One party platform stated that Hispanics and others should not “be barred from education or employment opportunities because English is not their first language.” It highlighted the need for “dependable and affordable” mass transit in cities, noting that “mass transportation offers the prospect for significant energy conservation.” And it prefaced its plank on abortion by saying that “we recognize differing views on this question among Americans in general — and in our own party.”
The other party platform said that “we support English as the nation’s official language.” It chided the Democratic administration for “replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.” And its abortion plank recognized no dissent, taking the position that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.”
No, they are not the platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties. They are both Republican platforms: the first from 1980, at the dawn of the Reagan revolution, and the second the 2012 Republican platform that was approved Tuesday afternoon in Tampa, Fla.
The new platform — with its call to reshape Medicare to give fixed amounts of money to future beneficiaries so they can buy their own coverage, its tough stance on illegal immigration and its many calls to shrink the size and scope of government — shows just how far rightward the party has shifted in both tone and substance in the decades since it adopted the 1980 platform, which was considered a triumph for conservatives at the time.
Subtitled “We Believe in America,” the platform keeps its focus on the party’s traditional support for low taxes, national security and social conservatism. And it delves into a number of politically charged issues. It calls state court decisions recognizing same-sex marriage “an assault on the foundations of our society,” opposes gun legislation that would limit “the capacity of clips or magazines,” supports the “public display of the Ten Commandments,” calls on the federal government to drop its lawsuits challenging state laws adopted to combat illegal immigration, and salutes the Republican governors and lawmakers who “saved their states from fiscal disaster by reforming their laws governing public employee unions.”
Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, the chairman of the party’s platform committee, described it as “a conservative vision of governance” in his speech at the convention.
Platforms are often mocked as unread and unimportant. Both parties have seen their platforms shaped over the years by special-interest groups, or in the hopes of appealing to single-issue voters, in ways that appealed to their bases but at times took them outside mainstream political opinion.
Mitt Romney, like most recent Republican nominees, has noted that he supports certain exceptions to his party’s proposed sweeping ban on abortion: He told CBS News that he favors exceptions in cases of rape, incest and when the health or life of the mother is endangered. And this week House Speaker John A. Boehner pointedly asked, “Have you ever met anybody who has read the party platform?”
But some political scientists say that party platforms do matter. Gerald M. Pomper, a professor emeritus of political science at Rutgers University, studied meaningful platform pledges from 1944 to 1976 — and later updated his work by looking at the 1990s — and found that winning political parties try to redeem roughly 70 percent of their concrete platform pledges. Pomper said his work found that contrary to popular belief, party platforms should not be casually dismissed as meaningless.
“It seemed strange to me that people would have fights over platforms and would put in a lot of effort to try to influence them if they didn’t mean anything,” he said in an interview. “If they didn’t, why were practical people fighting over this? Putting something into the party platform is a pledge that you’re going to do something about it.”
Several prominent conservatives and conservative groups praised the new platform. FreedomWorks, an advocacy group associated with the Tea Party movement, applauded the Republican Party for adopting much of what it called “the Tea Party’s ‘Freedom Platform.”’ Phyllis Schlafly, a longtime conservative icon, wrote in The Washington Times that this year’s Republican platform “may be the best one ever adopted.” And the platform’s gun-rights section — which included the party’s support for “the fundamental right to self-defense wherever a law-abiding citizen has a legal right to be” — drew strong praise from the National Rifle Association.
David Keene, president of the association, said on the group’s website that “the 2008 platform of the Republican Party was perhaps the most gun-friendly platform that any party had ever adopted, and I’m happy to be able to report that this year’s Republican platform is even stronger in terms of dedicating a major party to the protection of the Second Amendment.”
This year’s Republican platform contains several planks that were sought by supporters of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, whose insurgent Republican presidential campaign energized a new generation of libertarians. It calls for an annual audit of the Federal Reserve and for forming a commission to “investigate possible ways to set a fixed value for the dollar” along the lines of a commission that was established three decades ago to study — and wound up opposing — a return to the gold standard.
The proposal to reshape Medicare, as Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, have proposed, is now enshrined in the party platform.
Their plan would change the program for those under 55 so that they would receive a fixed amount of money to purchase health coverage from private insurers, or a traditional Medicare plan.
“While retaining the option of traditional Medicare in competition with private plans, we call for a transition to a premium-support model for Medicare, with an income-adjusted contribution toward a health plan of the enrollee’s choice,” that platform states.
The platform also suggests raising the age at which people can receive Medicare.
“Without disadvantaging retirees or those nearing retirement, the age eligibility for Medicare must be made more realistic in terms of today’s longer life span,” it says.
President Barack Obama and his policies are critiqued at length in the platform, which calls for repealing his health care law and criticizes his administration for leaking details of the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.
“We give the current president credit for maintaining his predecessor’s quiet determination and planning to bring to justice the man behind the 9/11 attack on America, but he has tolerated publicizing the details of the operation to kill the leader of al-Qaida,” the platform reads.