Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Constitution of our party

Commentators that I respect have asked me on BMG and elsewhere why I am making such a big deal out of our party's platform. "KBusch", a commentator for whom I have the highest respect, states

the platform is no more than an inert, platitudinous, self-congratulatory hunk of blandness.

This is true in its own way. A party platform has never made a policy happen, or not happen. It's never signed a bill, put a cop on the streets, or cut a family's taxes. A platform does not keep party members from making bad decisions for the wrong reasons. And yes, its often full of self-congratulatory, platitudinous language. It's kinda like the Constitution.

Regardless of its flowery language, the Constitution didn't prevent the Trail of Tears, or torture. This common touchstone of American priorities, ideals and aspirations, isn't self-enforcing. It only matters if those governed agree that it does -- just ask the people of Somalia, a non-country that I'm sure has a few constitutions lying in drawers someplace. But a Constitution valued by its people is also a plan of action. America will be a Republic because we elect representatives and such. It secures our rights through a series of amendments, and so on. The Constitution doesn't end at the preamble -- it backs up the promises with a plan (and in language much more generic than most national constitutions).

The closest thing a political party has to such a statement of principles and a way to effect their implementation is the platform. It doesn't have to be complicated, but it should be more than a list of things we like, with no clear evidence of how they will happen. Take these gems from the draft platform:

Massachusetts Democrats Support Healthy and safe work places for all employees;


Massachusetts Democrats Support Fair and equitable taxes and fees;

Oooh! Fair taxation! That's what those nice people supporting Mike Huckabee believe in, too -- just ask them. And now, there's nothing in my state party's platform to disagree. Heck, every political party in the state supports these stated goals. Maybe "healthy and safe" or "fair and equitable" mean what Republicans think it means, or Libertarians. The party bosses don't want to tell us.

The current platform sets real benchmarks in every issue. The unelected bureaucrats atop my party -- who spend a lot of time asking me for money -- want to erase those benchmarks. They want a platform under which Deval Patrick can run, or Tim Cahill, or Christy Mihos. Carla Howell believes that eliminating the income tax is "fair and equitable". Carla Howell is now a Democrat!

We change this platform every four years, often enough that we can respond to the issues of our time. In education, NCLB and MCAS are issues of our time, and a political party should respond to those challenges, not duck them. And that is what we need to do. I have focused on education, because that is my interest. Maybe Health Care for All is satisfied with a platform that ignores Massachusetts' ground-breaking law on health care, and I am the exception. Maybe the unions are happy with a platform that is mute on free choice legislation, and I am the exception. I hope not.

I hope by the end of this week to start looking at options to replace this list of proffered pallatives with a statement of principles and plans befitting our progressive state. Until then, please keep emailing people you know in labor, health care advocacy, and every progressive fight. And please keep getting in touch with me at so I know who is ready to stand against the effort to dumb down the Democratic Party.

PS: I've created this as an issue on devalpatrick.com (title: A real progressive platform for Massachusetts Democrats).

PPS: Thanks to the good folks at RMG for adding me as a moonbat blog. I've hit the big time, Bay Sate style!

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