Political-Party Platforms Don’t Matter, the Media Say, but ... Print
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by Herb Strentz   
Tuesday, 27 July 2010 05:26

Two things you should know about the 2010 platform of the Iowa Republican Party:

(1) The document of some 12,000 words and almost 370 planks is a fascinating and provocative read. The work is a great candidate for any time capsule so people 100 or more years from now can see how their ancestors approached issues of public policy.

(2) The news media in general, and The Des Moines Register in particular, continue to ignore party platforms as irrelevant to the 2010 election.

The state convention of the Iowa GOP came and went with news coverage given to the nominations of Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds for governor and lieutenant governor. Little or no news coverage was given to the GOP platform.

There seldom is.

However, one journalist paying attention to political platforms over the years is Gil Cranberg, former editorial-page editor of The Des Moines Register. Gil holds these quaint and apparently archaic notions that (a) people should say what they mean, and (b) people should be held accountable for their words.

So even some 20 years ago, Gil was writing about how the religious right had taken control of the Iowa GOP. Contrast his observations in the early 1990s with the Register headline that in June proclaimed the "soul" of the Republican Party was up for grabs in the party's primary election. As evidenced by the platforms over the years, however, the religious right owns that soul. They work hard and turn out at caucus time when the party shapes its public policy. Dedication and hard work pay off for them.

The mix of religion and politics is one reason the platform merits attention, more so than its Democratic counterpart. Also, the GOP platform suggests what views Iowa Republicans will bring to the 2012 caucus process, when they will be in the spotlight in helping determine who will be their party's presidential nominee.

The GOP platform again calls for abolition of the federal Department of Agriculture, the federal Department of Education, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Reserve, the Department of Energy, and the National Endowment of the Arts, along with getting the U.S. out of the United Nations. The platform also would abolish minimum-wage laws, academic tenure, OSHA, restrictions on smoking, no-fault divorce, and, of course, abortion, same-sex marriage, and any legal rights emanating from civil unions. The 2008 platform called for "downsizing" the Iowa Department of Education. The 2010 platform calls for abolishing it.

All is not abolition. Creationism should be included "with all science instruction" in public schools, and Iowa's 99 counties should not be consolidated. Parents who send their children to private schools should receive some form of public reimbursement for that expense.

Sticking to its guns, the platform also would allow anyone eligible for a permit to carry a concealed weapon to do so at any public elementary school, high school, community college, or university. Elsewhere in the platform, you wouldn't even need a permit.

The platform does not call for the ouster of any judges who found the Iowa ban against same-sex marriages to be unconstitutional. But it does call for the impeachment of "activist judges" and advocates "the appointment of judges who respect the sanctity of life."

But all this and more, many Iowa journalists say, isn't relevant because platforms don't matter anymore. All platforms do is tell you who is in control of a political party and how they would shape public policy. B-O-R-I-N-G.

The GOP platform is far from boring.

The platform invokes God seven times, the "family" 13 times -- including three references to the family farm -- marriage eight times, and "Christian" four times. While those are minuscule numbers in a 12,000-word document, they reflect the overall tone of the platform. So much so that a reader can be forgiven for thinking our Constitution itself recognizes God, the family, marriage, and Christianity. But none of those words are in the U.S. Constitution.

Not yet, anyway.

The word "amendment" surfaces 22 times in the GOP platform, mostly because the Republican leaders want to clarify current federal constitutional amendments and add several more to the state and federal constitutions. Really, the Iowa GOP doesn't want a constitution so much as it wants a 21st Century version of the Old Testament book of Leviticus -- a collection of laws to prescribe and proscribe how we behave and relate to one another. The Iowa and U.S. Constitutions are viewed not so much as checks upon government power as checks upon human behavior.

Despite its avowed dedication to constitutional principles, however, the platform misquotes the U.S. Constitution. The platform tells you the oath of office for the President and others is in Article VI, but the oath is in Article II. The platform tells you the oath ends with the vow, "So help me God." But those words are not in the constitutional oath. (The Constitution, of course, does say that no religious test is required for holding public office or public trust.)

But again, the Iowa news media don't find any of this interesting.

So presumably, Iowa reporters will not ask about plank 7.46 -- which calls for limiting terms of office to 12 years -- and if that applies to gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad, who has already served 16 years as governor.

While journalists will not hold Republican candidates accountable for the platform, the state GOP will. The platform says any candidate must agree with 80 percent of the platform to receive financial support from the party. That's not a high hurdle because the platform does make sense here and there. For example, the platform recognizes that "government works for the people. 'We the people' do not answer to them." And the platform dares to suggest that Congress should know what is in the legislation it considers.

What a concept -- almost like people should know what is in the GOP and Democratic platforms. But don't count on the Register or TV news shows to tell you.

To read the Republican Party of Iowa platform, click here. To download the Iowa Democratic Party platform, click here.

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism & Mass Communication.

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