John McCain

Serve, Protect, and Ignore

The Republican platform respects the Constitution-but only when it's convenient.


The Republican platform unveiled last week notes in passing that "the Constitution assigns the federal government no role in local education." Yet the same document offers opinions on all manner of local educational issues, including the virtues of phonics, the evils of sex education, the wisdom of merit pay for teachers, and the folly of social promotion.

That contradiction illustrates the hollowness of the Republican commitment to "constrain the federal government to its legitimate constitutional functions." The Republicans (like the Democrats) respect the Constitution only when it's convenient.

You might say that's old news. Yet while campaigning for president in 1980, Ronald Reagan promised to abolish the Department of Education. So did Bob Dole in 1996. After two terms of a Republican president who proudly charged in the opposite direction, the most John McCain can muster is a promise to "identify and eliminate ineffective programs"—that is, to make unconstitutional activities more efficient.

Although the Department of Education is still with us, by threatening to eliminate it Reagan and like-minded Republicans signaled that they understood some matters are beyond the purview of the federal government. It's hard to find evidence of that understanding in the current GOP platform.

In 1887 Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, vetoed a bill allocating $10,000 to help drought-stricken farmers in Texas, saying, "I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution." Nowadays the Republican Party takes for granted the propriety of both "a natural disaster insurance policy" and an "economic safety net for farmers."

Likewise, the GOP platform does not question the legitimacy of the federal government's enormous entitlement programs, saying only that they should be "reformed" and "modernized." Regarding Social Security, McCain does not go even as far as George W. Bush, who proposed letting Americans shift some of their payroll taxes to private accounts. By contrast, the current platform calls for "personal investment accounts which are distinct from and supplemental to" the existing system of intergenerational income redistribution.

Far from shrinking the federal government, the Republicans want to enlarge it, providing "aid to those hurt by the housing crisis," solving "the energy crisis" (undeterred by the Carteresque connotations of that phrase), "expanding access to higher education," seeking "a major expansion of support" for certain kinds of stem cell research, even "returning Americans to the moon as a step toward a mission to Mars." The platform does not explain how these initiatives qualify as "legitimate constitutional functions."

The Republicans are committed to "continuing the fight against illegal drugs," even though that fight, unlike alcohol prohibition, was never authorized by a constitutional amendment. They want to impose national bans on gay marriage, human cloning, assisted suicide, and online gambling, even while declaring that "Congress must respect the limits imposed by the Tenth Amendment," which reserves to the states or the people "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution." Despite their eagerness to trample individual freedom in all these areas, Republicans claim "the other party wants more government control over people's lives," but "Republicans do not."

The Republicans "lament that judges have denied the people their right to set abortion policies in the states." Yet their position that "the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life" guaranteed by the 14th Amendment implies that the Constitution not only allows but requires a national ban on abortion, which also would override state policy choices.

Defending "the free-speech right to devote one's resources to whatever cause or candidate one supports," the Republicans say they "oppose any restrictions or conditions upon those activities that would discourage Americans from exercising their constitutional right to enter the political fray or limit their commitment to their ideals." Yet their presidential nominee is famous for pushing precisely such restrictions and conditions in the name of "campaign finance reform."

As an indicator of where McCain would take the country after eight years of big-government conservatism, the 2008 Republican platform is not just disappointing. It's incoherent.

© Copyright 2008 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Man, it really must suck to have this job.

    You’re probably the only one who’s read EITHER party’s platform in its entirety.

    I honestly don’t see why they even bother writing them.

  2. I love when “conservatives” try to justify this BS. So much that they hate me.

  3. Has anyone read the Alaska Republican Party Platform? It looks like they flew Falwell up to write it before he passed.

  4. Sadly, I’ve read the platform from four different parties this year. If you think that’s bad, you should have seen the list of proposed national platform items that was voted on at the Colorado Repub. convention this year. Seriously, over 10% of them were so poorly worded that I had no idea what yea or nay meant or the difference between them! About half were horribly riddled with grammatical errors. At least they fix that at the national level…

    I was sort of into the Ron Paul “change from within” thing when I went to that convention, but damn.

  5. So the coauthor of the McCain-Feingold law is running on a platform which supports “the free-speech right to devote one’s resources to whatever cause or candidate one supports,” and “oppose[s] any restrictions or conditions upon those activities that would discourage Americans from exercising their constitutional right to enter the political fray or limit their commitment to their ideals.”

    I’m aware that these are weasel words, allowing McCain to indulge the mental reservation that his signature legislation (a) allows citizens to devote *some* resources to favored candidates so long as it’s not too much, and (b) doesn’t “discourage” people from political expression.

    Nice way to talk straight!

  6. Jacob,
    Nice article. You’re like the John Madden of political strategies. Always pointing out the obvious to those who can’t see the forest for the trees.

  7. Why is it always a choice between a giant douche and a turd sandwich?

  8. I can’t even really tell a difference between the two parties anymore except that the Repubs are more on the hawkish side, and the Dems want to spend a bit more than the Repubs. Other than that, they have similar approaches when dealing with their hot topic issues. Both just throw more government at any problem that their voters may have in their lives, or any whim their voters want to enforce on the rest of the public.

    This state of affairs came about because the voting public is largely ignorant about the actual effects of issues, the proper role of government, why government needs a “proper role”, and the consequences of allowing government to get too large. People use democracy as a weapon to push through anything that comes to mind at the time that sounds good, rather than using it sparingly, as a tool used only when necessary under the correct circumstances. People want big government because they think it is best for them, at least in the short run. As long as this is true, both of the big parties are going to offer big government.

  9. Next up: A President Obama would respect the Constitution, as long as it doesn’t stop change.

  10. Republican’s claim they are gonna respect the constitution. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck y’know.

  11. Grover Cleveland: Our elusive libertarian Democrat?

  12. “The Galt Plan will increase individual freedom while strengthening the bonds of collective responsibility”

  13. An epiphany: any remaining true believer conservative is just crazy. It’s FDR’s world. It was never otherwise. We’re just stuck in it.

  14. Why is it always a choice between a giant douche and a turd sandwich?

    Because the “undecideds” are the ones who end up deciding the election every time. Candidates have to appeal to them with personality, compromise and populism. In other words, non-turds/non-douches need not apply.

  15. This is news…how?

  16. @jkp I think you called it man.

    Honestly, in a decade I think the parties will have gone from having platform statements to having buzzword tag clouds.

    Thanks for keeping us up to date on all the farce and abuse of the english language.

  17. Constitution? We don’t need no stinking constitution!

  18. Jacob, how do you infer that their planks on education policy mean that they want those things dealt with federally, rather than by states or municipalities?

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