Any grassroots activist worth their salt would say that they want a bottom-up party, not a top-down party. Even establishment GOP politico Haley Barbour said that our party system has become too “top down” and that the grassroots needs to reassert their power. The grassroots should control the elite, not the reverse. But how is that established? How can we know when we have elected people who truly represent the grassroots?
A recent study attempted to measure that. This series of studies measured how elected officials measured up to the basic components of their parties. (How purely “liberal” or “conservative” were they?)
For full disclosure, I should say that my husband, former Sen. John Loudon of Missouri, has the distinction of being “the most conservative” – or the truest to his party’s core values as delineated in the GOP platform. But it is because I spent more than a decade at his side as he served that I see the power of accountability in the platform and the importance of preserving that grassroots power over politicians.
Still, some would say that platforms are passé and that it is old fashioned to hold parties to particular ideologies because culture is evolving so quickly.
Others would take a much more critical look at the opining of those who want to label old documents inept and surmise that this has more to do with power and money of those in control.
An obsolete document?
Time Magazine used its July 4 cover to pose a similar, only more macro question that many have asked throughout American history: Does the Constitution still matter?
People argue that the framers of our Constitution couldn’t have known about modern-day events, like technology, globalism or even modern-day economic and cultural problems.
In his June 2011 column, Thomas Sowell responded, “[M]ost people have enough common sense to know that a constitution does not exist to micro-manage particular ‘events’ or express opinions about the passing scene. A constitution exists to create a framework for government – and the Constitution of the United States tries to keep the government inside that framework.”
He continued, “Does the Constitution matter? If it doesn’t, then your freedom doesn’t matter.”
Party platform: Constitution of political party
As many are beating the drum of the Constitution and its relevance even today, some of those same conservatives say that the message of the national party should be to eliminate any dialogue of social issues. Why is it that the same political pundits who exclaim the power of the grassroots and the Constitution would eliminate the power of the grassroots and their voice in party politics by overlooking the power of the party platform?
When the elitists within the parties decide that they can overlook party platforms and make up the rules that they like, the power of the grassroots is gone, and the accountability of the elected official is gone.
Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum describes the party platform as an essential “creed.” She says it is the symbol of “what we think is worth our work and sacrifice” and the “standard to which public officials may be held accountable.”
Those who don’t understand the history of party platforms might not appreciate the important purpose they serve. The elitists in Washington, D.C., in both parties, prefer that the general electorate remain naïve on their power in party politics so they can continue to ram their own candidates through the system, and they can ignore accountability for their votes and sponsorships.
Those who don’t learn from history …
Ms. Schlafly relays the story of the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston, Texas. I was there, and I worked with Phyllis as a new, young Republican to rally and fight for the planks of the platform that we believed in that year.
George H.W. Bush was the nominee, the Convention was in Houston, and the party was generally united behind Bush’s candidacy. The platform, however, was a very different issue. The RINOs that year wanted to remove the pro-life plank from the platform. Phyllis and friends established the Republican National Coalition for Life that year, with the sole purpose of preserving the pro-life plank in the Republican Party platform. It was a brutal battle, but ultimately the voice of the grassroots prevailed, and the pro-life plank stood in the platform.
This mattered because:
1) The platform gave a contract of sorts to those who wanted to join the GOP. The public could look to the platform to know what the grassroots of the party really believed and was willing to fight to preserve.
2) The grassroots had a way to hold politicians accountable. If an elected official veered from the platform that the grassroots had worked to establish, the party had a contract to hold that person’s feet to the fire.
And the grassroots have wielded this weapon before. In 1996, when Bob Dole was asked if he intended to support the platform, he told the press that he had not read the platform, and was “not bound by it in any way.” Consultants handling Dole’s campaign thought they could ignore the will of the grassroots activists long fought for in the platform, and side-step issues that were important to the grassroots delegates. History reports that Bob Dole lost that election because the grassroots evaded him, and he was then essentially cast out of GOP politics from that moment on. Politicians, beware.
The message was clear: Respect the platform as the delegates voted it, or lose your base and lose your election.
Enter George W. Bush, 2000. The delegates made it clear that year that the GOP was their party, and their party would have a pro-life nominee. Despite rumblings of consultants like Karl Rove insisting that the Republican Party needed to “look at previous elections” and “moderate the message to attract that middle-of-the-line voter,” the wise candidates knew that they dare not cross the powerful grass roots on a topic that was in their platform. According to Ms. Schalfly, not a single pro-abortion candidate entered the race for president in 2000, and the pro-life plank in the platform was adopted with little opposition.
The platform that year included language like:
“We believe the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life.”
“We believe the traditional definition of marriage is the legal union of one man and one woman.”
“We defend the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”
“We support the recognition of English as the nation’s common language.”
“We affirm the right of public schools, courthouses, and other public buildings to post copies of the Ten Commandments.”
“American troops must never serve under U.N. command or be subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.”
The 2008 official GOP Platform looked much the same, only better. It added a debunking statement on environmentalism, stiffened the plank on illegal immigration and called for a ban on partial-birth abortion and endorsed the “Born Alive Infant Protection Act.” The 2008 platform even added a homeschool plank and fired back at a 2004 plank singing the praises of George W. Bush for his spending on education.
How the GOP loses
So how did the GOP lose to Obama? The difference is that Mitt Romney, on the advice of Karl Rove and Reince Priebus (the RNC chair), completely ignored the platform. Priebus said in an interview with MSNBC during the Tampa Convention, “This is the platform of the Republican Party. It is not the platform of Mitt Romney.” That is why Mitt Romney went the same way as Bob Dole. That is what happens to candidates who ignore the base of their party.
Some will say that they want the party to adopt or disregard certain messages. I would tell them that is fine, but first they have to engage in the process, and fight for that in the official platform.
Before the next convention
Regardless of your political views, the only power the people in the parties have over their elected officials once they are elected is their party platform. If you don’t like the planks in the platform, fight to change them, but don’t disregard the platform process altogether, or you willingly forfeit your own voice and power in the process.
For this reason, grassroots activists must do two things:
1) Engage in the party process and fight for the planks you want in your party platform.
2) Hold your elected officials accountable
a) Insist that your candidate campaign in accordance with the platform
b) Hold them accountable to that platform once they are elected
Constitutional attorney and long-time crusader on the critical nature of party platforms, Phyllis Schlafly, says there are core values that must be considered each year when it comes time to vote on planks in the platform for conservatives. She quoted Ronald Reagan on the matter:
“God’s hand is on America in a very preferential way. We have inherited a wonderful land of liberty and prosperity. It’s our duty to safeguard our magnificent heritage. One way we do this is by adopting a Republican Party platform that designs the plan to rebuild the conservative movement, sets the standard for public officials, and then tries to hold them to it. We must use the procedures in the U.S. Constitution, and the mechanisms of self-government and of party politics to preserve our heritage.”