Every four years we’re treated to a national political convention from the major (and yes, even the minor) political parties. Two of said conventions, the Democratic and Republican National Conventions will be televised. Much ado is made about such conventions, in particular, the byzantine navigation of party rules and regulations at the national, state, and local level to craft what is known as a “party platform.”
Personally, I think if you asked most people what a “Party Platform” was they would think you were talking about the thing the politician stands on when he or she gives a speech. I don’t say that to suggest most people are stupid – on the contrary, I’d say it suggests just how relevant the “real” party “platform” is in American political life.
Every year, especially when there’s an open election on either party’s side (or as in 2000 on both) there’s much hand-wringing and big political talk about “the platform.” Winning candidates don’t talk about it much, except in broad strokes; less successful candidates talk about advancing their candidacy to “influence” said document. You’d think these people were talking about the Magna Carta II: Electric Boogaloo or something by the importance placed on it.
Nowhere are the fights more bitter, or more vicious, than at the local level. In fact, as you go down the food chain, from the Big Deal At The Convention, on down to the state level, and then on down to the congressional, state legislative, and precinct level, you’d find that the fights, pissing matches, longwinded debates, and endless talk by party “activists” gets more and more irrelevant as you go.
I will never forget the horror story a friend of mine in Washington State relayed to me years ago, when he was deputized to run a local caucus that began delegate selection in that state. After running through the day’s business at the usual pace (slow) the entire proceeding was held up by an intense debate about the wording of some resolution that people wanted to make that would really stick it to The Man and express their will as Democrats.
What was the Big Issue? Was it “abortion”? “Taxes”? “Defense Spending”? “Guns”? “Malt Liquor Taxation Rates”? SOMETHING important?
No. In fact, the 3 hour debate was whether to word some resolution to say the Party was in support of working families versus working people No, I am not making this up.
The debate got so heated he had to call a time out on the whole thing and make people go into separate corners, like kids. He called me up that night and relayed said experience, and began to wonder what it was they put in the coffee that day.
By no means is this confined to one party – I have attended events on both sides, and even some “third party” conventions, and found this to be a universal truism. Friends in the GOP tell me horror stories that easily match the rage and futility that match situations like this all the time.
The problem is, the “platform” in today’s system is almost entirely irrelevant to what happens should Candidate A or Candidate B get elected. Sure, one party can take potshots at another over some particularly goofy statement that accidentally gets through the system, but these potshots are becoming more and more rare as both major parties devise layers of rules to keep anything from happening – again, not that it matters.
I have yet to see a collaborationist Democrat or a collusionist Republican get seriously reprimanded for going against the national or state party’s platform. What would happen if they did? What if said platform was the defining document of all political identity in say, the Democratic Party?”
I’ve always imagined it might be something like this:
Scene: A dimly lit chamber, with five thrones up on a very tall stage. A renegade politico (picture Steve Westly, for example) stands in shackles, with a large spotlight beaming directly overhead.
Five hooded figures, each with a donkey and tattoos of Adlai Stevenson on their foreheads and dark heavy cloaks march out and take their places and glare at the One Who Dared Collaborate With Doofinator.
After hailing their Great Leaders of the Party (Truman, Roosevelt, Clinton, et al) who appear on huge, Soviet-realist style portraits two stories high, The Party Bigwig begins to speak.
Party Bigwig 1: Steve Westly, you are hereby charged with violating a tiny portion of the Democratic Party Platform. Before the Central Committee passes judgment, what say ye?
Steve “Beaver Cleaver” Westly: Um, I’m really sorry I supported that dumbass credit card bond? And, oh yeah, vote for me for Governor in 2006!
Party Bigwig 2: SILENCE, WORM! You have violated the Mighty Platform, and YE SHALL BE PUNISHED!!
Steve “Beaver Cleaver” Westly: Please…have mercy…I thought it was a good idea at the time…all the other kids were doing it…an older kid made me do it…no…don’t punish me O Mighty Bigwig
Party Bigwig 1: SILENCE, TRAITOR! It is the determination of this Committee that YOU have VIOLATED the PLATFORM, and you shall now feel the full force of the wrath of The Party! You will be removed from office forthwith, and you will be banished from politics forever! Let this be a lesson to all who dare oppose….THE PLATFORM!! Muah ha ha ha ha!
Cue dramatic gothic organ music, and a chorus singing the Internationale. Or the Macarena. Whatever works.
Well, wouldn’t it be cool if they did do that? Oh come on, you’re no fun!
We know what really happens. People spend a lot of time wording these things, other people spend more time rewriting them. But in the end, it doesn’t mean a hell of a lot. Any politician can pretty much do whatever they want, call themselves what they want, and no one can really stop them unless voters toss ’em out.
It’s why a guy like Governor Doofinator can nominally be “pro-choice” or “pro-gay” but still remain in a party whose official platforms strongly oppose both. It’s also how a guy like Bill Clinton can be voted in by Democrats twice, while never getting that national health care thing done in eight years.
To political journalists, it’s something to write about when they get tired of the ping pong match of TV ads we’re seeing right now, and it gives some candidates something to talk about now that the nominations of both parties are “decided” in “advance.” No one has to really abide by them, and no one really cares in the party, outside of the party, or anywhere.
Which is unfortunate. It would be nice if we had conventions that really decided things, and were interesting to take part in and watch. It would be even better if we had more parties that stood for something, instead of two “big tent” parties that try to be all things to all people. But most prefer what we have, simply because it’s easier to cover, and easier to understand
Besides, if we had the system I’ve always advocated (four parties: Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, and Republican) which would let people more easily express their real intent at the ballot box, it would at least make things more fun.
Hey, it worked in New York for many years! Why not try it nationally? Can things be any more dull than they are now?
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com
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