The Republican National Convention hasn’t even convened yet, and already the party’s leaders are licking their chops over selling out the GOP’s conservative base and most of its principles. That, however, is not the big news. The big news is that the party’s conservatives are licking their own chops over being sold out.
The Washington Post reported last week that the high command of the Stupid Party is trying to make certain there are no embarrassing splits at the convention over the content of the party’s platform. In years past, whenever the conservatives couldn’t quite get the candidate they wanted, they usually made do with dictating what was in the platform. But that wasn’t much of a problem, you see, because the party’s leaders and candidates never had any intention of abiding by the platform anyway.
Nevertheless, the existence of an ideologically conservative platform haunting the ticket like Banquo’s ghost meant that if (usually, when) the nominee violated the platform, the conservatives could yell and scream about it and threaten to walk out. Today the Stupid Party has evolved to the stage where such primitive emotionalism no longer occurs.
Today, says Platform Committee Chairman Tommy Thompson, governor of Wisconsin, “We don’t want to go back and fight old fights.” So what “we” are going to do is settle the platform before the convention. Conservatives will get to keep their beloved anti-abortion plank, but just about all other conservative positions will probably plop into File 13.
That seems to be OK with the conservatives, or what’s left of them in the party. So obsessed have they become with the “pro-life” language of the platform, vowing support for a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion nationally, that they’re willing to abandon virtually everything else.
Everything else includes, among other measures:
— Junking the plank, in the platform since 1980, that calls for abolishing the Department of Education; that means the fundamental conservative principle of no federal involvement in education is being surrendered;
— Just to confirm the surrender, the party leaders want to insert new language calling for federally-imposed national standards for education;
— The new platform will also get rid of the language inserted in 1996 calling for control of illegal immigration and reducing legal immigration; “we” can’t have that when “we’ve got to win over all those Hispanics, you know;
— The platform will also include what Gov. Thompson calls “a substantial section of a Republican commitment to spend money on women’s health issues,” as well as on a mass transit system. The purpose of all the new language, says the governor, is to put “more of a compassionate face on the Republican Party.” How sweet.
What the “new face” means, of course, is that the old conservatism of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan is defunct, at least within the GOP. There is no question that, despite all the Beltway conservative crowing about the “conservative revolution” they’ve supposedly pulled off, the new Republican platform has virtually nothing in common with the platforms of years past. The “more compassionate face” the party is adopting simply means it has surrendered serious conservatism and has gravitated into the philosophical orbit of the left.
But then there’s always the anti-abortion plank. Yes, but that plank has been in the platform since 1980, and there is virtually no chance whatsoever that it will be realized in the form of a constitutional amendment. Even under Ronald Reagan, a far more serious foe of abortion than George W. Bush, there was little chance for such an amendment, and Bush himself accepts abortion for rape and incest, and refuses to make opposition to it a “litmus test” for Supreme Court appointments.
So far from keeping alive any serious hope of ending abortion, the platform’s pro-life language simply dooms it to political oblivion by committing pro-life forces to a measure and strategy impossible to enact. Pro-lifers would be better off forgetting the amendment the platform promises and working on getting Roe v. Wade repealed and the issue returned to the states where it belongs.
Indeed, pro-lifers, as well as other conservatives, might be better off forgetting about the Republican Party itself as any kind of realistic vehicle for their beliefs. Neither the party’s nominee nor his henchmen want them or their ideas in the platform or the party, except as voting booth cannon fodder. Then again, if there really aren’t enough conservatives left in the party to demand and get a platform that reflects their beliefs, and if the only belief they insist on is opposition to abortion, maybe what’s left of the Republican right has finally gotten the party it really deserves.