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Most Extreme Platform Ever?

The New York Times decided to recycle its recent editorial about the unprecedented rightward lurch of the GOP platform into a news article today. Insisting that the conservative movement was far more moderate in its 1980 GOP platform, the article bemoans the Party’s alleged “sharp turn to the right”:

One party platform stated that Hispanics and others should not “be barred from education or employment opportunities because English is not their first language.” It highlighted the need for “dependable and affordable” mass transit in cities, noting, “Mass transportation offers the prospect for significant energy conservation.” And it prefaced its plank on abortion by saying that “We recognize differing views on this question among Americans in general — and in our own party.”

The other party platform said, “we support English as the nation’s official language.” It chided the Democratic administration for “replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.” And its abortion plank recognized no dissent, taking the position that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.”

These two paragraphs alone are so misleading it’s hard to believe they were published in the news section. Let’s go through it point by point, with copies of the GOP’s 1980 platform and the GOP’s 2012 platform for comparison.

Claim #1: The 2012 platform is intolerant of immigrants:

One party platform [1980] stated that Hispanics and others should not “be barred from education or employment opportunities because English is not their first language.” … The other party platform [2012] said that “we support English as the nation’s official language.”

But at no point in the 2012 platform does it say, or imply, that those who did not learn English as their first language should be barred from education or employment opportunities. It’s full of praise for the “patriotism” of immigrants, declaring that the U.S. should “embrace the newcomers legally among us, assist their journey to full citizenship, and help their communities avoid isolation from the mainstream of society.”

“To that end, while we encourage the retention and transmission of heritage tongues, we support English as the nation’s official language, a unifying force essential for the educational and economic advancement of—not only immigrant communities—but also our nation as a whole,” it continues.

The 1980s platform also emphasizes the importance of English-language programs for non-English speaking immigrants, proposing that “there should be local educational programs which enable those who grew up learning another language such as Spanish to become proficient in English while also maintaining their own language and cultural heritage.”

In other words, both platforms say pretty much the same things, but the cherry-picking from the Times distorts that message.

Claim #2: The 2012 platform opposes mass transit in cities: 

[The 1980 platform] highlighted the need for “dependable and affordable” mass transit in cities, noting that “mass transportation offers the prospect for significant energy conservation.” … [The 2012 platform] chided the Democratic administration for “replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.”

The 1980 platform did support mass transit in cities, but noted that the “first line of responsibility must lie with the local governments” — a line the Times notably didn’t include.

The 2012 platform also supports mass transit — “America’s infrastructure networks are critical for economic growth, international competitiveness, and national security. Infrastructure programs have traditionally been non-partisan; everyone recognized that we all need clean water and safe roads, rail, bridges, ports, and airports,” it says.

The problem the GOP cited, again, was that the states should be taking a more active role. The 2012 platform states that “a renewed federal-State partnership and new public-private partnerships are urgently needed to maintain and modernize our country’s travel lifelines to facilitate economic growth and job creation.”

Once again, the contrast between the two platforms in the Times article doesn’t hold up in context.

Claim #3: The 2012 platform is far more extreme on abortion issues:

[The 1980 platform] prefaced its plank on abortion by saying that “we recognize differing views on this question among Americans in general — and in our own party.” … [The 2012 platform’s] abortion plank recognized no dissent, taking the position that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.”

The Times is right that the 2012 platform “recognized no dissent” on the issue of abortion. But it implies that the position in the platform, that — “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life” — wasn’t shared in the 1980 platform.

In fact, it was: “While we recognize differing views on this question among Americans in general—and in our own Party—we affirm our support of a constitutional amendment to restore protection of the right to life for unborn children,” states the 1980 plank on abortion. “We also support the Congressional efforts to restrict the use of taxpayers’ dollars for abortion.”

While the 1980 platform may have been different from the 2012 platform in tone and detail, that may have had more to do with the format of platforms at the time, which has evolved since. Over the years, the GOP platform has been quite consistent on the issues, particularly abortion. Obviously there will be minor differences from year to year, but there’s little evidence for the notion that the Republican platform has lurched far to the right over the last 32 years. The only way to argue otherwise is to cherry-pick quotes and ignore context, as the Times did in its article.


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