I’ve served on several platform committees during my years in political activism, but never had the privilege of being elected to a national platform group until now. So, it was with a measure of apprehension and anticipation that I made the trip to Tampa eight days before the GOP National Convention, to serve.
The apprehension stemmed from the fact that as a Ron Paul Liberty Republican, even at the county level, some of Paul’s libertarian viewpoints spark heated reaction when trying to get these planks on local platforms. At Nevada’s (my home state) Platform Committee, I was called out for being a crazy pot smoker, when I wanted to add language about ending the War on Drugs. What would happen at a National Platform meeting, when I introduced an amendment ending the NDAA, or censuring the FDA for arresting raw milk sellers?
Last Sunday night, it was anticipation that propelled me through the luxurious lobby of the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel, and up the stairs to register and attend a welcoming meeting. Most of the delegates had been briefed earlier, and it was just a smattering of late arrivals like myself, who were greeted by the Committee’s Executive Director, Ben Key. My guest, Juanita Cox, an Alternate Delegate from Nevada, was vetted, but had to wait outside the main meeting room, while we received our instructions. They were what one would expect, about submitting amendments (what are usually called “planks”), and how the next morning we would break into our subcommittees, work on our section of the Platform, and then reconvene after lunch with entire body, to go over the additions, and changes.
Ron Paul national delegates had been spoiling for months for this convention. Most were ecstatic to be elected, but then as numbers were chiseled away by rules infractions and other challenges, those left remaining wondered, “What can we achieve in Tampa?” One of the most offered responses was, “Influence the Platform.” The idea of doing just that had me eager to start.
I knew from talking last week to Chris Stearns, a delegate from Virginia, and the unofficial Paul liaison who was also on the Platform Committee, that there were about a dozen of “us” to take on the other 100 delegates (two from each state and the six U.S. Territories). The odds were atrocious, but if we played our cards right, wrote our amendments with an eye towards flying under the neocon radar, and then defended them with a dash of Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan (who’s attained sainthood in the party pantheon), they might have a chance of sliding home.
“Have your amendments (hand written), submitted to your committee by 8am.” Key instructed, as we were given a thick binder entitled, “Committee on Resolutions, Republican National Convention 2012 Platform Draft.” I thumbed through the six chapters: Economy, Jobs & Debt (Rebuilding the Economy), Agriculture, Energy, & Environment (Natural Resources), National Security & Defense, Healthy Families, Great Schools, Safe Schools, Restoring Constitutional Government, and Government Reform (Medicare, Medicaid, Immigration, Postal Service, etc.). Prior to coming to Tampa, we’d been asked to rank these committees in order of preference, and I was thrilled to find I’d been assigned to my first choice – Restoring Constitutional Government. It was a mixed blessing because, if I failed I’d want to fall on my sword, but if I was able to influence some major issues, it would make the week-early stay in Tampa totally worthwhile.
Before I left, I looked around the room in which the entire Platform Committee would be meeting. It was impressively staged with three risers set with long tables to accommodate the delegates. Nameplates for seat assignments showed me that I’d sit alongside my fellow Nevadan, Pat Kerby, who’d been delegated to Agriculture, Energy & Environment. What was this at our workspace? A handout I’d missed? Did Pat leave this for me? The five page document, with **CLOSE HOLD** typed at the top, contained 45 instructions and comments about “Potential Amendments,” and evidenced a prior dialogue between the Romney and Paul campaigns. I scanned the tables to see if this document was at anyone else’s space. If it was, then it was just another hand-out. But it wasn’t, someone had left this for me. I quickly called Pat, “No, I didn’t leave anything for you, and it wasn’t there when I left the earlier briefing.” I ran through the comments and was struck by items like, “Bring all our troops home. – Must avoid this language. Reinstatement of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – Governor Romney was initially opposed to DADT before it was repealed; it is impractical to repeal something at a time of war. Eliminate indefinite military detention of any person detained in the U.S. – The language in the Constitution section was negotiated by Romney campaign policy team and Paul campaign leadership.” Negotiated by Romney and Paul? Were the two camps actually pre-planning the platform together? The document was a melange of strict conservatism and a slight nod to some of Paul’s main issues: Audit the Fed, Balanced Budget Amendment, the Gold Standard, reduction of federal workers, eliminating the DOE, no regulation of the internet, and ending NDAA. This last was confusing, as it was on this issue that we were defeated in the four attempts we made to get this amendment in the platform.
That night at my hotel, I quickly scanned the Platform Draft. At first glance there were good sections, along with others that put the republican party at odds with libertarians, gays, democrats, and most third parties. While some would agree that a party platform should strictly define and reflect its core group, others would argue that it should be a message to attract people to the party, and republicans certainly need to beef up their numbers if they hope to defeat Obama in November.
There were some excellent amendments, though. Rebuilding the Economy and Creating Jobs included: extending the Bush tax cuts, reforming the tax code (abolishing the IRS was run up the flag pole when the Committee met, but could not get needed support from anyone but the liberty-minded members), elimination of the capital gains tax for low and middle income taxpayers, ending the death tax, and repealing the Alternate Minimum Tax.
The Federal Reserve was addressed in 16 lines, among which, “The Republican Party will work to advance substantive legislation that brings transparency and accountability to the Federal Reserve, The Federal Open Market Committee, and the Fed’s dealings with foreign central banks. One path to increasing transparency and accountability is through an annual audit of the Federal Reserve’s activities. Such an audit would need to be carefully implemented so that the Federal Reserve remains insulated from political pressures and so that its decisions are based on sound economic principles and sound money rather than on political pressures for easy money and loose credit.” It wasn’t End the Fed, but with the information that could come from an audit, the end would be near!
China was taken to task, and “A Republican president will insist on full parity in trade with China and stand ready to impose countervailing duties if China fails to amend its currency policies.”
An opposition to all cap and trade was part of the platform’s Energy, Agriculture and Environment chapter, as well as “pursuing our oil and gas resources both on and off shore.” There was debate about adding federal environmental safeguards, and delegates from Alaska and Montana reacted negatively, as they felt this insulted their states’ standards for safety and environmental protection, which were far higher and comprehensive than anything the federal government has ever proposed. The platform was very proactive on nuclear and fossil fuels, but did not want the taxpayers to serve as venture capitalists for risky endeavors such as the Solyndra debacle.
“A move to a fiscally sound, defined-contribution model” for Medicare and Medicaid was proposed in Government Reform, along with block-grant programs to the States. Social Security was also addressed, with allowing “Younger workers the option of creating their own personal investment accounts as supplements to the system. Younger Americans have lost all faith in the Social Security system, which is understandable when they read the non-partisan actuary’s reports about its future funding status.”
“We will ensure that personal data receives full constitutional protection from government overreach and that individuals retain the right to control the use of their data by third parties; the only way to safeguard or improve these systems is through the private sector,” was stated within Internet Freedom.
In a reaffirmation of the 10th Amendment, “With a Republican administration, the (Justice) Department will stop suing states for exercising those powers reserved to the states, will stop abusing its preclearance authority to block photo-ID voting laws, and will fulfill its responsibility to defend all federal laws in court, including the Defense of Marriage Act.” This was a powerful statement, with the latter phrase a precursor of stronger stuff in the Constitution chapter.
Several excellent amendments died, such as Pat Kerby’s addition of a heading entitled, “Congress.” In it, he recommended that, “We support moving to a “one law, one vote” system to streamline the process and prevent those huge bills with multiple laws included.” and “Republicans will lead the way to government reform by seeking to adopt a system where any new legislation will require adequate time before any vote can be taken to insure that there is time to read and debate new bills.” Ric Davidge of Alaska submitted equal footing language to “Convey all federal lands not necessary for our defense or border security to the states.” Surprisingly, the body would not pass these.
But, the TSA took a beating, and a “Call for the private sector to take over airport screening wherever feasible and look toward the development of security systems that can replace the personal violation of frisking,” passed muster.
Obamacare was taken on in Healthy Families. Of course its repeal was demanded, and the program replaced with reformed health insurance options, free markets and tort reform. I noticed that the unconstitutionality of Obamacare wasn’t mentioned in the amendment, so I submitted that Obamacare, “Resulted in a further erosion of our Constitution, by requiring that U.S. Citizen’s purchase health insurance.” Hands went up and I worried that someone found my amendment problematic. The problem was that “erosion” wasn’t strong enough, and would I change the wording to “an attack on our Constitution?” I easily agreed. But when a Senator claimed that we were not required to purchase insurance, I equivocated that this was exactly what sparked all the states’ suits. The body agreed with me, and the amendment passed unanimously.
Reforming the FDA was another issue, and it was there, that North Dakotan Paul Henderson submitted, “We oppose the FDA’s attempts to target raw milk producers, cheese makers, and small farmers.” Sounds innocuous, right? But, to those in the Paul movement, having this amendment in the Platform would be a great victory. We gave the motion an immediate second, but Co-Chairman, Congressman Marsha Blackburn, parried by recognizing an instant “Call the Question!” from one of the faithful committeemen, who were there to shut down discussions by getting issues fast tracked to vote, so there would be little, or no time for supportive arguments. Even my cry, “Comon’ cheeseheads, vote for this!” evoked peals of laughter but not enough votes. Raw milk got pasteurized, as the committee members had no idea of the import of Henderson’s amendment.
You’d think the repeal of “No Child Left Behind” would have been a cornerstone of Attaining Academic Excellence, but it wasn’t mentioned in the 56 lines of that amendment. Instead, a “Call for replacing ‘family planning’ programs for teens with increased emphasis on abstinence education,” was in this section. There was also language that insured that teens could not be counseled on birth control without the consent of a parent, and that in the event of a sexually transmitted disease that consent was required for treatment by a physician. Two doctors cautioned that teens in most cases, would not tell their parents if they had an STD, and would instead go untreated if parental permission was required, but their cautions went unheeded.
A line in the first page of Foreign Policy gave a glimmer of chance to abolishing NDAA, “Nevertheless, our government must continue to ensure the protections under our Constitution to all citizens, particularly the rights of habeas corpus and due process of law.” I submitted “Banning Indefinite Detentions” in Restoring Constitutional Government’s subcommittee, but had failed to get a second. We tried again when the entire group met, and Pat Kerby attempted to give the ban of NDAA another chance in Foreign Policy. The argument against was all based on enemy combatants, and their denial of rights. I countered with the case of the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, and how the U.S. government had finally apologized and given the victims restitution, stating that this would never happen again. I also spoke about our First Amendment rights being infringed, and how one could go to jail now for simply carrying a protest sign within so many feet of a federal employee protected by the Secret Service. I implored my fellow committee members to vote for the ban, telling them that we could no longer protest Obama, and the message it sent where everywhere he went, that he was always surrounded by well-wishers. My words had no effect and the ban died, even though it had been presented in different language, in different areas of the platform, four times.
Amendments to stop Nation Building, and end foreign aid, failed. Instead, a vigorous defense budget was supported with an end to “sequestration.” Our troops, veterans and their families were comprehensively covered, and all facets of their care addressed. America’s Sovereignty included, “We strongly reject the U.N. Agenda 21…and oppose any form of U.N. Global Tax. We oppose any diplomatic efforts that could result in giving the U.N. unprecedented control over the internet.”
Israel earned, “Unequivocal Support,” as “We speak the same language of freedom and justice, and the right of every person to live in peace. The security of Israel is in the vital national security interest of the U.S.; our alliances based not only on shared interests, but also shared values. We affirm our unequivocal commitment to Israel’s security and will ensure that it maintains a qualitative edge in military technology over any potential adversaries…..We envision two democratic states – Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine.”
The other side of the coin was Iran, “Whose pursuit of nuclear weapons capability threatens America, Israel, and the world. ..In solidarity with the international community, America must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability.”
It was gratifying to serve on the subcommittee for Restoring Constitutional Government. The Platform was originally drafted with many good provisions: “The requirement that every bill (in the House) must cite the provision of the Constitution which permits its introduction.” Also, “The federal government must not assume the State governments’ or their political subdivisions’ financial responsibility or require the nation’s taxpayers to pay for the misrule of a few state governments.” Strong language regarding the military’s right to vote, voter fraud, and a physical paper trail for electronic voting were beefed up further, as well as an end to mail-in elections (this was not to affect absentee or military voting).
An amendment I submitted was edited further to become, “We support the review and examination of all federal agencies to eliminate wasteful spending and wasteful operational inefficiencies, and to determine whether they are performing functions that are better performed by the states These functions, as appropriate, should be returned to the States in accordance with the 10th Amendment…all legislation, rules, regulations, and public servants adhere with respect to the originally intended interpretation by the Framers…It shall be determined whether such legislation is a state or federal issue, as instructed by the 10th Amendment, in conjunction with Article 1, Section 8.”
Mike Wallace (not the deceased star of “CBS 60 Minutes”) of Maine, snuck in a snippet of liberty when his amendment, “Oppose(d) governmental censorship of speech through the so-called Fairness Doctrine or by government enforcement of speech zones or other forms of “political correctness” on campus.”
Brian Buescher of Nebraska added in Searches and Seizures, “We support pending legislation to prevent unwarranted or unreasonable governmental intrusion through the use of aerial surveillance or flyover on U.S. Soil.” The drones were grounded.
Second Amendment rights were thoroughly covered, including, “We support the fundamental right to self-defense wherever a law-abiding citizen has a legal right to be, and we support federal legislation that would expand the exercise of that right by allowing those with state-issued carry permits to carry firearms in any state that issues such permits to its own residents,” and “We oppose the improper collection of firearms sales’ information in the four southern border states, which was imposed without congressional authority.”
In the chapter covering the Sanctity and Dignity of Human Life, a call for a human life amendment to the Constitution was made and “Endorse(ment of) legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. ..We oppose the non-consensual withholding or withdrawal of care or treatment, including food and water, f rom people with disabilities, including newborns, as well as the elderly and infirm, just as we oppose active and passive euthanasia and assisted suicide.”
Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry had the only booth that I saw at the meeting. They must have known in advance that their lifestyle would come under attack, as it was covered in two headings, Marriage and the Judiciary, and Defense of Marriage, which collapsed the “Big Tent” philosophy with a resounding crash. Earlier, Pat Kerby had offered to write an amendment I could submit, in an attempt to delete some rather harsh language that stated in no uncertain terms that same sex marriage would not be tolerated by the Republican party. Instead, we offered, “While we oppose any attempt by the judiciary to legislate from the bench, Republicans recognize that the role of government is to protect the rights of the individual. In a free society we must accept the rights of others to live in ways we cannot condone. As long as there are no infringements on the rights of others, it is not the role of government to judge.” This amendment failed in subcommittee as well as with the entire committee, but we had many expressions of gratitude from attending guests.
Christopher Stearns planted the flag on the mountaintop, when this amendment he submitted passed easily and was adopted. See if you can find what is probably our biggest victory with the National Platform. “Protecting America is the first and most important duty of our Federal Government. The Constitution wisely distributes important roles in the area of national security to both the President and Congress. It empowers the President to serve as Commander-in-Chief, making him the lead instrument of the American people in matters of national security and foreign affairs. It also bestows authority on Congress, including the power to declare war, regulate commerce and authorize the funds needed to keep and protect our Nation. America is strongest when the President and Congress work closely together – in war and in peace – to advance our common interests and ideals. By uniting our Government and our citizens, our foreign policy will secure freedom, keep America safe, and ensure that we remain the “last, but best hope of the earth.”
Our small, but energetic group, dedicated to the Constitution, freedom and liberty, made a difference in the 2012 Republican National Platform. Within a week, the document will be on-line for everyone to read; then you can prepare for 2016. By then our numbers will have grown, and our voice will be even stronger.
Editor’s note: Cynthia will be reporting over the next week for us at FreedomOutpost.com. You can see her comments at the platform meeting by clicking here.