Flawed process led to equally flawed GOP platform

Posted May 26, 2010, at 5:43 p.m.

It is said that one does not want to know how laws and sausages are made. To this adage we now add how platforms are adopted.

Here is an insider’s view of how the platform process worked at the recent Republican State Convention.

The Hancock County Republican Committee elected early in the year a representative to serve on the Standing Resolution Committee of the state party. The primary duty of this committee is to prepare a proposed party platform, so it is generally known as the “platform committee.” Our representative had experience and a good conservative background. Party rules call for other committee members to be appointed by the ranking members of the state Legislature and the congressional delegation.

The platform which emerged was essentially a repeat of the 2008 platform; it was available for review in the county well before the date of the convention, and was included in the convention literature provided to each delegate upon arrival to the convention.

The convention agenda for the second day provided one hour for approval of the platform. The platform committee’s work was presented and several possible amendments were also identified. One of these amendments however, submitted by the Knox County delegation, was a five-page total rewrite of the original, two-page platform.

A few copies of this amendment were provided to each county delegation shortly before discussion began. I obtained four of the five pages of one of these copies and tried to digest it as the convention chair was reading it aloud and very rapidly to the convention. The words shown on the large screens were not synchronized with the chair’s hurried reading.

The chair, doing a fine job in difficult circumstances, then opened the floor for comment, alternating speakers in favor and opposed. Speakers complained that the original platform needed to be simplified, another thought it too vague, lacking in specifics. Debate was soon ended by action from the floor, and the new platform passed with a big majority. Few in the hall could have had time to evaluate its content, and the chair moved stalwartly ahead with the agenda.

A political platform is always a balancing act between defining broad principles and promoting a legislative action. All our gubernatorial and congressional candidates have placed the economy and jobs at the top of their priorities. The platform, adopted nearly sight unseen, is precious thin on planks that address that issue. Most planks are indeed specific, but are peripheral to the basic platform objective of electing Republicans.

Many are controversial, primarily of concern to the far right. As such, they divert attention from the key Republican responsibility, and economic opportunity. Departing from the Platform Committee concept requires a leap of faith by delegates from other counties who had no input into drafting it, trusting that the Knox County authors objectively evaluated pros and cons of the major initiatives.

For instance, there are planks to:

ä Reject the Law of the Sea Treaty. This is hardly a crucial concern, as it has been kicking around since when I was in the Pentagon over two decades ago. And did anyone check to learn the position of the chief of naval operations? Let’s support whatever position the Navy takes and not make their job any harder.

ä Pass and implement a bill currently before Congress to audit the Federal Reserve as the first step in “ending the Fed.” An audit sounds like a good idea, but ending the Fed? We need to hear from economists and bankers, with more credentials than the Knox County delegation before blindly accepting this.

ä Institute zero-based budgeting. Not a good idea. Jimmy Carter tried it successfully in Georgia, but I think it failed in the 1970s at the federal level.

ä Oppose “Localism and Diversity,” in a free speech context. Not understood. “Localism and Diversity” without further definition sound like ideas Republicans normally support rather than oppose.

ä “Return to the principles of Austrian Economics.” No one I have spoken with, including two gubernatorial and one congressional candidate, knows what “Austrian Economics” are.

A platform committee representing the entire state with time to evaluate all the planks in the amendment would, almost certainly have come to a different conclusion than did the convention delegates operating in a brief window of time.

We saw a small group of sincere, like-minded Knox County Republicans expressing the anger felt by much of the electorate. They succeeded in moving the Republican convention rightward. But without input from the other counties and from representatives of the elected Republicans already battling in the trenches, their amended platform effort will not help the party in November.

A flawed process resulted in a flawed product.

Robert K. Slaven is retired from the U.S. Navy and resides in Blue Hill. He was a delegate to the State Republican Convention.

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