Republican Platform Vast Improvement Over 2004

Conservatives are thrilled with the platform just adopted in Minneapolis by the Republican National Convention Committee on Resolutions — as the platform committee is formally known — and which will be submitted for formal adoption to the full convention this week in St. Paul.

The 2008 platform truly reflects the beliefs of the party and its activist base and is significantly more conservative than the one four years before. The working copy of the 2008 platform was drafted by party staff without the heavy-handedness often imposed by presidential nominees. In 2004, many activist conservatives were upset at the high-handed tactics of the campaign organization and the many platform deviations from basic party principles, especially on domestic issues.

That was not the case in 2008. The draft began as a conservative document and was moved even further to the right by the various amendments adopted by the 112-member platform committee, whose representatives are chosen locally by the elected delegates to the convention. Because the party base is conservative, the document was conservative.

That was not obvious beforehand. The American Conservative Union had mobilized resources to assess conservatives’ views on the issues so these could be presented to the delegates and party leaders at the convention as the voice of its base. Tens of thousands activists expressed their opinion through surveys, town halls and petitions that were summarized in a Conservative Agenda for America’s Future, which was distributed to committee members as they began their deliberations. The Agenda drive was chaired by Arizona Republican Rep. John Shadegg and is available here.

As the platform delegates were assembling, ACU Chairman David Keene announced, “We hope and expect that this document will serve as a blueprint for RNC Platform Committee members as they begin their work to finalize the RNC Platform.”

And it mostly was. The most important change in the 2008 platform was a re-commitment of the GOP to the fundamental conservative principle of limited constitutional government and a resulting promise to reduce bloated federal government spending, what Sen. John McCain has called the “profligate spending that has characterized this administration’s fiscal policy.” Language of this sort had not appeared in 2004, given the record domestic spending levels during the Bush Administration. The platform also promises to extend the Bush tax cuts and reduce corporate taxation.

Foreign policy planks pretty much followed the thrust of the earlier platform, but the 2008 document opposes any immigration plan that would provide amnesty for illegal aliens. “The rule of law suffers if government policies encourage or reward illegal activity,” it says. As Blumberg News noted, “That’s a tougher line than the 2004 text, which called for a ‘humane’ immigration system with a temporary worker program and a path for illegal immigrants ‘to come out of the shadows’ and apply for citizenship. The language four years ago mirrored President George W. Bush’s goals for revamping U.S. immigration laws.”

Like the 2004 document, this year’s text opposes abortion and the use of embryonic stem-cells for medical research, a position heavily lobbied for by conservative activist leader Phyllis Schlafly. McCain supports such research and has said he would reverse Bush’s ban on federal funding to develop treatments using embryonic stem cells. In a close, emotional vote, the stem-cell language was even tightened from 2004.

The 2008 text supports a constitutional amendment that “fully protects marriage as a union of a man and a woman, so that judges cannot make other arrangements equivalent to it.” Nominee McCain supports civil unions.

While McCain has accepted man-made global warming as a danger and backs mandatory limits on greenhouse-gas emissions and a cap-and-trade system to control it, the 2008 platform says: “Republicans caution against the doomsday climate change scenarios peddled by aficionados of centralized command-and-control government.” It calls technology and markets the keys to reducing carbon emissions without damaging the economy “We simply must draw more American oil from American soil,” and use more nuclear energy, which the document calls “a gift to mankind implanted in matter itself.”

Platforms Matter

The remaining planks in the Republican platform sound just as favorably to conservative ears. There are a few exceptions, but very few.

Contrary to much opinion, platforms matter. Political science research makes it clear that in the long run what the parties say about themselves in the platform becomes the basis for its policy. That is why Sen. McCain deserves great credit for allowing the party activists to develop their own platform based on sound conservative principles. Now let us hope he has the additional good sense to follow it.