Party platforms are worthless mounds of drivel that have no impact on what U.S. leaders of either party actually do. Here’s what we wrote on the occasion of the GOP’s platform being the hot topic of discussion among our media elites:
Hungry for story lines, any story lines, the press has occasionally tried to gin a little bit of drama out of fights over the party platform, but the honest truth is that no party platform means anything in American politics anymore. No president refers back to the platform in framing legislation, no congressional leader uses it to set the legislative agenda, no living soul ever reads or quotes it for any purpose whatever. No historian of American party politics goes back to study them, no journalist refers to them more than a week after the convention. They are dead letters, produced out of a sense of ritual and to the extent they have any purpose whatever, they are idle playgrounds aimed at keeping clueless party zealots busy counting coup and scoring imaginary points.
Writing platforms is a consolation prize that party leaders give people they don’t think are very smart or very important but want to keep happy. The kerfluffle over the Democrats’ platform’s dropping of “God” and “Jerusalem” and then hastily stuffing them back in only illustrates the point.
A senior administration official emphasized that the president had intervened to bring the platform in line with his own views. “The president expressed his view in 2008, and it hasn’t changed,” the official said. “The party platform has not changed from 2008. And the position of the United States government hasn’t changed in decades as it relates to Israel’s capital and peace negotiations.”
President Obama’s policies on Israel and the relationship of church and state in the U.S. are what they are, and no sane person can think that if re-elected he would waste a nanosecond wondering if he should change those policies because of language that was or wasn’t in the party platform.Basically, both parties turn the platforms over to anybody who really wants the thankless, pointless job and then lets them play in the sandbox and do whatever they want as long as they don’t get out of line. The minute the platform drafters go too far, the party adults slap them down. This is all about PR. Nothing else.But in this, the party platforms are on the same level as the conventions themselves: conventions used to be forums where actual decisions got made and platforms used to represent actual programs that the parties would seriously try to carry out if they succeeded at the polls. Today conventions survive as infomercials when speakers and candidates from both parties can grab some airtime as they carry out a scripted program. And because party organizations are so weak, no pol from either party feels in any way bound to the promises or statements written into the platforms.It’s all theater and frankly not very good theater at that. Conventions are likely to continue to slowly leak importance and relevance from cycle to cycle. In the meantime, serious, thoughtful observers of politics will watch them more for purposes of amusement than for anything else.