On the same weekend that tea party activists at Utah’s Republican Party convention were retiring three-term U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, one of the most conservative members of Congress, for not being conservative enough, Maine’s Republican Party platform was undergoing a similar overhaul.
The avowed purpose of this year’s state convention, held in Portland, was to show off the GOP’s seven candidates for governor – unlike in Utah, Maine’s conventions don’t control ballot access. But the delegates who attended were more interested in taking a stand for liberty, and rejected the carefully worded platform developed by the Republican State Committee, replacing it with a document written by Horatio Cowan III, a retired marine electrician from Rockland.
Knox County is one of the few counties in Maine that’s still reliably Republican, and it was the Knox delegation that led the charge to instill tea party principles into the platform.
The party establishment was not amused. One delegate from Portland, was heard to speak of “political suicide.” Sen. Peter Mills, the least conservative of the seven candidates for governor, said, “This platform can be used to defeat Republicans in the general election,” and added that he doubted all the delegates understood what was in it.
Platforms are actually a fairly reliable guide to how parties will govern. All that stuff about health care that some professed to be amazed about when President Obama and congressional Democrats rolled it out is there in the 2008 platform.
While campaigning, though, candidates often feel free to ignore what the platform says. Even though Maine GOP platforms have long opposed abortion, the only Republicans elected to statewide office have been pro-choice.
Yet this platform may be different, if only because it avoids euphemism and heightens conflict. Modeled on the Declaration of Independence, it extends the metaphor to the point of concluding with a quotation from Thomas Jefferson — recently anathema to conservatives, to the point of removing him from the role of founding father.
Whatever else it is, it’s honest.
Where the committee platform supports energy independence and “alternative sources and conservation,” the Cowan platform supports the goal but takes a quite different approach, calling for “removing the obstacles created by government to allow private development of our resources: natural gas, oil, coal, and nuclear power.” No mention of alternatives; the BP oil spill be damned.
The committee version steered clear of global warming, but not Cowan. Maine Republicans are now pledged to “investigate collusion between government and industry in the global warming myth,” and then prosecute it.
There is a lot of distrust of government expressed in the document, as well as the resurrection of old conservative ideas. It calls for abolishing the federal Department of Education (Ronald Reagan tried and failed) and enacting term limits for Congress (the U.S. Supreme Court said states can’t do this on their own.) It opposes the Fairness Doctrine, even though the Reagan-era Federal Communication Commission eliminated it almost 30 years ago, which is why we now have Fox News.
The rollback of congressional perks is comprehensive: no authority to increase congressional pay, no pensions and “the same health care plan as the general public,” although it’s not clear what that would be.
In every case where the two platforms cover the same ground, the Cowan version is more dramatic and specific. The committee wanted to “promote competition in the health care system,” while Cowan says “only market-based solutions will solve the problems.”
Some of the new platform may require a bit of translation, such as a “return to the principles of Austrian economics.” That’s an apparent reference to Frederick Hayek, who in turn influenced the Chicago School that opposes deficit spending to counter a recession – the technique used by the Obama administration in passing the recovery act.
Although illegal immigration does not rank high on most Mainers’ list of problems, this platform disagrees, saying we should “seal the borders” and make this “the prime directive” of the federal government.
Like most political broadsides, the new Republican platform is not entirely consistent or clear. But then there are dull parts in the Declaration of Independence itself, such as the lengthy consideration of fishing rights.
There can be no misunderstanding that this is a call for less government at all levels, plenty of rugged individualism, and a belief that “freedom and personal liberty” are about all that matters in the public sphere. There are no mentions of “community,” “solidarity” or “fairness.”
If that’s what you believe, this is your party.