When primary voters elect delegates to a party convention, their major work is to approve a party platform and affirm the candidate with the most votes as the nominee. But there has not been much of a floor fight since the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City or an open convention since the 1952 Democrat National Convention in Chicago. So political conventions tend to be big parties for partisans, while a few wonks work in back rooms to develop a party platform to which no-one pays attention. So much so, some modern pundits have speculated that 2012 may be the last time there are the grand scale political conventions as they exist today.
But platforms have caused some trouble both for Republicans and Democrats this year. In Tampa, there were some hard feelings by base Repubicans and some Paulistinians who chaffed at a inside-baseball platform item which allowed the Republican National Party to pick their delegates for primary winners. This represented a shift away from state parties to the RNC. Activists fear that elites might choose moderate RNC party favorites rather than conservative Tea Party types if that is what voters elected. Morton Blackwell, a stalwart of the conservative wing of the Republican Party was incensed by the move. Paulistians have been looking for their leader, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX 14th), to bolt from the GOP and launch a quixotic last minute Libertarian run, but he has demurred.
On the Democrat side, there was considerable consternation coming from the Republican opposition that the DNC rules committee had dropped any mention of God in the 2012 Democrat Party Platform. Moreover, the DNC conscientiously dropped the plank affirming Jerusalem as the Capital of the State of Israel, which was in the 2008 DNC party platform. This move highlighted President Obama’s wafffling over what was the capital of the state of Israel, despite clear Congressionally passed legislation on the question.
To stifle the mounting criticism over the issues, party officials quickly drafted a substitute plank which affirmed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and also inserted God back into the platform. This was done over an emergency 15 minute meeting on Wednesday afternoon. DNC Convention Chair L.A. Mayor Antonio Virraigosa (D-LA) offered the measure expecting an easy voice vote approval from the delegates.
Well, not so much. Maybe the third time was the charm or more likely the sound meter did not matter for a CYA measure from the Democrat intelligentsia.
But the loud sustained boos from the delegates, particularly the Arab-American coalitions (and presumably the aggressive atheists) will not endear the DNC to these constituencies in the general election campaign.
Usually, party platforms collect dust. Sometimes the arcane rules changes matter only to party activists, like the National Republicans choosing delegates. The minutia over mentioning God or designating foreign capitals should not have mattered, except in their absence. So correcting the omissions only drew more attention to the changes. Moreover, the phony vote on the platform change and ignoring the will of the delegates show how Democrats govern, even in their own house.
So contrary to popular perceptions, platforms do matter.