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Sen. George Allen, R-Va., at the Iowa Republican Convention in June. (AP photo)

Some might consider the Iowa GOP platform a little extreme

COMMENTARY | August 14, 2006

Corporal punishment, no IRS and no income tax, teacher-led school prayer, concealed weapons, creationism. Should a group with a platform like that have a key role in picking presidential candidates?

This is an expanded version of a column that appeared in the Des Moines Register.

By Gilbert Cranberg

Iowa’s caucuses aren’t due to be held for 17 months, but scarcely a day goes by without a presidential hopeful prowling the state. In relatively short order the press corps will follow, filing the usual stories about how the candidates try to connect with down-home Iowans they chat up in living rooms and small-town cafes. Meanwhile a major story already has been missed. On June 17, the state Republican convention adopted a platform that can only be described as extremist. No mainstream news pages, including the Des Moines Register’s, reported on the event.

Since Iowa’s caucuses kick-off the presidential nominating parade, they are in an early position to boost or break candidates. The compelling question raised by the Iowa GOP’s platform is whether a party that stands for extremism ought to have undue clout in the presidential selection process. Having missed the story, the press muffed the opportunity to pursue the angle.

The 182 planks in the Republican platform are a litany of virtually every far-right-wingers’ wish list. The callous stands the party takes read like a parody of a hard-boiled skinflint’s attitude toward government, which should build prisons and conduct executions but otherwise keep its nose out of social problems. Except, of course, for abortion, which should, for all practical purposes, be outlawed. The words “needy” and “poverty” took a holiday when the platform was written.

Health care? Be sure to compensate providers, but citizens who cannot afford private health insurance should receive, at public expense, only “emergency life saving care.” The party’s support for death-bed care for indigents actually is a softening of its position of four years ago that health care is a privilege, not a right.

The platform objects to government assistance to families “for the loss of a loved one due to an act of God, natural disaster or terrorist attacks unless the individual was a member of the armed services or in the employ of the United States government.”

Teachers and principals should be free to physically punish school children by repealing the state ban on corporal punishment.

The platform favors abolition of the U.S. Department of Education. (This time around Iowa Republicans did not repeat their call to privatize the postal service.)

Iowa’s GOP would eliminate the Internal Revenue Service and repeal the 16th Amendment [”Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes....”] Revenue from the income tax would be replaced by a “national consumption tax.”

The party wants teacher-led prayer in schools, display of the Ten Commandments and “use of the Bible as a textbook.” When not beating their charges, educators would teach “alternative theories on the origins of life including Darwinian Evolution, Creation Science or Intelligent Design,” each “given equal weight in presentation.” The concept of “separation of church and state” would be a thing of the past.

So, too, would be affirmative action and the minimum wage, which would be set not by government but by “the market place.”

There would be no tax increases, not even on alcohol or cigarettes, nor financial support for the United Nations nor government support for the arts nor public money for embryonic stem cell research, but there would be a “right to carry a concealed weapon.”

There’s plenty more in the platform, much of it hostile to minorities, the disadvantaged and immigrants -- e.g., a demand for English-only ballots,  a proposal to require a picture ID to vote in a state with a history of clean elections, support for repeal of federal and state hate crimes legislation.  

It’s customary to dismiss party platforms as so much meaningless blather, but this one provides a window into the thinking of people in a position to make a difference. The single most significant feature of Iowa’s Republican caucuses is that only about 20 percent of registered party members attend. That minority tends to be the most ideologically committed.

The combination of small numbers and high motivation makes the caucuses an ideal place for well-organized groups to wield maximum influence. In 1988, Pat Roberston’s religious followers parlayed the combination to a second-place caucus finish for the right-wing preacher, who outpolled the party’s eventual nominee, George H.W. Bush. If Republican presidential hopefuls follow Robertson’s lead this time around, they will beat the bushes for the conservatives and reactionaries most likely to attend the caucuses.

One of these days the rest of the country will realize that the Iowa GOP has been captured by a tiny slice of the electorate, and it will wonder why in the world Iowa should have such a choice spot in the presidential nominating process – but only if the press does better than it has to date.

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