June 21, 2018
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Platform follies

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Frary
By John Frary, Special to the BDN

When the 2010 Republican Convention adopted a platform written by some Knox County activists, some Republicans felt they had won a victory over the centrist establishment.

The media, looking for tea party influences, reported that the Republican Party had moved to the right. The Democrats’ campaign coordinator, Arden Manning, advised the Republican candidates to repudiate the new platform as extremist.

No Republican candidate repudiated the platform. None explicitly ran on it. The document was forgotten in a month, and the triumph over the establishment was largely an illusion. Charles Webster, the state chairman who some see as the spider at the center of the establishment web, was indifferent. His view is that candidates, not platforms or manifestos, win elections.

Webster asked me to chair the 2012 platform committee. He gave me no instructions and expressed little interest in the progress of its proceedings. He simply wanted it to meet the deadline and arrive at a consensus. Those were also my priorities.

All flavors of Republican, from tapioca pudding to Tabasco sauce, participated in developing the platform. At our first committee meeting, we agreed that the only people who read platforms are party activists and members of the media. The elected legislators on the committee understood that the activists are one of the factors they must consider when running but that no one ever won an election on activist votes alone.

We established four fundamentals: The platform should emphasize fidelity to the constitutional limits on government power; no parts should require complicated explanations from candidates unable to explain them; emphasis should be on the achievements of the Republican legislature and governor; and more work is needed.

No one made an argument against these fundamentals, but many members cherished particular planks they wished to see included. We worked out concessions and compromises at meetings in September, October, November and twice in December. Every part of the final version received a unanimous or overwhelming assent, and a convention consensus seemed within reach.

I was scheduled to present the committee’s recommendations Saturday morning, but the original agenda disintegrated in the balloting chaos. The chairman presented the platform to a dwindling remnant of delegates only at the tail-end of the convention.

Then a man descended from some remote planet to denounce the proposed platform as the hellish work of the iron-fisted establishment. Others stepped up to defend it. Since my name was brought up, I came forward to summarize the above-mentioned points. I said that some people were bound to have parts omitted that they wanted to keep.

I announced that I had done my duty and was heading back to Farmington. The cheers that accompanied my departure encouraged my hopes.

Unfortunately, there was no way to prevent some wind-bags from galloping up on their hobby horses to damn and demand. In the end the remaining delegates voted to return to the 2010 version.

It was clear from their preconvention meeting that Ron Paul’s organizers had no interest in a platform fight, but the rank-and-file remaining at convention’s end — who are anti-establishment by definition — probably saw Knox County’s 2010 platform as a triumph over the establishment enemy and voted for it reflexively. No good reason to believe any of them read either version. They were exhausted. They wanted to vote and go home.

Most of us will forget the 2010 and 2012 platforms in a month. The clueless clarions of impregnable truth have had a triumph that they will cherish for years to come. A man would have to have a heart of stone to deny them their moment.

John Frary, of Farmington, is a former candidate for U.S. Congress, retired history professor, member of Maine Taxpayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia. He may be reached at jfrary8070@aol.com.

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