Grassroots for an Open Republican Party

The GOP Platform
  • Rebuild the party brand as “the Party of Principle” by moving away from a “platform” or “menu-driven” definition of conservatism toward “principled conservatism.”

constitution_quill_penPrinciples are the foundation of government based on the rule of law; governing based on values is a progressive principle and leads down the road to arbitrary government. The fundamental principles of American government are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S.  Constitution. They are stated many times in many ways. They are three:

  • The primacy of individual sovereignty;
  • The sanctity of private property; and
  • The preservation of the rule of law.

Every decision each of us makes, we make as an individual. Even the decision to come together to take collective action is first an individual choice. Private property results from our individual choices about how we use our labor. Our Creator endows us with life and liberty, but life is not self-sustaining. If we are not at liberty to acquire at least the basics of survival, we die.

declaration-partialWe acquire, as Frederic Bastiat wrote in “The Law,” through either plunder or our effort – whichever is easier. No religion or morality will prevent plunder, he noted, if the effort to plunder is less than the effort necessary to acquire what we need and want through our own effort.

One group taking control government to plunder the community is bad, said Bastiat. It is worse, however, when another group takes over government, not to reestablish justice, but to plunder on its own behalf, for then the rule of law is completely preverted.

How is the Republican Party viewed today? As a plunderer or wants power to get back at the Democrats or as the party that will stand-up for the rule of law – the fundamental principle that the law is neutral, that it preserves individual freedom to act in a moral manner without mandating a morality to be imposed.

Keeping Bastiat’s ideas in mind, let’s look at the Republican Party Platform.

When printed off a computer, the platform fills some 14 pages. In handout form, the Minnesota GOP platform folds out to the size of small roadmap, printed two-sides, in eye-straining type. It requires some 175 line items and over 5,100 words to lay out the party’s plans for Minnesota. Pretty impressive considering the Good Lord could only come up with 10 Commandments and 300 words of wisdom to guide the individual behavior of all people at all times.

barriers21But it’s not just length and complexity of the GOP platform that is a problem. “Platform Conservatism” creates unnecessary barriers for people who value liberty, limited government, and fiscal conservatism and want to join the Republican Party, but are confused by the dissonant cacophony of principles and values that make up the published party platform.

Take the education planks, for example.

The Minnesota GOP platform says Republicans believe in parental school choice. The Minnesota Republican Party supports programs like charter schools and school vouchers. So far, so good. But then the platform goes on to list a plethora of education reforms for public schools that would, in essence, reduce the freedom of anyone who disagreed with the GOP to educate their children as they saw fit to do. The GOP platform imposes a definite set of values on ALL children attending public schools every bite as much as the DFL platform does. The only difference is the values being imposed.

on-ramp-2So, is the Minnesota GOP seeking power to replace the DFL and impose its own views (creating barriers) on the rest of Minnesota? Or is the Republican Party seeking power to restore justice to education, by focusing on policy promoting more charter schools and using vouchers as the primary source of school funding?

The latter approach replaces barriers to joining the Minnesota GOP with on ramps to the Minnesota GOP. It’s believing in the principle of educational choice that makes one a Republican, not the curriculum one might choose given educational freedom.

What makes us Republicans?

Every section of the GOP platform can be deconstructed in a similar manner, but that is not the point. At issue is whether “platform conservatives,” those who hold that the best conservative is the one with the most “yes” checks on platform planks, are really the political  “good guys.” Or is being a conservative about more than just holding the popular (as far as Republicans are concerned) position on the  issues? Is the objective of putting Republicans in power about ensuring that the “Eddie Eagle Gun Course” is available in every public school, or does the Minnesota GOP want to rein in and limit government authority to impose the whims of the few on the lives of the many?

At its core, conservatism is really about allegiance to a republic founded on the governing principles of individual sovereignty, private property and the rule of law. Creating policy and legislation that furthers those principles is the best way to produce prosperity for all and the only way to ensure justice for all. Unless we as a state and a nation protect everyone’s individual sovereignty, everyone’s private property, and provide equal protection for everyone under the rule of law, we cannot guarantee our own ability to live by the values we choose to live by.

It is faith in fundamentally American governing principles that makes us Republicans. It is extension of the governing principles we recognize, not the values we seek to protect, that enables us to build coalitions with those who believe in liberty as strongly as we do – even if they might choose to use their liberty differently. Rebuilding the Republican Party requires that we move away from “platform conservatism” toward a “principled conservatism” based on individual sovereignty, private property and the rule of law.


15 Comments so far
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We acquire, as Frederic Bastiat wrote in “The Law,” through either plunder or or our effort – whichever is easier. Please remove one “or”.

One group taking control government to plunder the community is bad, said Bastiat. It is worse, however, Should the word “over” be inserted between control and government?

The last 3 paragraphs are brilliant, clear, concise, and to the point.

The Seven Principles are a stoke of genius, one for each day of the week, perfect for any calendar.


I agree with the last 2 paragraphs. Thank you for being clear. More folks need to get back to those basics.

Comment by Beth

Sorry, but this is just too libertarian for my tastes. The GOP has a strong libertarian foundation, certainly, and one which we have at least partly forsaken in recent years. But the problem with Libertarians is that they dislike and distrust all organization and structure, including that of their own party. The GOP must be more than that to be successful.

Having served on the State Platform Study Group, the State Platform Task Force, and the State Platform Committee, there are several things wrong with your approach.

First, the single biggest disconnect between “the Party” and its grassroots is that, having gone to all of the trouble to create the platform, our candidates don’t even read it, let alone follow it. In their defense, of course, is its specificity and complexity, but you can NOT hold our candidates to a vague set of “principles,” either. Most legislation, as I have constantly told my legislators, is a conflict between two or more basic principles, and I cannot fault you too heavily for choosing what I consider the wrong one to defend at any particular point, SO LONG AS you can explain to me which you did defend, and why.

The second problem with your proposal is that people become activists because they want to “be heard” on the issues of the day. The platform process is a very imperfect way of doing this, and “the day” happens only every two years, but it is better than having no debate at all on a tiny set of unchanging principles, regardless of what they are.

I’ve been proposing a solution to this for years, and the new Chair will have an opportunity to build this new process. It would consist of:

1) The Principles– a brief statement of essentially unchanging Republican/conservative principle, similar to the “What Republicans Believe” brochure currently available from the State Party office.

2) The Policies– This would be a [positive] statement of general objectives for government policy, firmly based on the principles, as the current platform planks are supposedly based on the preambles to each section. That is, they would be more specific examples of what the principles would entail. For example, “we believe that parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children” might be the principle, leading to the policy that “the State should provide each parent the financial means to make that choice, be it public, private, parochial or home school.” These policies would be revised every two years, in a process essentially identical to the current platform process. Hopefully that revision would largely be to remove those already implemented.

3) The Promise– is the piece currently missing. This would actually be developed by the Party leadership, elected officials, the campaigns, and certain activists working by consensus. It would be a “Contract with Minnesota” by a different name, and would come from the Policy document. It would greatly simplify “finding the message” and “selling the message” because it would be simple, unified, and based in the most politically advantageous policies. It would be a sort of mutual aid– getting people committed to the policy elected on a promise to implement the policy that the public wants.

4) The Practice– a piece currently missing, but it gives us four “P’s” and that has to be good. 🙂 I suggest we reinvigorate the old “resolutions” process, whereby anyone, at any party meeting, could introduce a resolution affirming or condemning this or that hot topic of the moment, without waiting for the biennial convention and lengthy platform process. These could be very specific, would “clean up” our platform by getting rid of most of those highly specific things that we “oppose,” and make activists feel like they were really and routinely involved. The drawbacks here are that we have no current method– techologically, procedurally or organizationally– to “roll up” these resolutions and give them larger impact. I can suggest that an “official letter” be sent to the legislator, Senator, whomever, but that isn’t enough; we need that “rollup” process. Certainly a US Senator, beholden to a State Party for his election, might pay considerable attention to a letter from the Party Secretary informing him that a majority of Party Units favor a vote for or against something.

I’m not suggesting radical change, nor that we need to “return to” something. There’s nothing wrong with our principles, we just don’t say them well, promote them properly, or push them forward when we have the opportunity (which we don’t right now). We’ve got the mechanics wrong, and that can be fixed. Get them right, and then we can get the government “right.”

Comment by J. Ewing

Debate would not be on the principles, but rather on how the principles are applied to the issue of the day; much like we would like to see constitutional principles applied to the legislation of the day. A great, positive, example of that was the debate over the smoking issue at the state convention. It was voted down largely because it did not conform to principle even though most delegates probably considered it a good idea. That was a debate about principle, but it was an easy one. The hard ones – the rules kept people from debating.

As to your process, and this will sound a little too libertarian no doubt, but it seems a little bureaucratic and top-down and frankly it seems that sincerity costs extra. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that when you say it would “make activists feel like they were really and routinely involved,” and assume you mean it would really and routinely would involve them (not just make them “feel” involved). But that is germaine to the whole point — why all the process to simply do what is right?

More often than not, the Party gets in the way. My Republican neighbor convinces me that Republicans don’t eat their young, but then I go home and see a barrage of negative commercials and nary one commercial or one positive message out of the GOP. We don’t need four ‘P’s; we need volunteers on the street who sell with sincerity. That’s what must be the end of party processes.

Comment by Craig Westover

Why all the “process”? Because the problem with the GOP is not knowing what to do, or why to do it, or even who or when. Our entire problem, IMTHO, is that we don’t know the HOW. That means strategy, tactics, and processes– the dull, practical but necessary stuff to support the intellectual pontificating.

Comment by J. Ewing

In our BPOU I have been arguing that the platform should consist of a simple statement of principles that, like the ones here, would fit on a single page. Attached to the platform would be a large set of “case law” that applied those principles to whatever ideas the party membership would find appropriate. For example:

On the matter of marriage: Marriage is a contract between God and man and is not the proper business of governments. Therefore, we oppose efforts to use government power to enforce this particular contract.

* Principle 2: When government is not granted an authority by Constitution, government cannot claim it.
* Principle 5: [In] a Free Society, one must respect the Liberty of others to live by values different than one’s own.

Like the Constitution, changing the principles would be reserved for every two years or so and would require more than a simple majority, perhaps a supermajority. “Case law” examples could be proposed and voted upon at even monthly BPOU meetings. This satisfies the desire of many activists to write legislation while forcing them to be somewhat explicit in their justifications. It should come as no surprise that differing arguments could lead to case law examples that contradicted each other. This is a natural consequence of the process. But 1 page of principles and 14 pages of examples is a more usable and flexible document, one appropriate to a free society.

Comment by BruceWMorlan

What a great application of the concept!

What Bruce’s approach does is take the focus off visceral reaction to issues and makes internal party debate focus on principle, wherever that might lead us.

Great approach!

Comment by Craig Westover

By the way, does everyone agree that principles and platforms motivate activists but that name recognition and its ugly step-brother marketing wins elections? Or do we think we can overcome this problem by conversation and persuasion of ideas? We need both the William F. Buckleys and the Arnold Schwarzeneggers.

Comment by BruceWMorlan

Agree, but Arnold without William is just an actor.

Comment by Craig Westover

I agree that name recognition and marketing win elections, because the vast majority of people don’t give a rodent’s derriere what your principles are. They want to know what you are going to DO, and they won’t even ask that if they do not first believe that you care about them, on a purely first-impression and emotional basis. Democrats have that game down pat, while Republicans are still clearing their throats for the debate.

Comment by J. Ewing

You are essentially making the case for interest-group liberalism. The only difference between Democrats and Republicans is they represent different special interest groups on whose behalf they loot the treasury. Leaders make people care.

Comment by Craig Westover

I think JE is basically right. Liberal Democrats don’t care about principals they care about being elected, and they get elected by offering perks; government assistance for just about anything you can imagine. And all at no cost to the recipient.

A principled Republican says ‘we will follow the constitution’… Bye-bye perks and handouts. It is a tough sell to many, except for the ‘real’ taxpayers. The ones that pay for gov’t largess.

Comment by mndasher

There’s a famous (well, not so famous; I can’t find it online), by a Republican who, asked to pass an early “welfare” bill, said something to the effect that “I am informed that the utmost desire of the people is in liberty, and I can serve no other.”

Republicans can “care” about people by giving them freedom. Our platform can be summarized in that one word, with enough verbal gymnastics. For example, your “interest group raids on the treasury” deny freedom to those who have to stock the treasury, as well as those who have to do the government’s bidding to get those funds. On the other hand, freedom is something of a tough sell, up against “government money.”

Comment by J. Ewing

The biggest problem with Republicans (you could say Conservatives in general as well) is that they have not made the CASE for conservative values.

We have done a terrible job at making the case for our principles. The liberals have it very easy as they make the case for their principles by appealing to the emotions of the electorate.

We as Conservatives do not usually do that, being conservative in nature. But, we most certainly can go out there and make the case, not based upon ever-changing emotions, but on logic and reasoning. We just are not doing that.

I get the feeling that if Conservatives really made the effort to do this, it would not matter so much in the end if our platform was principles or other. We have to be out there! If we are not out there, no one will care how our platform is presented or organized because they will not have incentive to even check us out.

Comment by Beth

I disagree. I think most people– most voters– already understand what conservative principles and values are, but never get around to worrying about how to state them. They’re too busy living them, and wondering why the politicians don’t seem to have any “common sense” about the things they do. The liberal politicians say they care about us, which is great, but then they do stupid stuff and treat us like WE are the infants.

Which is why what conservatives need to do to win elections, besides joining an organized political party, is to find a way to communicate that simple message: We care, and we agree with you. When upwards of 70% of voters get all or most of their information from the biased “MSM” there is no way to even begin the debate until we can get people to understand that there is another side to the “story.”

Comment by J. Ewing

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