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February 27, 2015

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Jon Ralston:

A platform that has no support

The natural tension between political party platforms and candidates is that parties generally stand for something and candidates often try to stand for nothing.

Also: Platforms inevitably are infested with goofy stuff and candidates like to win.

All across Nevada this weekend, county Democratic conventions are occurring and, after the suspense is over about whom they will endorse for the presidency and which obscure bylaw they will squabble over, the faithful will get down to the business of frightening their candidates by adopting various platform planks. If any platform explains why the candidates ignore the parties — because the parties actually have principles and some of them are not nutty — the Washoe County Democrats’ draft proposal is it.

• “We support decriminalization of marijuana and that its use be regulated on an equivalent basis as alcohol.”

• “We support abolition of the death penalty.”

• “We support the repeal of the Nevada ‘right to work’ law.”

A show of hands, please: Which elected Democrats and candidates for office support these planks? Hello? Hello?

I pick on the Democrats only because the counties are having their confabs this weekend, not because they are inherently weirder than Republicans and care any less about actually helping their candidates. But the real question is: Why bother to even have platforms theoretically outlining what a party stands for when the people who will be charged with advocating for those ideas have no intention of doing so?

Indeed, most of those on the ballot biennially run like college students away from a Latin seminar when asked about a platform, knowing there is no upside in embracing it (What, have to take a position?) and no downside in avoiding it (no one, including most of the media, pays any attention after the convention).

It’s not just because of controversial planks that candidates shun platforms, though. It’s also because they don’t want to be tied down to any strong, ideological position that might hurt them in the campaign. You can hear the consultants, who have much more power in modern politics, whisper, “Try to fudge on that.”

This year is especially obvious for the Democrats on one plank in both the Washoe and Clark platforms — the Southern Nevada party was a little more careful and mainstream in its document, but not on one subject.

Washoe: “We support the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. “

Clark: “We support the Affordable Care Act and oppose legislation that would repeal any or the entire original Bill.” (No plank on English as a first language.)

OK, I’m looking for elected officials and candidates to speak on this at the state convention. Hello? Hello?

To be fair, there is some meritorious stuff in the lengthy Washoe draft platform, including one of my hobbyhorses (so it must be meritorious): “We support making campaign contributions transparent, therefore requiring disclosure of contributions over $250 within 24 hours.”

And some of the stuff in platforms — and Washoe has this in spades — is so candidate-friendly as to be meaningless effusions. To wit:

“We believe the community is called to participate in the education of our youth and to advocate for successful educational outcomes.” Bold.

“We believe that every registered voter must be afforded every opportunity to have her/his vote counted.” Meaningful.

“We support safe and affordable communities based upon sustainable energy and environmentally sound public policies.” Deep.

Or my favorite: “We support medical research aimed at curing disease and alleviating suffering.” Visionary.

And then there is the idea that sounded good at the time but is of questionable utility: “We propose creation of a Commission on Black Affairs in Nevada to overcome the discrimination, disparity, inequity and disadvantage that have negatively impacted black people in Nevada. A Black Affairs Commission would cover all areas of significant disparity that currently exist in the black population of Nevada.”


But perhaps I mock too much. The disconnect between parties and candidates is hardly new but grows more frustrating as embedded principles are routinely sacrificed for electoral imperatives. The conventional wisdom that you can’t win if you take a strong stand, especially if it’s not obviously popular (health care reform, tax increases, stimulus spending), induces candidates to fudge, spin and, if necessary, lie.

And the result is that campaign promises are broken, public confidence diminishes and the body politic suffers. So they might as well scrap the platforms because they are onanistic endeavors by a handful of people who attend conventions, full of sound and fury, consummating nothing.

But never let it be said that I am a divider and not a uniter. Shortly after I began tweeting about the platform Friday, the Washoe Democrats took the draft off the party’s website. So, finally, the party and the candidates are on the same page: Both are running away from what they really believe.

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  1. Public campaign funding at all government levels with money mandatorily assessed equally to every worker, with no avenues of escape, would restore fair government, our democracy, and return environment of stability, harmony and trust.
    Few would like such and very few wouldn't benefit from such!

  2. Now this is both sad and scarry: Jon Ralston declares, "But never let it be said that I am a divider and not a uniter. Shortly after I began tweeting about the platform Friday, the Washoe Democrats took the draft off the party's website. So, finally, the party and the candidates are on the same page: Both are running away from what they really believe."

    It saddens me a great deal that our real or imagined leadership has NO spine, just talk, debate, and delete! This should NOT be the way American governance takes place. The People/Voters should be given the opportunity to see these proposed "planks" and discuss them further, and then, a decision made whether to keep them or not. Sheesh!

    Blessings and Peace,

  3. Alas, sadly, this is TRUE! There are those of us within the Democratic Party that have emphasized for decades that the Party Platform is essential to develop a foundation for what it means to be a Democrat in every County, State and at the National level - yet, too few see the value in it!

    Here in Southern Nevada, Lynn Goya and a stalwart few have busted their butts and brains working smart and hard, cycle-after-cycle, to improve how we do multiple hearings in Platform Committees to cover every issue the people of the Democratic Party want included - and as much as the process has improved, too few participate, and way too few candidates and elected take this work seriously!

    It's sad, Sad, SAD!

    Nevertheless, I'm NOT giving up on "We The People" no matter how much they sit on their butts at home and whine, snivel and complain! I'm holding out hope that someday, somehow, the Democratic Party will eventually reach them - and eventually they will get off their butts and do their duty as citizens and Democrats to engage the party in a productive manner! Then, "We The People" will have the power to demand that candidates endorse the Party Platform - and we'll have the numbers to hold them accountable!

    As the old adage goes, "I've met the enemy - and it's us!" NOT to be a "divider" - we did have the smoothest run Clark County Convention ever - KUDOS TO ALL THAT CARED!

  4. In the days before the internet platforms were a shorthand to understand candidates. Now, with the rise of the internet, individual candidates can manage their own messages without the need for a party platform. In today's market, with so many voters unaffiliated, the savvy political party would remove all the crazy and use it as a marketing recruitment tool. Unfortunately, because party platforms have lost all of their external importance, they have become a panacea to the party extremes who load it like the kitchen sink.

  5. Well said John. The platforms are a litmus test for the dem candidates and have more to do with trying to support the national candidate for President than the local politicians.

  6. Platforms are sound bites in search of 'Single issue voters'. The platforms cover as many topics as possible in the hope that uninformed voters will think, 'Oh, I agree with that, I'll vote for their candidate.' Agreeing with one issue doesn't mean you have a good candidate. Neither party has all the answers. Unfortunately, both sides want you to think that they do.