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June 24, 2005

under the big tent (one)

Don Herzog: June 24, 2005

Blog etiquette is so damned tricky, but better safe than sorry:  hat tip to David V. for pointing me to the Oklahoma GOP platform (you can download the Word document from here — ooh, are the Okie Republicans in bed with Microsoft?) and Ralph Nader's salvo against it.  Nader indicted the extremism of the state party, the silence of the national party on such state platforms, and (surprise!) the gutlessness of the Democrats:

Call one for the Republicans.  They are neither squeamish about their off-the-wall declarations nor worried about their internal contradictions from the state to the national level.

Well, let's see.

The Oklahoma party calls for state and federal legislation to prohibit same-sex marriages and domestic partnerships, and also a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to one man and one woman.  I'm not sure if this is to leave states the room to adopt civil unions, or just carelessness — the party thanks "the members of the Platform Committee who gave two long Saturdays to produce this document" — but I'd prefer to think it's the former.  (And yes, it could be carelessness:  in short order the platform supports and opposes the same Taxpayer Bill of Rights for the state.)

They do like constitutional amendments, that's for sure.  Apparently the great document is radically deficient, though the party would rescind the state's previous call for a new constitutional convention.  It needs a balanced budget amendment, an amendment to protect "innocent human life" (they approve of capital punishment), another giving the president the line-item veto, still another imposing Congressional term limits, and a balanced federal budget amendment.

And more generally the party seems confused or thoughtless on the links between what's the right policy and who should decide:  that's what really struck me, far beyond Nader's impulse that they are voicing the ugly right-wing agenda that President Bush can't publicly avow.  Take schooling.  The party rejects all national curricula, aptitude testing, and "education standards," but also (in the meantime?) has some ideas about how to teach federally mandated AIDS education.  The party declares,

Locally elected school boards should have the authority to determine and implement all public school curricula, policies and procedures for their districts.

Hurrah localism! But with nary a blush, the platform promptly adds,

The traditional family unit, consisting of a (husband) man, (wife) woman and child(ren), is the foundation of our social structure.  The Oklahoma Department of Education should uphold and teach this definition of family at all levels of public education.

So much for the authority of those locally elected school boards.  The platform dances the same odd two-step again:

Where evolution is taught, intelligent design must be taught as well.

But then, right away:

Local school boards should maintain the right to choose curriculum and textbooks without state limitations.

You will forgive Oklahoma's staunch localists for not trusting the state GOP.  So too the boards will apparently all have to go along with this:

The Ten Commandments should be posted in all public schools as a means of moral guidance....

I guess the party hasn't yet heard that the Supreme Court ruled such displays unconstitutional in 1980, just on the basis of the cert. petitions, that is without hearing oral argument.  Oh, well, add another constitutional amendment.

There's lots more, of course.  The state and Congress should both adopt English as the official language, and all government documents should be available only in English.  (I think this a bad idea.)  The party is hawkish on national defense.  They're fond of Israel, not of Cuba.  They "oppose monetary foreign aid" and "believe the United States should consider withdrawal from the United Nations."  They reject gun control — and free trade pacts.  Indeed they'd like us to withdraw from the World Trade Organization.  (But they repeatedly insist on the merits of free markets.)  They'd eliminate the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms — all right, I knew Republicans didn't dote on that one — and also the Office of the Surgeon General.  And a robust commerce clause jurisprudence is useful when you dislike labor unions:  they'd like a national right-to-work law.

And there's lots more than that, but enough.  I enjoyed puzzling over the platform.  Unlike Nader, I didn't see it as the ugly and publicly unspeakable underbelly of Republican dominance.  If you have just two parties — sorry to my libertarian pals, but you know what I mean — you should expect each of them to be a big tent.  So it's a mistake to expect a party platform to hang together in any deeply structured way.  If you've got a story on which all these commitments do in fact hang together, I might be amazed.  Or I might just think your story is too clever and is printed on Silly Putty, so you can stretch it as needed.

Still, the Oklahoma Republican Party had a committee spend two long Saturdays on this document, and I suppose they voted to adopt it, and they're publicizing it, too.  There may be bits and pieces of it aimed at very specific blocs of voters.  But I bet there are plenty of Republicans, in and out of Oklahoma, that like almost all of this platform.  And if it's not deep principle that makes the thing hang together, what kind of cultural or political grammar does?

And then I wonder if there's a magically perverse psychological dynamic that runs this way.  "I'm going to be a Republican:  I like their positions on x, y, and z.  They can chuck the rest of it, as far as I'm concerned."  Then, after a year or six of being a Republican, you discover that the rest of it is pretty attractive, too.  Not because you've been persuaded of anything.  Just out of the same odd solidarity that creates screaming sports fans who scorn their opponents.  You know, the kind who delight in slogans like, "Nuke the Gay Whales."  The kind who were Republicans when the party stood for fiscal responsibility, and remained Republicans, maybe without even missing a beat, when the party sailed away on ballooning deficits.  The kind who were Republicans when the party was staunchly isolationist and skeptical of WIlsonian idealism in foreign policy, and remained Republicans, maybe without even missing a beat, when the party shifted gear into nation-building and the spirited pursuit of democracy and human rights abroad.

"Come on, Don, you think only Republicans are subject to these foibles?"  Nope.  Next time, I turn to the Oklahoma Democrats.


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Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis)

If you've got a story on which all these commitments do in fact hang together, I might be amazed. Or I might just think your story is too clever and is printed on Silly Putty, so you can stretch it as needed.

Actually ... it is pretty much "we believe the government ought not to be pushing agendas we don't like, but wnat the ones we favor enshrined solidly."

As for the places where the Supreme Court has disagreed with them, they are expressing preferences "we believe 'x' should be the case" not "we will implement 'x' regardless of the law." Kind of like "we believe each child should be loved by two parents in a warm and rich environment."

Can we make the latter occur? Of course not.

So, if you read it as a combination of wish list, a list of elementary principles they feel should be part of the bedrock, and a call to have liberals otherwise leave them alone, it makes sense as a coherent whole for the audience it is aimed at.

One that agrees with the Atlantic that "Dan Quayle was right" (for example) and that disagrees with President Bush on a number of issues. One that wants free trade for its products, but not for competition, etc.

Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) | Jun 24, 2005 8:05:14 AM

Posted by: johnt

Headline,Saturday's NY Times"NOTED INTELLECTUAL DON HERZOG BREAKS NEW GROUND,shows politicians{Republicans] to be inconsistent. Promises similar expose of Democrats. Nation skeptical.

Posted by: johnt | Jun 24, 2005 9:32:06 AM

Posted by: y81

You seem to be making two points: first, that the platform is inconsistent on some points, e.g., the extent of local school board power versus state or national power; second, that some of the positions are outside the realm of what is politically feasible, e.g., abolishing the BATF. As to the first, it is a common characteristic of documents produced by committee. An individual author, even one who has a mixture of social conservative and libertarian impulses (as I do, for instance), can usually with much effort reach a Rawlsian reflective equilibrium, but a committee usually gives each member a reward and doesn't worry about the whole. As to the second, a call for abolishing the BATF is no sillier than the myriad of tenured professors at major universities solemnly debating whether President Bush should be impeached. (My answer: only after the BATF is abolished.) I wonder why you spend so much time on an obscure document from a political party in a tiny state, and so little on the silliness of your tenured comrades.

Posted by: y81 | Jun 24, 2005 1:56:42 PM

Posted by: Bret

"the members of the Platform Committee who gave two long Saturdays to produce this document"

Thank heavens they didn't spend three long Saturdays!

"They do like constitutional amendments, that's for sure. Apparently the great document is radically deficient..."

Well, the proposed European Union constitution is several times as long - we have to work hard to catch up!

"Come on, Don, you think only Republicans are subject to these foibles?"

How'd you know I was thinking that? Nonetheless, there's no reason to spend valuable time and effort thrashing the Democrats' platforms either. These platforms are just an exercise in marketing and sales - of course they don't stand up to any serious analysis.

Posted by: Bret | Jun 24, 2005 6:11:51 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Why is it, I wonder, that every time politicians from either party start talking about a "big tent" my thoughts turn immediately to circuses and clowns?

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 25, 2005 7:50:15 AM

Posted by: Don Herzog

Because you are an incisive and intelligent user of the English language.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jun 25, 2005 8:09:01 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Why, thank you, Mr. Herzog! (And here I thought it was because my cynicism knew no bounds.)

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 25, 2005 8:34:36 AM

Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis)

I couldn't have said this any better myself:

Why is it, I wonder, that every time politicians from either party start talking about a "big tent" my thoughts turn immediately to circuses and clowns?

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | June 25, 2005 07:50 AM « previous post | this post Main

Posted by: Don Herzog

Because you are an incisive and intelligent user of the English language.

Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) | Jun 25, 2005 11:12:55 AM

Posted by: Ted

Kevin Drum has noted a couple of times that he Texas Republican party platform is full of policy statements that many people would find bizarre (we should return to the gold standard, for example, and abolish Social Security), and that Republican candidates have to sign it. It made me wonder why Al Gore or John Kerry didn't just pull a copy out, ask Bush "did you sign this document stating that we should seize the Panama Canal and abolish the minimum wage?" and go from there....


Posted by: Ted | Jun 25, 2005 3:08:06 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Abolishing Social Security and the minimum wage bizarre? What an odd thing to say.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 25, 2005 4:54:26 PM

Posted by: Will

"objective stanards of science and rationality which demonstrate the shortcomings and absurdities of the theist educational model"

Gee, as a theist with a phd in Electrical Engineering and 2 kids approaching school-age, I'd really like to know where I can find a written treatise on the "theist education model". Last time I checked, my preacher (a former history teacher and football coach himself) was a big fan of math and science. I, for one, see no incompatibility in teaching kids *both* morality and math etc.


Posted by: Will | Jun 26, 2005 6:49:46 PM

Posted by: Ted

Mr. Ridgely ---

"Bizarre" according to my lights, of course. Though I suspect that a survey asking Americans whether or not it would be a good idea to abolish the minimum wage and Social Security would determine that I am not alone in this.

I still wonder why no one's brought this up; Bush has apparently signed a document stating that we should abolish Social Security. Shouldn't someone ask him whether he agrees with that view and, if not, why he signed the document?

Posted by: Ted | Jun 26, 2005 6:59:09 PM

Posted by: Perseus

It's difficult for me to keep track of the liberal take on the vast right-wing conspiracy, but I thought that Bush's personal (private) retirement account proposal was the intermediate step in his nefarious plot to abolish SS.

Posted by: Perseus | Jun 26, 2005 7:12:51 PM

Posted by: Perseus

As for the state (or national) party platform, I suspect that the president, like Bob Dole, hasn't read it and doesn't believe he's bound by it in any case.

Posted by: Perseus | Jun 26, 2005 8:00:09 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Ted: Yes, of course. No doubt, your view is that of the majority, as there seems no end of things most Americans find bizarre that I find quite sensible and vice versa. I find that fact quite bizarre, as well.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 26, 2005 8:03:45 PM

Posted by: Ted

Perseus --

That's fine. I bet Tom DeLay signed it, which would be a good thing to ask him about. I just think it would be a good idea for someone to ask the question: if Republicans don't want to abolish Social Security, why does the platform of the Republican party of the state that's provided us with the current President and de facto Speaker of the House say that they do? I would think there's some political advantage to be gained here - even if Bush and DeLay were to deny that this was their agenda, the idea would be put in people's minds that maybe they did, and maybe the Republicans aren't really the mainstream party they claim to be.

Posted by: Ted | Jun 27, 2005 8:57:17 PM

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw

"They do like constitutional amendments, that's for sure. Apparently the great document is radically deficient, though the party would rescind the state's previous call for a new constitutional convention."

I doubt they think the Constitution is radically deficient, they probably think that judges are radically deficient in their interpretation skills and need super-clear ammendments or they will go off and impose their own social views as if they were mandated by the Constitution.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw | Jun 28, 2005 10:36:08 AM

Posted by: Carl S

Abolishing 'national standards' would have no effect on APs, SAT's and the like. Those are produced by a *private corporation,* Educational Testing Services, and are used voluntarily by colleges as admission tools. Students take them because they want to demonstrate their abilities to colleges, not because they are legally compelled to.

Mandatory testing is important with state-run schools because those schools will never willingly adopt it (where private schools *will* publicize their test results to encourage new students, while parents can shun those schools that do not release results.) It makes it possible to detect when teaching practices have become completely unmoored from reality and help parents demand change.

On a related point, why on Earth would Rawlsian liberals support a state-run (rather than funded) education system? America's public schools were actually quite successful in teaching reading, math, and science 60 years ago or so. The conversion of teachers' professional associations into unions was followed by years of decline, to the point where the country has a massive (largely black) illiterate and unskilled underclass. The proportion of children labelled 'learning disabled' has multiplied by a factor of 7 without any obvious biological reason, as any kid who can't read gets the LD label. Yet when schools, even schools working with poor black children, get the freedom to hire and fire, to set their own curriculum (guided by tests to measure performance,) and to actually teach kids how to read (as opposed to expecting them to learn by 'whole language' osmosis) schools that are 90+% black can perform in the top quintile or decile in their states.

Here in Canada several provinces provide education funding ona per capita basis ($x is given to your school, whether that school is government-run, religious, or private,) as do European countries like Denmark and Sweden (those bastions of right-wing thinking!) and get much better educational results than those that do not.

I can understand, from a political science perspective, that the Democratic party would not actually attempt to improve education (its dependence on the unions,) just as I can understand the utter failure of the Republican party to control spending, but why would the 'thinking left' imagine that nationalizing schools and subjecting them to the political machinations of well-organized unions could possibly help the disadvantaged?

For instance, in my jurisdiction most of the public schools teach reading through 'whole language,' i.e. by osmosis from picture books. The kids are never systematically taught the alphabet and how to sound out words, being encouraged to skip over words they don't know or guess from the context. Kids who don't learn to read at home from their parents or get lucky in the classroom end up illiterate and labelled 'learning disabled.' (Rates of 'learning disability' have supposedly shot up 7x in the last 50 years since this method was adopted.) In UN statistics we (Ontario) get labelled as 99+% literate since almost everyone goes through elementary school, but random tests of the population show that 40% are functionally illiterate.

This is my greatest objection to North American leftism: going beyond wealth transfer to the poor and engaging in destructive intervention for the sake of government provision. Various Canadian provinces and European countries (Denmark, Sweden, those right-wing bastions!) allow publicly funded school choice without Soviet-style nationalized schools, and have avoided the deterioration of education and the creation of an illiterate underclass over the last 50 years. I realize that more Rawlsian welfare statists will theoretically object to such arbitrary

Posted by: Carl S | Jul 1, 2005 9:14:58 AM

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