Republican Party Platform Expedition Part II: Constitutional and Energy Policy

by Benjamin Studebaker

Today we resume our expedition through the positions taken by the Republican Party in its recently released new platform. In the first part, we discussed republican economic policy. Today, we discuss republican constitutional and energy policy. So put on your safari hat, it’s going to be a wild ride.

The first interesting bit is this line where the platform echoes recent advertisements accusing the Obama administration of violating the constitution and the rule of law by:

gutting welfare reform by unilaterally removing its statutory work requirement

The Obama administration in reality did no such thing. The waiver merely offers states more flexibility in meeting welfare reform targets and allows more independence from the state governments in designing policies to meet those goals. PolitiFact called the “gutting welfare” accusation a “pants on fire” lie.

There is a large hunk endorsing the Defence of Marriage Act and consequently opposing same-sex marriage, which is not particularly surprising and reaffirms the beliefs of those on the right who have a prejudice against homosexuals.

There is a vast chunk, again too large to quote, affirming the tenth amendment, which promotes reserving powers to the state governments and away from the federal government, again, unsurprising.

Then there’s this–not particularly important, but quite odd:

We oppose the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact or any other scheme to abolish or distort the procedures of the Electoral College. We recognize that an unconstitutional effort to impose “national popular vote” would be a mortal threat to our federal system and a guarantee of corruption as every ballot box in every state would become a chance to steal the presidency.

This is interesting on two levels–the first, being that the voter fraud that they seem to fear is more or less non-existent. The Brennan Centre has done quite a bit of research on voter fraud that proves that point. The second level is that, historically, the electoral college has been in step with the national popular vote almost every time, aside from the elections of  1876, 1888, and 2000. It would seem that the only serious reason for republicans to defend the electoral college so fiercely is that Gore won the popular vote in 2000 but was nonetheless defeated by the electoral college.

There is a section in which an effort is made to use Thomas Jefferson, an historical proponent of separation of church and state, to defend the presence of religion in public affairs and the judging of laws and policies on religious bases. It seems a bit counter-intuitive.

Here’s a bit I actually liked:

We insist that there should be no regulation of political speech on the Internet.

It would be nice to see republicans taking this piece of the platform to heart and not supporting bills like SOPA, PIPA, and so forth, that would, by extending copyright law, infringe on what may be said or posted online.

There’s the obligatory defence of the second amendment, not a surprise. There’s a large bit opposing abortion and embryonic stem cell research, proposing a constitutional amendment affirming the right to life of the foetus, again unsurprising. There’s an odd bit advocating a ban on flag desecration, particularly odd given the strong endorsement of free speech earlier in the document.  The constitution section concludes with opposition to abiding by foreign laws where they are internationally believed to apply, a policy that would certainly rub a few people the wrong way internationally.

In the energy section, the republicans advocate what they call a market driven “all of the above approach”, in which all forms of energy are developed. This is somewhat misleading, as renewable sources of energy tend to be nascent industries in need of Friedrich List style subsidisation to get off the ground. I may elaborate on that issue in a future post.   There is an endorsement of nuclear energy as a viable source of clean alternative energy insufficiently tapped, one I’m liable to agree with, considering that, each year, coal power plants are responsible for more deaths due to pollution globally than nuclear plants have caused in their entire lifespan. Another topic perhaps suitable for elaboration elsewhere.

This bit is again, not particularly important, but odd:

Our dependence on foreign imports of fertilizer could threaten our food supply, and we support the development of domestic production of fertilizer

A little apocalyptic  in the language, particularly for a party that, earlier in its platform, called for free trade. But still, utterly trivial.

It calls for organisations like the forest service to prioritise economic efficiency over environmental concerns and declares the environmental movement a completed success, something climate scientists are sure to take issue with, as that contradicts established scientific fact.

The section on energy closes with an endorsement of conservation, swiftly followed by an endorsement of private rather than public stewardship of the environment, and concluding with an attack on the EPA for conserving the environment at the expense of economic progress. It seems that republicans are trying to play both sides here, arguing that they want to conserve the environment but that the best way to conserve it is by not conserving it. Consider these snippets:

Conservation is a conservative value. As the pioneer of conservation over a century ago, the Republican Party believes in the moral obligation of the people to be good stewards of the God-given natural beauty and resources of our country and bases environmental policy on several common-sense principles.

Congress should reconsider whether parts of the federal government’s enormous landholdings and control of water in the West could be better used for ranching, mining, or forestry through private ownership. Timber is a renewable natural resource, which provides jobs to thousands of Americans. All efforts should be made to make federal lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service available for harvesting.

It reads like a contradiction from where I’m sitting. There are many assertions made in the energy section that scientists are in a better position to confirm or deny than I am. We do know what our natural resources looked like before environmental regulations came in, and we do know that those regulations have been successful so far in cleaning things up, but, as the climate scientists tell us, there is still a long way to go to prevent further future degradation. There is an absence of a sense of urgency on climate change that is both unsurprising and worrying from the platform. I don’t believe the issue is even mentioned or discussed once in the entire section on energy and the environment. Climate change, is, of course, a rather large issue best elaborated upon in a future post.

There are still three more sections left to go in the Republican Party Platform, and each will, eventually, be attended to.