The 2012 Republican National Convention begins Monday in Tampa, and the internet is all a-twitter with leaked planks from the draft version of the party platform. Whatever you do, don’t listen. Party platforms are not legislation; they are by definition grandstand-y and ideological, and they are composed by people who can politely be called true believers. You have to be a special kind of Republican to go to Tampa in August. Party platforms composed at national conventions are like the specific words a crazy man keeps shouting at you on the subway: not a prediction of what’s going to happen, really, but an indication of how somebody thinks.
Some of it is surprising. Other of it is grimly unsurprising or—periodically—surprising yet inevitable, like the declaration that “a Republican commander-in-chief…will not tolerate attempts to ban Bibles or religious symbols from military facilities.” The party platform is where you say which events that have never happened you would not tolerate if they did. It’s also where you oppose fundamental features of government, sometimes in ways that do not flatter you: for example, by demanding “a super-majority for any tax increase with exceptions for only war and national emergencies.” Sweet, sweet war.
Like I said, a party platform is not a legislative document. It is not an explanation of what the GOP wants to do so much as how it wants to be thought of. This year, perhaps more than in previous years, the GOP wants to be totally hardcore. The draft platform supports a constitutional ban on abortion that makes no exceptions for rape and incest—a plank that is either central to the document or only appears so on Google because it’s a gimme story with Todd Akin. There’s a part in there about affirmative action, which seems redundant from the party that also opposes Pell grants, food stamps, unemployment, Medicare and every other kind of assistance to people of whatever race or gender.
It’s an assortment of conservative bona fides, in other words. In this way it fits a party that has spent the last four years declaring its orthodoxy to itself. The rise of the Tea Party, the most intransigent Congress since the 1920s and this cycle’s Republican primaries all describe a GOP fixed on distinction and purity. Perhaps no Republican has ever been as Republican as our Republicans. Which is funny, because after all that Gasden flag-waving and bill-blocking and promises to explode Iran, they picked one of the more centrist candidates in recent memory.
I know Romney doesn’t look like that now. With the addition of Paul Ryan to the ticket and the imminent onset of convention fever, Rom-Bot will be set on Right for the next several weeks. But the fact remains that the primaries were a contest to see who could appear most staunch, and the guy who was least convincing won. Now the party faithful are hard at work drafting a platform their own candidate disagrees with.
Here is perhaps the way in which the 2012 Republican Party Platform is most useful: as an example of the stunning disconnect between how the GOP talks and what it actually does. Among themselves, they are revolutionaries, opposing a socialist president and remaking the Constitution. At the interface between the party and the rest of America, on the other hand, they have done little braver than block legislation and nominate a flip-flopping moderate.
I submit that that is what is so dissatisfying about the contemporary Republican Party. It’s not that they’re so insanely conservative. You can get worked up about how hard-right the 2012 draft platform is, but a voice in your head keeps telling you it doesn’t matter because none of that stuff will happen anyway. For liberals and moderates alike, the 2012 GOP is dissatisfying because it is fiery in its rhetoric and tepid in everything else. They’ve got a whole network of candidates and talk radio hosts and delegates willing to say all manner of crazy shit. Their shit is so crazy that it impresses everyone without the least hope of getting anything done.
The 2012 draft platform is a monument to what the Republican Party has been for the last two years: a bastion of safe rebellion. It is audacious and toothless. Republicans and Democrats alike can conclude from it that the GOP is ideologically pure and not likely to see any of its ideas come to fruition. Like a 14 year-old in a Cannibal Corpse t-shirt, the Republican Party is at the dinner table, hating everything. It is a luxury they can afford for now.