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Monday, June 7, 2004
The Real Significance of Party Platforms

By Steven Taylor @ 4:51 pm

Kevin Drum is quite concerned about the Texas GOP platform. I can’t disagree with him that there are elements of it that I find to be a bit much. However, I tend not to take party platforms very seriously, and I take state-level platforms even less seriously. Who, I ask, is actually bound by these documents (Republican or Democrat)? Really, platform-writing is mostly an act of political self-gratification that has little practical outcome or effect.

Along those lines I found this formulation by Kevin to be amusing. He quotes the Texas GOP platform as saying:

Any person filing as a Republican candidate for a public or Party office shall be provided a current copy of the Party platform at the time of filing. The candidate shall be asked to read and initial each page of the platform and sign a statement affirming he/she has read the entire platform.

Which he translates as:

We are dead serious about all this.

Quite ominous, no?

However, note that the text he quotes states “shall be asked” not “shall be required.” And what, might I ask, is the sanction that the Texas GOP can bring down on the heads of those who either refuse to sign, or do so and don’t follow-through in the campaign on in office? Well, as one who studies political parties let me tell you: nothing.

You want evidence? Tell me which of the items on the list are actually being vigorously pursued by Texas Republicans. Precious few, and even if one argues that they are seeking to abolish abortion, I would note that they haven’t been all that successful. Indeed, if one pays attention to such things there is only one time that one ever hears about party platforms, and that is when they are written. After that they are filed away and mostly, if not completely, ignored.

I would also note that no doubt a Republican or other Right-oriented person could similarly compile a list from some state-level Democratic Party platform and also seek a call to arms to those on the Right (as Drum does for the Left).

But, really, these documents are practically meaningless. Parties don’t control candidates, rather candidates control their own campaigns and party elites have very little ability to sanction or control their “members” (which I put in quotes quite deliberately).

And as James Joyner notes, the reality of American politics is that there is actually a great deal of moderation between the fantasies of platform writers and actual political campaigns and governance.

Filed under: US Politics

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  1. As I have done here:

    Comment by bryan — Monday, June 7, 2004 @ 6:43 pm

  2. If you just stop linking to Kevin Drum, he just might go away.

    Comment by John Lemon — Monday, June 7, 2004 @ 7:12 pm

  3. I think that unlikley ;) Indeed, I don’t think he pays me much attention.

    Comment by Steven — Monday, June 7, 2004 @ 7:18 pm

  4. Oh yeah, and the Drumster might just want to take a gander at some of the Democratic Party platforms around the country (both at the state and county level). Many of them seek to eliminate Israel, legalize marijuana, establishes nuclear free zones, etc.

    Comment by John Lemon — Monday, June 7, 2004 @ 7:18 pm

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