Let Them Eat Planks

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On May 8, the Republican Party of Maine gathered in Portland for its biannual convention. Among the routine functions of the convention was the adoption of a party platform. Normally the convention simply adopts the report of the platform committee — a collection of party insiders appointed by county committees and elected officials — and fends off amendments, which are normally offered by single-issue activists.

But this year, the platform committee presented a document that was identical to the platform of 2008. Changes had been proposed, including a far-reaching but unpolished platform presented by a group of Ron Paul and Tea Party activists from coastal Knox County. The platform committee ignored the suggested changes, many members dismissing the Knox County activists as “kooks.”

The activists refused to take “no” for an answer, and in true Tea Party style got organized. When the report of the platform committee was presented to the convention, a motion was made to replace the entire platform with the convention’s own document. To everyone’s surprise, the motion passed fairly handily.

The overthrow of the proposed 2010 Maine Republican Party platform was a revolutionary act. It was the rebellion of rank and file activists who were fed up with being ignored and marginalized by the establishment. If nothing else, it was a sign that the Maine Republican Party has within it a new and potent energy with the power to challenge and overcome establishment inertia.

In 1795, during the French Revolution, Thomas Jefferson wrote to François D’Ivernois, “It is unfortunate that the efforts of mankind to recover the freedom of which they have been so long deprived, will be accompanied with violence, with errors, and even with crimes. But while we weep over the means, we must pray for the end.” In other words, revolution is a messy business, which is rife with error, but necessary nonetheless. The same can be said of the new 2010 Maine GOP platform, which is a hodgepodge of terrific ideas, punctuated with buzzwords and meaningless catchphrases gleaned from talk radio, internet blogs, and even Star Trek.

On the one hand, the platform calls for a return to laissez-faire economics. On the other hand, it calls for police-state measures to crack down on unauthorized immigration and to “close the borders.” While the state GOP platform is supposed to be a declaration of state political priorities, the new platform often fails to distinguish between federal and state policies. For example, it calls for the elimination of the Department of Education without clarifying whether it refers to a state or a federal outfit. The new platform boldly and succinctly says to eliminate “Dirigo,” leaving readers wondering whether the party means to abolish the state healthcare program (the Dirigo Health Plan) or the state motto (“Dirigo”: “I lead.”).

Even more troubling is the fact that while the document loudly calls for a return to “constitutional government,” it also espouses implementation of such unconstitutional policies as congressional term limits, stripping Congress of its ability to set its own pay, and narrowing the first amendment by stripping individuals of their freedom not to worship God, by declaring that “freedom of religion” doesn’t mean “freedom from religion.” (You will find a copy of the Maine Republican Party’s new platform at http://www.mainegop. com/PlatformMission.aspx.)

The worst thing about the platform is not that I disagree vehemently with 20% of the content. In fact I see it as progress; I disagreed vehemently with about 40% of the old platform.

The biggest problem is that the platform is poorly presented and sloppily written.

Grassroots activists are rarely bookworms or writers of prose. They are not the folks trained in critical thinking or the production of documents meant for public dissemination. Just as the mobs of the French Revolution executed the innocent and the guilty, promiscuously, so the activists of the GOP platform revolution have overthrown an old regime that needed to be overthrown, while replacing it with a product that is in desperate need of revision itself.

My hope is that in two years the party establishment not only will have changed but also will have become more inclusive and collaborative in building a platform that coherently integrates the ideas of individual liberty, limited government, state sovereignty, and free-market economics in a well written and presentable platform. Only then will I shout a wholehearted “Vive la révolution!”

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