Practice not Platform
Party Platforms are Irrelevant to Candidates’ Actions
The 2012 Republican Party platform includes language that Christian voters can heartily approve. As notable and well-respected an evangelical leader as Dr. Al Mohler writes of its “breathtaking” distance from the Democratic platform. In his article, Dr. Mohler slips effortlessly from mentioning the two leading 2012 presidential candidates to an in-depth comparison of their parties’ platforms on the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage, concluding that the two platforms, on these two issues, represent an “abyss of comprehensive moral conflict.” However, while these two planks of the Republican platform are commendable, to vote for a candidate based on his party’s platform rather than his own record and policy would be naïve.
Of course, that isn’t true everywhere. In the U.K., the party agenda often prevails over individual candidates. Members of Parliament face “party-line votes” as well as “conscience votes.” The party leadership decides which is which, and if you don’t toe the line on a party vote, you’re liable to be ejected from the party and without cash for the next election. We should be thankful that in America every vote is a conscience vote. We just need to be sure we know the candidate’s conscience — as evidenced in his record. In America, we elect representatives, not parties, and a man is known by his actions (Luke 6:43-44), not his party’s platform.
The Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, commented on the irrelevance of the platform during this year’s Republican National Convention: “Have you ever met anybody who has read the Party platform? I’ve never met anybody.” Brusquely put, but few politicians could dispute it.
Why then platforms? Party platforms are bones thrown to the more principled members of the party base — those who think about issues and read more than slogans. They are also the bait, promising that the grassroots’ priorities will be pursued. The bait gets switched for the candidate on Inauguration Day.
That the platform represents the genuine objectives of the candidates is one of the great false assumptions in American politics that Christian voters in particular seem prone to accept. For example, the Republican platform has been promising a human life amendment and a stop to taxpayer funded abortions since 1980. But Republican Congressmen have come nowhere near passing such an amendment in those 32 years, and Planned Parenthood still gets immense federal subsidies — $2.5 billion during “pro-life” Republican George W. Bush’s years in office alone.
This year the Republican National Committee gave their more vocal conservatives a lot of say in the written platform, perhaps to placate them after the National Committee’s highhanded takeover of party power. But the actual relevance of the platform to the candidate is almost a laughing matter.
1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole was as blunt as Boehner: “I’m not bound by the platform. I probably agree with most everything in it. But I haven’t read it.”
Whether a candidate is honest or disingenuous, using the platform only as long as its convenient is time-honored tradition. The 1860 Republican Platform declares:
That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the states, and especially the right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of powers on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depends; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any state or territory, no matter under what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.
Yet eleven months after this platform was adopted, the newly-inaugurated Republican president called for 75,000 volunteers to invade the Southern States, in direct contradiction to its terms.
In 1916, Democrat Woodrow Wilson campaigned on the slogan, “He kept us out of war” — a point much celebrated in the Democratic Party Platform that election year. Thirty days after Wilson’s second inauguration, he plunged our nation into World War I.
In 1980, the Republican platform called for dismantling the Department of Education. By the end of the Reagan years, however, the Department was not only still in existence but figuring largely in George H. W. Bush’s campaign to be known as “the education president.” And this was not because President Reagan was insincere, but because he chose his education secretaries poorly. Part of evaluating a candidate is examining how discerning he is of the character of those he puts around him. If a man chooses the wrong advisors and aides, he’ll be impotent, regardless of how good his intentions may be.
These examples are just a small historical sampling of the disregard that various officeholders have shown toward the official platforms of their respective parties. But with respect to the current election, there is no need to speculate and no excuse for hoping for the best. Governor Romney’s stated position, let alone his actual record, conflicts with the Republican Party platform.
Admittedly, one can’t feel quite certain in declaring what Governor Romney believes on any controversial issue, given his propensity to flip-flop. However, his current stated position on abortion is clearly not that of the platform: “I’m in favor of abortion being legal in the case of rape and incest, and the health and life of the mother.” He is even running an ad that boasts his support for the murder of those particularly unwanted children. Further, he has no actual plans to limit even those abortions which he claims to oppose: “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”
Responding to liberal criticism shortly before the convention, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, weighed in on Governor Romney’s relationship to the platform: “This is the platform of the Republican Party; it is not the platform of Mitt Romney.”
The bottom line is this: We need to examine Governor Romney’s practice, not his party’s platform, as we consider how God would have us to vote. “Even a child is known by his actions, whether his conduct is pure and right” (Proverbs 20:11). How much more a politician with a long record of public service.
Christians need to look beyond the tempting morsels in the Republican platform at the candidate himself. Look at the real predictors of Governor Romney’s behavior if elected — his record and policy. Don’t blindly swallow the bait.