When Party Platforms Cease To Matter

It became something of a running joke in 1996, when Bob Dole publicly conceded, many times, that he hadn’t even read the Republican Party’s platfo

It became something of a running joke in 1996, when Bob Dole publicly conceded, many times, that he hadn’t even read the Republican Party’s platform. ”I have due respect for the platform,” Dole said at one point after his convention. ”I read a lot of parts that I thought were essential.”

Twelve years later, we’ve reached the point at which a presidential candidate not only won’t read his platform, but doesn’t much care what’s in it.

Jean from Ferrisburgh, Vt., wants the Republican Party to get off “the global-warming bus.” Paul from Carrollton, Texas, wants it to “reject fetal stem-cell research.” And Larry from Waynesboro, Pa., wants the party to promise to “deport those who are here illegally.”

Republicans are inviting suggestions for their party platform this year, and thousands have responded online. But when a committee meets to draft the document in Minneapolis next week, one voice will be largely absent: John McCain’s.... Instead of fighting with party activists to form the platform around his own ideas, Sen. McCain has taken a hands-off approach.

McCain and his party’s base disagree on a few hot-button issues, and GOP activists are intent on making sure their platform reflects their priorities. McCain’s response is to ignore the platform altogether.

This certainly certainly seems like a reminder of the relevance of platforms in modern politics. Ostensibly, the Republican Party’s platform and the Republican Party’s presidential nominee would be on the same page. Indeed, from a historical perspective, voters who sought to learn more about a presidential candidate’s policy agenda would turn to the candidate’s party platform and read all about his priorities. And yet now, McCain won’t write, read, or care a whit about the platform that comes out of his own convention.

I remember working on a project in grad school that led me to read a lot of old party platforms, and it was a pretty fascinating way to watch the transitions of major parties over the decades. But at this point, they’re antiquated, meaningless documents. It’s probably time to scrap them altogether.


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