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Comment -- August 19, 1996

What Happened to the Platform?

by Jack Beatty

The GOP convention was a triumph of propaganda. In its first week GOP-platform writers rejected their candidate's call not to change the party's "no choice" stand on abortion and instead to precede it by a statement expressing "tolerance" for dissenting views. In its second week, which was televised as the first week was not (C-Span excepted), the convention pretended that week one had never happened.

Platform? Haven't read it, Dole said. Nobody reads party platforms, said GOP Chairman Haley Barbour. One speaker in Week Two movingly described the trauma of her rape. Yet, as Maureen Dowd pointed out in The New York Times, the platform adopted in Week One would have forced her to carry her rapist's baby to term if his assault had left her pregnant. Week One's platform called for a repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment as it applied to illegal immigrants. No longer would the children of such people born in the United States be allowed to become citizens; they would instead be stateless persons to whom "equal protection under the law" does not apply. Week Two speakers, from Colin Powell to Jack Kemp to Dole himself, lionized the immigrant experience. In Week One the platform promised to turn over much environmental enforcement to "states and communities" while cutting back the federal role. The form this cutting back could take was indicated last year in the attempts of the Gingrich Congress to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency sharply and to gut the Endangered Species Act. In Week Two speaker after speaker pledged GOP fealty to a clean environment.

This was the basic structure of the convention--denial or obfuscation in Week Two of what the delegates had done in Week One. No wonder Christian Right delegates felt cheated.

The greatest applause at the convention was elicited by denunciations of taxes and the IRS. The delegates' vocal distaste for taxes makes sense: 20 percent of them were millionaires, and the income tax on $1,000,000 approaches $400,000 -- with deductions, perhaps $250,000. There is no way they get back anything near $250,000 in services from the government. Thus the wealthy are permanently and
One speaker in Week Two movingly described the trauma of her rape. Yet the platform adopted in Week One would have forced her to carry her rapist's baby to term if his assault had left her pregnant.
justifiably aggrieved against the progressive income tax and the IRS. That is why the delegates fairly salivated over Dole's regressive 15 percent across-the-board tax cut. The hatred the wealthy have toward taxes has spread among middle-class Americans who see themselves strictly as taxpayers, not tax eaters. The Clinton universal health-insurance plan would have given the middle class a palpable and no doubt popular dish of taxes to eat. Its failure ensures that attacks on taxes and the IRS will continue to appeal to the middle class. Bob Dole is counting on it. Then why has he consistently chosen policies which could alienate the class whose support he needs?

For the first time I can remember, a presidential candidate has used his prime-time convention acceptance speech to attack -- by name and in a context that linked it with criminals, terrorists, and other enemies of the American Dream -- a trade union: the National Education Association. To me that was the most revealing part of Bob Dole's speech. It reminded me that Dole, before leaving the Senate, came out against a modest increase in a minimum wage that was at its lowest, in real terms, in forty years; that he had voted against the Family and Medical Leave Act, which permits pregnant employees and others categories of workers faced with life-or-death emergencies, to take twelve unpaid weeks of leave; and that he voted against the original Medicare legislation in 1965 and boasted, as recently as last year, about that vote. All this when real wages have been frozen or falling for 80 percent of American earners since 1979. Yet he and his party claim to want to restore the American Dream, and they got away with disguising the contradiction between their nominee's words and deeds at the convention because commentators focused on abortion and on Dole's efforts to narrow the gender gap instead of on the gap between the middle class and an American Dream increasingly attainable only by the affluent.

Despite all the double-talk and propoganda that was on display throughout the convention, there was a memorable moment that rang true: when Elizabeth Dole made her revival-tent pitch for her husband. One observer quipped that it was the first "twenty minute home run" he had ever witnessed. It was a deeply stirring spectacle, and the fullness of Mrs. Dole's emotion was what made it so. Holding nothing back, with no hint of distancing herself through irony or self-protective cool, Elizabeth Dole gave us a tableau of one of the meanings of love: that it can possess you and burn through your defenses like fire. It is hard to say which Dole was the more enviable at that moment: Bob, for inspiring such passion, or Elizabeth, for feeling it.


Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All Rights Reserved.
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