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The Corncob Pipe Of Politics

There was a time when party platforms truly mattered. That time is not now. What happened? Seyward Darby is here to explain.  

The Democratic Party’s platform committee approved a whopping 54-page draft document last Saturday in Pittsburgh. (That’s up 15 pages from the 2004 platform). The Republicans won’t draft their platform until just prior to the GOP convention in Minneapolis, so it stands to be seen how the new platform will stack up to the 2004 document, which topped 41,000 words and began with a triple homage to Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, and George W. Bush.

Problem is, nobody seems to care. Today, campaigns have tight grasps on platforms, meaning they’re mostly summaries of nominees’ views, with some language to placate special interests or party factions. Consequently, platforms have grown longer and of less interest to the public. “They are relics of the past like corncob pipes and button shoes,” says David King of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “Now the platforms are focused on the presidency, not so much broad issues that are defined against what the broad issues of the other party.” But there was a time when platforms divided parties, riled up convention delegates, and stirred public interest.

Click here for a full review of the party platform’s colorful history.