Target Rich Environment: Politics, conventions, platforms
We start by considering the raw politics, Republicans v. Democrats. According to a Gallup Poll survey last year 36 percent of Maine’s voters identify themselves as conservative, 24 percent as liberal, 40 percent as “moderate.” Ergo, 60 percent our state’s voters may be called “immoderate" if we take these labels seriously. So why is it established wisdom that only "moderate" candidates win in our state?
The question is easily answered, victory comes to the party that keeps its liberal or conservative base and pulls in a sufficient percentage of moderates. The Democrats have the more difficult task, statistically, since part of the liberal base is owned by the Greens and they need more than half the moderates, while the GOP needs less than half.
There are about 1,000,000 registered voters in Maine, but only 270,000 registered Republicans, not 360,000 (36 percent). In short, 90,000 conservatives decline the GOP label.
We can assume that the 240,000 self-identified liberals are almost entirely absorbed into the Green and Democrat rolls - very few Republicans claim that label any more. Registered Democrats and Greens together amount to 366,000. Calculate that the 34,000 Greens are all liberal and you arrive at a total of 204,000 liberals among the Democrats, mixed with 126,000 moderates and conservatives. The lopsided majorities opposed to gay marriage in Democratic mill towns hints at one of the discrepancies.
Thess are crude figures, rounded off, but crude figures are all we have. They are enough to illustrate the parties' problems in holding the base while attracting moderates. The complication grows still murkier when you find the Greens and Republicans united against LD 1495.
The strategy for pulling moderates to the one party of the other seems to me to rest on two keys. The positive one is to demonstrate competence, the negative to characterize the opposing party as extremist.
Leave aside partisan heat and smoke, neither party can make a case for a record of flawless competence on the national or local level. Not really. Can't be done. The competence pitch is really up to individual candidates.
The “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Moderates - but Lookit Them Crazies Over There" ploy works primarily in the Party-vs-Party contest, with the aim of tarring their respective opposing candidates with the party-brush. If either party fields some really wild candidates, then it sometimes works contrariwise, but the major thrust is usually found in the party arena.
The Democrats have a number of handicap in this “assassination by classification” contest. Their candidate in the first district is a member of Democratic Socialists of America, affiliated with the Socialist International. She doesn’t choose to use the “S” word in her campaign pitch, but Google and see for yourself. Worse, the presidential Administration has many “immoderate" associations. Consider Jeremiah Wright, Billy Ayres, Al Sharpton, Von Jones (the self-identified "revolutionary communist), Anita Dunn (an admirer of Mao tse-Tung), Nancy Pelosi, just for a short list.
This is the first thing to keep in mind when you read about the Maine Democrats' campaign director, Arden Manning, hoisting the pennant of Lord High Admiral of the Mainstream. Mr. Manning may sometimes speak the truth, sometimes not; but bear in mind he is not a moderate. He is a liberal, although he dare not speak the name.
Now let's consider convention politics. Conventions no longer choose a party's candidates in Maine. They serve primarily to showcase its candidates. This noisy agita and angst about the insurrectionary platform has diverted press attention from the real substance of the GOP convention.
There were speeches from our two nationally known senators and the last Republican governor. All spoke fluent Republican, without reference to moderation and bi-partisanship, although they praised party unity. Nothing said offended conservative beliefs. They know the Republican base is vital. The most meaningful parts of all their speeches was the warm praise they had for Charlie Webster, chairman of the GOP State Committee. They know Charlie is more conservative than they, but they also know he has animated the party as no chairman has done in living memory.
What I’m saying is that the direction of the GOP is be found in Charlie's speech, not in Platform 1.0 or Platform 2.0. It sums up thus: Maine is becoming a welfare state, better at creating dependency than employment; LD 1495 is a snare and a fraud; Democrats are the party of government; Republicans are the party of the working man and woman; the state's economic development is retarded by excessive taxation and regulation.
The speeches of the four legislative candidates chosen by Charlie followed these themes pretty closely. Beth O’Connor's brought the delegates to their feet. It is not an accident that one of the speakers was a Franco potato farmer from the county, that three of them were women new to campaigning for political office; or that all four grew up in Democratic families. I don't know whether their common Roman Catholic backgrounds was a coincidence, that might be over-calculating, but I do know that, all things being equal, Charlie has a preference for female campaigners. His theory is that men are more likely to strategize and philosophize, whereas women are more likely to get down to the real business of getting votes. I suspect that he chose two women to organize the convention because of the same consideration.
The candidates’ part in the show was a televised debate and their respective speeches. Their diagnoses of the states' problems were very similar and their proposed solutions were largely compatible. Mills' lone support for LD 1495 as an imperfect but necessary measure was the sharpest divergence. My opinion as a LePage partisan is subjective, but two well-known veteran politicians with far more experience than I confided in me that they thought his speech was the most successful. This is a matter of impression, not scientifically verifiable fact. I present it as such. No more.
Finally, we come to platform politics. Charlie is an empiricist, not a philosopher. Her learned politics by doing politics. His conservative beliefs come from watching government as a legislator, from being a businessman and from the common observations of a citizen who pays attention. He is not much interested in ideology or the clash of ideas. He understands that candidates win elections; platforms don’t win elections. His priority was to avoid having “platform agony" overshadow the candidates. The platform committee majority, myself among them, acted in accord with this priority. We simply adopted the previous convention platform and added a few succinct "bullet-points." The theory here, was that the agonizing had already been done at the previous convention.
Down in Knox County 12 people had a different idea. Infuriated by the health care reform, stimulus spending, the bank bailouts and a lot of other things, this group wished to see the party unite behind a set of core values. So they formed a committee and over the course of weeks the developed their insurrectionary platform. The result bears the marks of committee work. Every member had their own hobby horse. Members of the group known to me do not regard it as a perfect, finished product. They wanted to see the planks discussed and debated.
They take pleasure in the their insurrectionary victory, but found the process irksome. They were looking forward to a discussion and debate. Few delegates had a chance to read the whole document through, fewer still to reflect on it. It's clear to me that the thing that caught the aye-voters eyes was the dominant theme of Constitutional fidelity. That is, in fact, the unifying theme of Platform 2.0.
Having voted for 1.0 as a committee member, I voted to replace it with Platform 2.0 as a delegate. My motive was identical in both cases, to insure that the gubernatorial candidates would be at the center of the Convention. If the alternative platform had been rejected the debate over the 22 amendments to 1.0 could ended with the candidates giving their major speeches under moonlight.
Practical politicians and political pundits all agree that platforms are never mandates to candidates. Many or most argue that they are entirely meaningless. Prof. Potholm of Bowdoin, Maine's best-known author, pontificator and consultant, dismisses them a play thing of the politically naive.
In truth they are not central to practical politics, to getting people elected. Of course, practical electoral politics are also suffused with child's play - sound bites, slogans, posters, pretty pictures, graphics, gimmicks galore and, above all, image-making.
Images may contain a kernel of an idea, but they fall well below the intellectual substance of an actual idea. In the grander scheme of things the Knox County "rebels" are right. Ultimately idea determine the fate of a party, a nation and a civilization.