Note: This document, and the proposed platform it references, was neither written, reviewed, nor approved by any Massachusetts Republican Party official or Republican officeholder. It is the work of one man. The party does have an official platform that was approved in 2014, but it is shameful, and required a response.
This essay is about how and why I wrote a New MassGOP Platform, available here. I hope that it lends credibility to the thinking and writing that I have done.
Here are the sections:
- The Current MassGOP Platform
- What Should A Platform Accomplish?
- The Mission of the MassGOP
- Strategies for Platform Writing: Excellence, Brevity, Philosophy, Utility
- Strategies for a MassGOP Platform: Educated and Productive
- Who the Heck Wrote All This? (A bit more about me)
The Current MassGOP Platform
Where to begin?
Yes, we already have a party platform that was passed in the cold and dark of February 2014 by the members of our state committee, a group of people few registered Republicans have even heard of. It’s so awful that the chairman of our party opposed it, Charlie Baker opposed it, Richard Tisei opposed it, and so did all of our other major candidates for office. I also know many activists who opposed it, as I did.
The platform (a PDF on the state party site, instead of searchable text — intentionally I’m sure!) was an utter disaster. First of all, even after “compromises” between the right and the too-far-right, it still had language that made it clear we are against abortion and gay marriage. Even worse, right after the sentence saying Richard Tisei’s marriage had no value, there is a sentence saying the platform did not stand in the way of ballot initiatives. Seriously?
It was flawed in other ways. It had sloppy, incorrect statements, like saying you can’t start a mom-and-pop business anymore, or that entrepreneurs work 20 hours a day continuously. It says that government “preys on” its citizens. (Ugh!) It kept the outrageous language on religion from the 2010 platform, which I wrote about in an essay. Also, to quote a fellow activist about the tone, “The platform shouldn’t sound like an op-ed in the Boston Herald.” And it did.
How did this happen?
Apart from the odious views of many on our state committee, the platform work was done in secret until, three days before the vote at a meeting, someone leaked to the Boston Globe that we were going to adopt a new platform that came out against gay marriage and abortion(!?). That was the first I had heard of it, and I hear about nearly everything.
Despite outrage among activists, it came to a vote in a few days, and was only debated for 20 minutes. Twenty minutes of debate for a platform we’d have to live with for years.
(The Maine GOP put a draft of their platform out in public for six months for public comment. That sounds way better than what we did, eh?)
The Democrats had a field day with the platform, especially that our major nominees and chairman opposed it. Former Massachusetts Democrat Party Chairman John Walsh and others joked in Twitter about the farce of a party chairman coming out against her party’s own platform. It caused Richard Tisei to boycott our party convention in March of 2014, (another great story in The Globe!) and it was a minor distraction for Charlie Baker. In fact, the only person running for statewide office to publicly praise the platform was Mark Fisher, who said in his convention speech that he would champion it, and asked the crowd to “hold me accountable” for it. (Don’t worry, Mr. Fisher, we did.)
After such a debacle, every thinking Republican knew we need a different platform. (Though nobody has any idea when that might happen. I wrote all of this to hasten that day and make the task much easier to accomplish.)
What Should A Platform Accomplish?
Since the current platform ended up being both a media fiasco and something no credible statewide candidate could support, it is necessary to take a minute and review what a platform should accomplish. I think it should accomplish three things.
First, and foremost, it should signal to everyone in our state what a party is ideally trying to accomplish.
The actions of Republicans in elected office ought to be in alignment with the ideas in the document. People who are considering registering as Republicans should be shown this document. They should be able to make a more informed decision about whether to join the party after reading it.
Second, it should be a useful and inspiring set of ideas that helps candidates decide what their message should be, and elected officials decide what kinds of legislation they might pursue.
A candidate should be able to read this and say to herself, “Hey, these are good ideas and I see how they are relevant to local issues I care about.” She should then feel better about campaigning on them as a strong foundation and she will have good language to use when describing why she supports them.
Third, it should comprise ideas that are either endorsed or tolerated by the vast majority of people in a party.
Every party has a fringe whose ideas won’t work for everyone else. But the vast majority of people in a party should read a platform and be OK with what is in there, even if they would have added things to it.
It absolutely should not contain things that a large number of people in a party utterly reject. In the event that an issue divides a party, it should either be left out of the platform, or handled in some diplomatic way. An idea that 40% of people strongly disagree with should not be muscled into the platform by the 60%, unless it is important for getting the rest of the voters to support the party’s candidates.
(I included abortion rights because it was too important to leave out and the incorrect belief that all Republicans are against the legality of abortion is a major problem for our candidates in much of the state. I was careful.)
The Mission of the MassGOP
A platform should answer the following question:
What is the MassGOP trying to accomplish in this state?
Our platform must comprise things that could be done, that people in our party can feel good about doing. But the unifying mission for the party, above the platform principles, needs to be broad, avoid addressing controversies, and be something almost all Republicans could agree with. It has to speak to the long-term interests of Massachusetts. This kind of statement helps people tolerate little things in the platform that they aren’t thrilled about, or items they believe are missing.
A broad civic mission is also welcoming to all kinds of new people, which is important when you’re only 11% of the state. Therefore, I created the platform preamble in this spirit:
A state dominated by Democrats needs a Republican Party that is more intelligent, more informed, more creative, and more vigilant than other states require. We Massachusetts Republicans, who want our Commonwealth to provide the most inclusive prosperity, are up to this challenge. Unhindered by established interest groups, untethered from what the Republican Party is doing in Washington, and unafraid of making tough choices, we will bring sensibility and innovation to government, for the benefit of all citizens in our great state.
In the name of credibility, I did mention that the Democrats dominate the legislature to remind activists that the platform shouldn’t pretend we can enact unpopular things on party-line votes. I also mentioned a distinction of identity from the national party, as it is so unpopular here and causes lots of people to vote against us no matter who the candidate is. It is another reminder that we can’t sound like the Republicans in Washington, that we must sound like we are from Massachusetts. Lastly, I said we are a “great state” because many Republican activists end up sounding like they don’t like Massachusetts, and I wanted to reinforce that we really like living here.
Strategies for Platform Writing
Unfortunately, platform-writing has been plagued by problems. It often ends up being a battle between groups inside the party, each demanding items that they want, regardless of their usefulness to everyone else. (Look no further than the national Republican Party Platform. Even the Massachusetts Democratic Party Platform reads like this is what happened.) A platform can also end up only reflecting the thinking of the people on the state party platform committee, or it might not be taken seriously because, “Nobody reads the platform” — a common refrain.
To prevent that, here are my principles for writing a party platform:
A party platform should be carefully written, and a pleasure to read. It should sound like a great deal of thinking went into it, and should be the kind of document that people are encouraged to share.
The best defense against unwise content or pandering to interest groups should be its length. Most people vote for a candidate based on something that could be written on a postage stamp. Most people join a political party for reasons that could fit on an index card. Therefore, a party platform need not contain 3,000 words. (I decided on fewer than 1,500 words and I am someone who has a hard time being brief!)
Also, as we say in software engineering, “The more a framework does, the less useful it becomes.” I think that applies to a platform as well. If it has three dozen items, you will lose the support of too many people.
It is best to avoid specific legislation or controversies. It is far more useful to describe ideas that can be applied to lots of situations. Also, clever philosophy can contain ideas that are powerful, useful, and yet do not immediately stir up as much controversy as taking a position on an issue directly.
In addition to speaking to long-term interests, a platform should be relevant to the policies and reforms that the public needs right now. For instance, there is currently great controversy over charter schools and Common Core. This platform addresses those things, though not directly.
Strategies for a MassGOP Platform
Our platform must be suitable for Republicans in Massachusetts, not in Texas. Therefore, I think that our platform must be two things:
Massachusetts is the most educated state in America. Our platform must reflect that. In ideas, language, and format, it must speak to those who have chosen the enlightened life. (We also have to accept things like the solid science behind climate change.)
We live in the the most liberal state in America. Many issues have been settled here. We cannot be in opposition to things that will not change. As the old expression goes, “Politics is the art of the possible.” Not the impossible. So there is solid support for gun control, though many Republicans don’t like it. But it is not going anywhere and there is no opportunity for things like open carry, etc.
Who the Heck Wrote All This?
I wrote almost all of this in a restaurant one Sunday afternoon. A guy looked at my computer and said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Writing a new platform for the Massachusetts Republican Party.” He paused and said, “Is that your job?” I said, “No… but our platform is terrible, and someone needed to provide an alternative that gets adopted one day.” He just looked at me strangely and went back to his beer.
What he didn’t know is that I am a Republican activist who commits random acts of political writing, campaigning, and software engineering. I hold no position in the party, though everyone who does a lot of politics in the MassGOP knows me. (That does not mean they like me!) I live in Boston with my wife and children. I consider myself a proud “Charlie Baker Republican” and not a “Fox News Republican.” Everyone knows what that means.
You can find me on twitter as @mysteriousrook.