The genius of American politics used to be pragmatism. This pragmatism was evidenced in the major parties’ refusal to pay any lasting attention to their own platforms.
Every four years the platform committees of our major parties would groan and heave and give birth to documents that the parties as a whole had every intention of completely ignoring once the conventions were over.
Party platforms were easy to ignore. They were bland, stupefyingly dull, and seldom printed in the public press. No candidate ever pointed with pride to his party platform, or promised to work to realize it. No voter had the attention span to slog through it.
The only justification for a party platform was that it provided a place for the single-issue wackos and passionate ideologues to have their say. It created the impression that all the folks in the big tent had the same mind-set. It was the glue of party unity. In the past, extreme views got stuck into platforms like bugs in amber and were forgotten with the platforms themselves.
On the whole this was a good thing. When it came time for the down and dirty of political legislation what was practical and what was possible took precedence over ideology; deals were made, compromises were accepted, and some sort of legislative progress was made.
Although there were always great general differences between the parties, there were no fixed doctrinal statements or single issues to which they were wed without possibility of divorce. The platform may have said, “Campaign Finance Reform,” or “No Abortions” (and always in the most roundabout way possible) but no one seriously pursued legislation that everyone recognized would fall stillborn from the legislative printing press.
That was then, this is now.
The single-issue bugs and true believers have somehow escaped from the amber and are buzzing actively through our legislative halls. The single issue ideologue believes either that there is only one societal problem to be addressed by legislation; or that there are plenty of problems but that his one solution will fix them all.
And if it’s not his solution, then screw you and it’s his way or the highway where nothing will get done.
The effect of single issue politics, when it is played with grim determination, is the destruction of political compromise about the solution of national problems. We’ve seen this game played out in Congress for the last two years as negotiation and compromise have been replaced by the mind set that refuses all compromise…government by filibuster.
This year’s platforms are a good deal edgier… rather than the cozy ideological ‘blankies’ that they used to be.
And judging from the current goings on at the Democratic convention they can be changed on the fly as political strategy requires.