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Which is more bizarre: The Iowa GOP platform or the failure of the press to report it?

ASK THIS | July 09, 2010

The platform, claiming to promote moderation, would allow concealed guns in schools, end minimum wage and abortion laws, teach creationism, and impeach ‘activist judges.’ Anybody paying attention? The Iowa press sure doesn't seem to be.

By Herb Strentz

The Iowa caucuses are 18 months away, but part of the script for what Iowa Republican activists want is already written.

That script is the 12,000-word, 367-plank platform of the state Republican party, adopted at its June convention and faithful to previous platform themes of “family values,” religious beliefs and downsizing, if not eliminating, the federal government.
The platform waves the anti-abortion and pro “traditional marriage” banners that have been part of the Iowa GOP for some 20 years, given the control that Christian conservatives have exerted in shaping Republican ideology in Iowa.
The platform, however, is virtually ignored by the Iowa news media. Press wisdom is that political platforms don’t count for much anymore. Neither apparently does the heavy mix of religion and politics draw much discussion in the Iowa news media.
Reasons for such journalistic apathy include at least these:
• The loss of party discipline and the increasing number of political candidates who raise money on their own and don’t need party or platform assistance.
• Press focus on horse-race coverage of elections, with more attention to polls than to issues or public policy.
• The fact that some planks are, or seem, so bizarre that they are not taken seriously.
• Reluctance or inability of the news media to delve into religious or theological issues that shape many aspects of politics these days.
A question the Iowa press (and others) should consider: Are those good enough reasons to ignore the consistent positions of one of the two major political parties?
About the only journalist paying attention to Iowa political platforms over the years is Gilbert Cranberg, the former editorial page editor of The Des Moines Register and Tribune and a regular contributor to Nieman Watchdog. Gil holds the quaint and apparently archaic notion that (a) people should say what they mean and (b) people should be held accountable for their words.
So even some 20 years ago, he was writing about how the religious right had taken control of the Iowa GOP. Contrast his well-founded view with The Des Moines Register headline that in June proclaimed the “soul” of the Republican Party was up for grabs in the party’s primary election. It’s not really up for grabs; the religious right owns it. They’ve worked hard over the years, turn out at caucus time when the party shapes its public policy, and their dedication has paid off.  
The result is a platform that again calls for abolition of the federal Department of Agriculture, the federal Department of Education, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Federal Reserve, the Department of Energy and the Endowment of the Arts, along with getting the U.S. out of the United Nations. The platform would abolish minimum wage laws, academic tenure, OSHA, restrictions on smoking, no-fault divorce and, of course, abortion, same sex marriage, and any legal rights emanating from civil unions. The 2008 platform called for “downsizing” the Iowa Department of Education. The 2010 platform calls for abolishing it. (As an aside, one would think that when Democrats or Republicans call for abolishing such a major state agency that is newsworthy. In Iowa, it is not.)
All is not abolition. Creationism should be included “with all science instruction” in public schools, and Iowa’s 99 counties should not be consolidated. Parents who send their children to private schools should receive some form of public reimbursement for that expense.
Sticking to its guns, the platform also would allow anyone eligible for a permit to carry a concealed weapon to do so at any public elementary school, high school, community college or university. Elsewhere in the platform, you wouldn’t even need a permit.
The platform does not call for the ouster of any judges who found the Iowa ban against same-sex marriages to be unconstitutional. But it does call for the impeachment of “activist judges” and advocates “the appointment of judges who respect the sanctity of life.”
So the pathway to success in Iowa is pretty well laid out for Republicans seeking their party’s presidential nomination for 2012 — be right on all the issues, far right.
There is one curious word in the preamble to the platform. In a list of 12 values that “must be present in all candidates for public office,” one comes upon the word “Moderation.” “Moderation” gets almost equal billing with the likes of “Honesty,” “Courage,” “Reverence” and “Sincerity.” (Another surprising listing is “Hope” — watchword of the 2008 campaign of President Barrack Obama.
“Moderation” is what should catch the Iowa-watcher’s eye because of the extremism of many of its planks and of party leaders in the state. The religious right’s candidate for governor in the Republican primary, Bob Vander Plaats has proclaimed that moderates and people willing to compromise are the sort who make Jesus want to vomit!
(Although he carried 74 of Iowa’s 99 counties Vander Plaats lost the primary to former governor, Terry Branstad, who had held office from 1982-1998 and who drew to the polls Republicans other than those who dominate the caucuses and party conventions.)
In polls for the November election, Branstad leads incumbent Democratic Gov. Chet Culver by double digits — only because it is difficult to fashion a three-digit lead.
Right now Republicans have the momentum in Iowa. Their platform suggests how far right would-be candidates will have to lean to curry the favor of GOP activists, some of whom still refuse to support Branstad.
The best hope for mainstream GOP candidates who don’t want to sell out to the far right would be to focus on those 12 values listed in the preamble. That’s only “common sense,” which, by the way, is one of the values.

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