Elections

Back to the Future: A Party Platform

Those of us in the U.S. find ourselves embroiled in that recurring cabaret often euphemistically called “election season.” It is a time for those of us that prefer to be informed to prepare to read the political platforms that are to be revealed in coming conventions and to evaluate the candidates to which they have been matched.

As it happens, I’ve read an already released party platform a few days ago that offers a fresh look at many of the problems that we face as a nation and that ought to have a place in U.S. national political dialogue.

Though I certainly don’t agree with the entirety of the platform, I found much of it to be sensible or at the very least no more objectionable than what is expected from either of the major parties in the coming election.

Some Platform Highlights –

Because not everyone has the time (or wants) to read these things, I’ve taken the liberty of surveying and summarizing what I found to be some of the more interesting points of the platform in question. It calls, in part, for—

In the “Taxation and Fiscal Policy” section:

Reduction of government size only while safeguarding essential government services to the public. Reductions in taxes “with particular consideration for low and middle income families.” Tax policy with an eye toward the unequal effect of taxes on those being taxed. Strong support for the Federal Reserve and the tools available to it.

In the “Business and Economic Policy” and “Small Business” sections:

Massive highway, air, and maritime programs to support economic expansion. Federal loans to small businesses and strong support for the Small Business Administration. Closer federal scrutiny of mergers and enhancement of anti-trust enforcement. Vigorous SEC regulation to protect investors and small businesses.

In the “Labor” section:

Raising the minimum wage. Applauding collective bargaining and labor unions and suggesting that the government ought not interfere with these, save to protect their rights. Providing federal assistance to struggling workers. Guaranteeing the integrity of private pensions with the force of law. Equal pay for equal work.

In the “Health and Welfare” section:

Federal programs to accelerate the building of public schools. Federal support for free vaccines and adequate medical care. Historic increases in science research funding. Federal assistance for the training of scientists. Community organizing, vocation rehabilitation, home ownership stimulus and low-rent public housing. The “extension and perfection” of social security.

In the “Agriculture” section:

Regulating production to create a “soil reserve” for the future. Protection for clean water and soil. Coordination between federal and local concerns to implement research, education, service, and regulatory programs. Federal loans to ensure stability and productivity. Support for cooperatives.

In the “Federal Government Integrity” section:

The presumption that there ought to be legal limits to lobbying power and the determination to stop cases of improper influence of money in politics.

In the “Post Office” section:

Radically expand the service. Modernize operations. Promotion based on training and safety and increases in compensation and fringe benefits.

In the “Civil Rights” section:

Combating federal employment discrimination and discrimination in interstate commerce. Liberty, due process, and equal protection of the law for all people. The belief that “true progress” is attained through “education, understanding, and good will.”

In the “Immigration” section:

“[A]n immigration policy which is in keeping with the traditions of America in providing a haven for oppressed peoples, and which is based on equality of treatment, freedom from implications of discrimination between racial, nationality and religious groups, and flexible enough to conform to changing needs and conditions.”

In the section on “The Future” of the nation:

Continued “vigorous support” for the United Nations. Assistance to underdeveloped areas around the globe and a “policy of impartial friendship” for states across the Middle East, whether predominantly Arabic or Jewish. Freedom for all peoples and an end to colonialism. A “progressive elimination of the barriers” to the free flow of information around the world.

In the “Guarding and Improving our Resources” section and a few related sections that follow:

The conservation and safeguarding of natural resources for the greater good and for future generations. Extensive financing and protection of national parks, national forests, and wildlife refuges. Studies to gauge the effects of works projects on wildlife.

The Party in Question –

All of the detail above is prefaced by a statement of values that includes, amongst other things, the following:

“We are proud of and shall continue our far-reaching and sound advances in matters of basic human needs—expansion of social security—broadened coverage in unemployment insurance —improved housing—and better health protection for all our people. We are determined that our government remain warmly responsive to the urgent social and economic problems of our people.”

“We firmly believe in the right of peoples everywhere to determine their form of government, their leaders, their destiny, in peace.”

and

“America does not prosper unless all Americans prosper. Government must have a heart as well as a head. Courage in principle, cooperation in practice make freedom positive.”

Just who is this presumably center-left or even left-leaning party (at least by today’s standards), steadfast in support for the United Nations, unions, public services, regulation, and conservation? The Democrats? The Greens?

Hardly. This is the Republican Party platform of 1956.

I encourage those that are interested in what they read above to revisit, if only for a few minutes, a very different political landscape than the one seen in the U.S. today.

Important Caveats –

The items outlined above are a quick and selective reading of the 1956 platform. There are many statements in it that I didn’t include or summarize in the list above because they might have given up the (admittedly prosaic) game in this case, and that are more in keeping with the Republican rhetoric (though not rhetorical style) of the present. It remains possible that I’ve missed the part of the platform that clearly and directly foreshadows the Romney/Ryan campaign of the present.

These items have also been presented a-historically. 1956 was, of course, 1956 and 2012 is clearly not 1956. One could plausibly argue that it is not only the platforms that have changed, but the facts on the ground as well. I haven’t taken the time to find or read the Democratic platform from the same time period, nor to track the evolution of following Republican platforms with reference to history over the same period.

Despite these omissions, and the necessarily limited nature of the conclusions that can be drawn, what is striking about this list is the number of positions represented in it that in today’s U.S. political landscape have been framed as either left or far-left in nature, and the at times expansive, optimistic, and pragmatic tone of the writing, even about such economically risky and potentially oppressive (we’re told today) propositions as unions, environmental regulation, and the United Nations.

Where Are the Conservative Intellectuals? –

It was Jeff’s waning search for conservative intellectuals that led me to the document, and while it doesn’t provide names or faces, it supports the sense that the conservative intellectual of the present—inasmuch as today’s conservative movement is willing to own him or her—is a different kind of thinker than was the conservative intellectual of the past.

The search will no doubt continue, but for those on the right with aspirations to renew the conservative intellectual tradition, one flip answer to Jeff’s question as to the whereabouts of the conservative intellectuals might be that they have taken up residence in some cases in the past.

Might I suggest the Republican Party Platform of 1956 as an important initial resource for young, headstrong conservatives?

  • Scott

    I definitely appreciate this post. By comparing the Republicans 1956 platform with their current one, we can see that many conservatives today have more in common with Ayn Rand, or F.A. Hayek (ironically both Europeans, and both aetheists) than James Madison or Thomas Jefferson. This disconnect is also partially responsible for the current incoherence of Republican views. I don’t think theirs is a formula for success, electoral or otherwise.