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Friday, March 22, 2024

Why Platforms Matter

 Tevi Troy at National Affairs:

From the moment they put their hand on the Bible to the moment their successor does the same, presidents are inundated with difficult decisions. The only way to handle this tidal wave is by resorting to some kind of triage.

When confronted with policy challenges in the George W. Bush White House, aides like myself would first look to see if President Bush had said something about an issue, and then look to the Republican Party platform to see where the convention that nominated the president stood. This process was not dispositive; there were often changed circumstances and areas of nuance. But knowing where the party stood gave us a head start in determining what the answer should be on a thorny policy question.

My mentor Ben Wattenberg, a former Lyndon Johnson speechwriter who became increasingly associated with the right as the Democratic Party drifted left, worked on multiple platforms during his time as a Democratic operative. His fights with the left during those platform-committee battles of the 1960s and '70s helped him understand the full extent of the left's policy proposals, ultimately driving him away from the Democratic Party. AEI senior fellow and Dispatch founder Jonah Goldberg, who also worked for Wattenberg, once recalled the latter's views of platforms on his podcast, The Remnant:
My old boss Ben Wattenberg used to defend party platforms. He would say they don't matter that much but they also tell you what the party wants you to think it thinks about things. And that's instructive, even if it has no binding power, and even if it doesn't move voters, and all that stuff. It gives you an insight into the collective consciousness of an organization or an institution.
As we head into the 2024 election, at a time when party ideologies are muddled and politicians advertise their postures rather than their policies, platforms are more important than ever. We need those insights into the parties' "collective consciousness" to understand where those institutions are, where they are going, and whether we should entrust their representatives with our precious votes.