarrassed to even live in the same state with these people, much less being in the same political party. In all seriousness, as I got to the end of the section I expected to see an endorsement of death camps for homosexuals. The only good news is that I suspect 90% of this crap will be gone when the national platform is written.
I’ll swallow my nausea and present some details.
First off, there’s an endorsement of the Defense of Marriage Amendment. Not only that, but it includes a statement urging that same sex unions be made illegal. But it gets better. They also want to make it a felony to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, restore the sodomy law which was struck down by the Supreme Court, they want to prohibit gay adoption, take away the parental rights of gay birth parents, and support statutory protection for anti-gay groups against criminal prosecution. Yes, it’s the protect Fred Phelps law. Every bigot’s dream come true. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that they also endorse covenant marriage. Why not. After all, Mike Huckabee was the featured speaker at the convention.
But wait, there’s more! They also want to ban all pornography and have the FCC shut down broadcasters who run certain types of programming and advertising. No more viagra adds for you, my morally upstanding fellow citizens. Just burn your copy of the Constitution and replace it with a Bible.
At this point, with the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution in shreds you’d think they were done, but we haven’t even gotten to the part about “Protecting Innocent Human Life.” Of course, I expect any Republican platform to be more or less pro-life and I’ve resigned myself to that fact, but in the ongoing celebration of religious fanaticism, they go on for almost two pages in an effort to redefine the ultimate expression of anti-abortion zealotry. The reason they go to such lengths is clearly that they don’t think calling for an outright ban on abortion is feasible. Instead their gaol is to sort of nibble it to death.
Along the way they want to ban any form of assisted suicide, as many forms of abortion as they can, any funding for abortion clinics, all forms of fetal tissue harvesting, stem cell research, human cloning, RU486, the ‘morning after’ pill and even surrogate motherhood and adoption of unborn embryos. The other main thrust of their strategy is to have the state propagandize abortion to death, by requiring parental notification, providing extensive information on abortion alternatives and fetal pain to abortion clinic customers, much of this supported with state funds. Then they want to make doctors who perform abortions liable to suit for malpractice by patients who have second thoughts and they want to make them potentially liable for criminal prosecution.
Some of the rest of this section isn’t so bad. The moralistic movement does at least go hand in hand with a strong belief in parental rights, and that’s represented in several resolutions protecting parental rights and privacy from the state. The section also seems to be informed by the recent egregious behavior of child welfare agents in dealing with the FLDS compound in West Texas, with a strong statement on accountability for those agencies. Some of it is a bit neanderthal, with an endorsement for corporal punishments of children not just in family homes, but also in foster care and schools. It looks like the civil libertarians and fiscal conservatives also got in some of their resolutions here, with an endorsement of widespread welfare reform and a gradual phase-out and privatization of social security. Unfortunately, one of the resolutions pushed by Governor Perry also made it in, with a proposal to not only ban any new forms of gambling in the state – while 80% of the cars in Louisiana casinos have Texas plates – but also to go even farther and repeal the state lottery and also prohibit the state from profiting from gambling. The voice of the Baptist womens quilting societies remains strong on this issue to the great fiscal detriment of the state and every taxpayer in it.
A Reality Check
The problem with a lot of these resolutions is that while they represent the hopes and dreams of certain very vocal factions, they don’t represent the mainstream of the nation or even the Republican Party terribly well, and they aren’t the kinds of positions which candidates who actually want to get elected can effectively run on.
Look at some of the specific issues raised here in context. 57-58% of the public supports civil unions or gay marriage and 40-46% of Republicans do. 81% of the public supports at least some form of abortion and 31% of Republicans consider themselves ‘pro-choice’ while almost half oppose any kind of ban on abortion. The situation is similar on Stem Cell Research. While support for federal funding is weak, support for the research itself is quite strong, with about 58% of the overall population in favor and 46% of Republicans supporting it. With all of these issues the numbers for independents who are key to any Republican victory run as high as or higher in the favorable column than the national average. Taking extremely conservative postions on these issues is a guaranteed election loser when you’re a minority party which needs to win votes outside of your loyal base. If you’ve got a negative position on an issue and almost 50% of your own party doesn’t agree with you, you’ve got a problem.
The content of the Texas Republican Platform is a telling reflection of how divided the party is and how potentially destructive the most extreme factions are. Yet consideration of political realities renders much of what’s in the platform essentially irrelevant. Most of these extreme positions absolutely cannot make it to the national platform, and local politicians who want to get elected are going to have to ignore many of these resolutions, no matter what provisions are in the platform to try to force them to comply with it. For most Republicans with any political involvement at all, this platform is going to get stuffed in a drawer while they pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s ridiculously indulgent of counterproductive extremism and an embarrassment to a party which wants to have any kind of meaningful political future.