Party platforms are usually better and more politically principled than the candidates who run on them. Written as they are by rank-and-file activists, they put the heart and soul of the party on display, even when neither the officeholder nor the governing coalition lives up to the promise. Rarely has a platform in our times been as good as the Republican one from George W.'s own home state of Texas; indeed it's so good, it's got all the right people mighty upset.
What's especially interesting about this document is that it indicates what' s on the mind of GOP activists in the state from which the GOP presidential nominee hails. But unlike the candidate, these folks are not interested in putting a conservative spin on the Clinton-Gore ideological muddle. They are demanding a complete break with the politics of the last decade.
The smarmy "third way" politics of our time is supplanted by full-throated, Texas-style independence and radicalism that rejects statism and collectivism across the board. Sure enough, Bob Herbert, writing in the New York Times, considers it to be evidence of the "zany extremism of the Republican Party in Mr. Bush's home state." Well, most Texans would consider some of the goings on in New York a little zany too.
As for Herbert, he would say the same (and probably has!) about Jefferson, Paine, Henry, Adams, and the whole of the Southern political tradition in America. He probably doesn't care much for the Texas penchant for resenting attempts at outside control. The platform only appears non-mainstream by today's standards; by the standards of American history and current anti-government opinion in major parts of the country and the world, this document is right on the money.
The preamble begins with a sweeping defense of freedom and counterposes it with government's continuing attack on liberty. This is the single greatest insight one can have about the current political situation. Freedom doesn't mean having the Herbertian right to other people's money and property; it means the right to be left alone to manage your affairs the way you see fit. Yet this one point eludes 9 out of 10 commentators on politics who either don't understand it, or favor the wrong side in the battle.
Lefties are quick to jump on Republicans who praise freedom and then demand that government step in to shape society in ways to their liking. But the Lone Star GOP is more sophisticated: "No government on earth can replace the nurturing love found in families, churches, and communities. The more that government intervenes in personal relationships, the more those relationships will be diminished, not strengthened. This is why the more government spends ‘trying to solve' poverty, education, and the decline of the family, the more the problems grow."
The preamble admits that some people find freedom to be a burden. To them it warns that government is never a solution. "They will sacrifice their future on the altar of the government's false promises-guaranteed education, guaranteed jobs, guaranteed security. No government in history has kept those guarantees. Where has communism or socialism worked?" This is the rhetoric of truth-telling, and not the kind of thing you see in the mainstream press, or even the conservative press.
The platform proceeds with a distinction that eludes even many libertarians:
the importance of localized political decision-making as compared with centralization. "Not only does the Republican Party of Texas proclaim the freedom of the individual citizen from the general power of government, it also proclaims the state's proper freedom from federal control." At last, some clarity about states' rights, which, in the American political context, always refers to the right to be free.
Even better are the named implications of this right: no census powers for the feds other than those in the Constitution (counting heads); the elimination of executive orders; an end to the "gathering, accumulation, and dissemination of finger prints, Social Security numbers, financial and personal information" by government; no more federal emergency powers; no more federal land use controls; no more taking of private property by the feds.
Imagine the degree to which this agenda would gut the central government as we know it. It would matter less who held the office of the presidency. Even if we someday ended up with another Clinton, he would be denied the power to wreck the country with the stroke of the pen — a power which Clinton has, and Congress has failed to take away from him. Isn't rule by good law rather than rule by men (whether good or bad) what we should be seeking?
As we might expect from Texas, where guns are commonplace, the platform is squarely against all gun control: "The Party calls upon the US Congress to repeal any and all laws that infringe on the right of citizens to keep and bear arms; to reject the establishment of any mechanism or process to record, register, or monitor the ownership of firearms; to reject the imposition of excessive taxation or regulation on the manufacture or sale of firearms and ammunition."
As for social issues, remember how the left is always trying to paint the right as secretly theocratic? In truth, the threat runs the other way: the government has come to believe that it is a god, and it has been trying to crush the freedom of religion by erecting a secular theocracy. The platform seems to understand this, asserting that "all Americans have the right to practice their religious faith free of persecution, intimidation, and violence."
On environmentalism, the platform is rock solid. "We reaffirm the belief in the fundamental constitutional concept of an individual's right to own and use property without governmental interference." Consistently applied, this provision would gut the invasive and expensive eco-regulations which have locked up land and crushed new technologies that would enhance our standard of living.
The Texas GOP comes out against the Department of Education, all interference in the right to educate at home, the phony-baloney classification of traditional discipline as child abuse, the federal imposition of sensitivity training in colleges and universities, all affirmative action and quotas, the minimum wage, all privileges for labor unions, and even government-owned infrastructure.
The platform is further against the Kyoto Treaty, "sustainable development," the Endangered Species Act as a land-use control regulation, the Biodiversity Treaty, all inheritance taxes, and the Clinton administration's "move toward the socialistic redistribution of our national wealth."
Left-liberal commentators have been whipping themselves up into a frenzy about isolationism on the right, by which they mean opposition to American imperialism. Well, the Texas GOP is exhibit A in how dramatic the turnaround from Cold War internationalism to the new right-wing "mind-your-own-business" foreign policy truly is. Hence, the platform demands a pullout from the United Nations, an end to funding the IMF, the repeal of Nafta, and withdrawal from the World Trade Organization. These are interesting positions. They suggest that the Lone Star GOP should reevaluate its own leadership, which supported all these programs.
Bob Herbert was particularly upset that the platform calls for the abolition of the Federal Reserve System and the restoration of the gold standard. Zany extremism? Not at all. Paper money is big government's credit card. The gold standard has the advantage of ending inflation, ending business cycles, and restraining the growth of the public debt and debt-financed government in general. It would also make sure that an unelected banker like Alan Greenspan would no longer have the main power over the economy; as even he once wrote, the gold standard and freedom go together.
A platform that says something like this isn't extremist or wacky, as Herbert claims, though it surely shocks the sensibilities of New York Times editorial writers. Its sentiments represent a radical departure from the present command-and-control system of Clintonized government. That is an agenda widely desired within the GOP, and also among independents who don't trust the GOP to carry out the program.
Devolution from central government and a restoration of liberty and property is exactly what is called for in a post-socialist age. The desire for such radical change isn't limited to a fringe; it is the dominant opinion in one of the largest state party organizations in the country. Why must the nation ‘s press continue to report on rank-and-file GOP opinions as if they are reporting on life on Mars?
In fact, if the platform has a problem, it is not its extremism but its periodic and wholly unnecessary nod to conventional opinion. It permits funding for Nasa (located in Texas), some protectionism (when domestic industries are outcompeted), and the Americans With Disabilities Act (no coincidence, passed by the Bush administration), and whips up hysteria against China.
Also, the platform endorses the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, as if any child should be made to swear allegiance to the central state in these times. This platform certainly doesn't, and that's what's good about it. Its significance is that it serves to remind us that the opinions and taboos erected by our political leaders and the mainstream press have little to do with the opinions of millions and millions of real people, who, after all, have a history and a future, and are voters too.
June 30, 2000