Monday, July 7, 2008

Building a Platform

Here's a story about impending platform debates leading up to the Republican National Convention in September.

Party platforms are curious things. They are often dismissed as meaningless pieces of writing, that give very little guidance as to the actions that a new or re-elected president will take upon winning the election. But a lot of people seem to take them seriously, while they're being written.

Each party appoints a platform committee to meet shortly before their national convention, and draw up a document listing their party's positions on the issues of the day. The convention then approves the platform, perhaps after amending it.

Convention debate on amendments to the platform can be troublesome. One of the most (in)famous was at the Democratic convention in 1968. The candidate who went into the convention with the nomination locked up was Vice President Hubert Humphrey. He had staked out a moderate position on the Vietnam War. The party's antiwar faction proposed a strong antiwar amendment to the platform. The amendment was defeated, but the extended debate over it, on national TV, contributed to the general impression of chaos at that convention, and to Humphrey's defeat in the general election.

I see a parallel of sorts between that 1968 experience and what McCain is facing this year. In each case, a candidate whose background largely aligned him with his party's dominant ideological faction, came into the election year needing to prove himself to ideologues in his party.

Humphrey was considered the liberal's liberal during his first tour of duty in the Senate, from 1949 to 1964. However, after a term as Lyndon Johnson's VP, he was identified with the pro-war position on Vietnam, which by that time was anathema to many liberals.

McCain has built a Senate record that is considered to be conservative on many issues. However, he clashes with many conservatives on the issues mentioned in the MSNBC piece to which I've linked, above.

As I'll write more about later, the parties don't like to have their convention TV shows marred by intra-party clashes anymore. So it will be interesting to see whether any disagreements hit the floor at the Republican convention this year.

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