Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"Walking the Plank": Fine-Tuning the NDP Platform

by Kyle Michaelis
Next weekend, the Nebraska Democratic Party will be holding its 2006 Convention in the great city of Grand Island. As a delegate, I take very seriously my limited role in crafting a progressive and inviting platform of which our candidates and our voters can be proud - even if no one looks at the damn thing until the next Convention two years from now. In theory, this is the document that guides the party, its leadership, and its message during that span. As such, I respect the platform for what it should be, regardless of how little bearing such an idea might actually have in reality.

And, in case you haven't noticed, I can be an opinionated little bugger who can be a little bit less than humble in declaring what's best for the Democratic Party, the state of Nebraska, and the voters of both. This sort of political self-pleasuring is right up my alley.

Well, none of this amounts to the desire or the ambition to make too radical an overhaul of the existing platform. What the NDP has is already a pretty good document crafted over years - with the input of hundreds of people just as passionate as myself, many of whom were probably a whole lot more intelligent and better informed.

Still, I can't help noting there are some glaring omissions, as well as some positions that could use some definite fine-tuning in their political and linguistic character. Although time is short to do this properly, I hope to elicit some readers' reactions and opinions on a few of these issues, particularly my few meager proposals for the platform's immediate improvement.

Now, for me, the key to a good platform position is principled viability. The position should speak to some underlying Democratic Party principle, reflecting the will of the majority without needlessly alienating those of alternative viewpoints - particularly on issues of secondary importance (a rather subjective concept in itself). If a plank lacks the substance to carve out a clear position, it shouldn't be taking up space and distracting from those parts of the platform that actually mean something. Still, there's a delicate balance that needs to be established between standing on principle and respecting the diversity of thought and perspective that has been a traditional source of the Democratic coalition's strength.

Not sure how this will work out. But, we'll give it a try just to see how things go. And, really, what better place to start than the ever-divisive issue of abortion - addressed in the 2004 Platform under the title "Reproductive Rights." That plank reads:
The Nebraska Democratic Party recognizes that:
*We live in a pluralistic society.
*Individuals have a constitutional right to privacy.
*The question of abortion is a personal, medical, philosophical, and religious issue.
*Government intrusion into deeply personal decisions runs counter to democratic principles.

Therefore, the Nebraska Democratic Party supports the right of individuals to make reproductive choices in accordance with their personal, philosophical, and religious beliefs. We further support the rights of all individuals to petition the government for changes in the abortions laws in a peaceful, lawful manner.

Thoughts? Opinions? While I respect this planks attempts at inclusiveness, I personally believe it engages on the issue of "reproductive rights" at too grand a scale - to the point that readers on both sides of the debate are going to be suspicious or unresponsive.

How to change that? For starters, a Constitutional right to privacy goes far beyond the overly-politicized issue of abortion. Its recognition is important enough to deserve a plank of its own. Meanwhile, noting that "we live in a pluralistic society" - as a preface to a controversial position - is a pretty insulting bit of mealy-mouthed pandering that could just as well be used to preemptively undermine any potentially controversial plank. In that case, the issue shouldn't be addressed to begin with.

But, whether over-hyped or not, it would be irresponsible to just wash our hands of so complicated an issue with so much importance to the development of the religious and political climates of 21st Century America. Moreover, the original plank was rightfully titled "Reproductive Rights" because the central issue truly does extend beyond the too-convenient pro-choice/anti-abortion dichotomy.

The following is my attempt at clarifying and refining the "Reproductive Rights" plank to make it better fulfill the difficult mission before it:
The Nebraska Democratic Party respects and recognizes women's rights to make their own reproductive and medical decisions. We call on those who oppose abortion for reasons of conscience to join us in reducing their number by promoting adoption, improving sex education, expanding access to contraception, and actively reengaging in America's War on Poverty.

So, what do you think? An improvement? I'm aiming for something more straight-forward and honest that maintains inclusiveness by stating a shared purpose rather than weakly acknowledging that different opinions exist.

Of course, I would suggest this follow recognition of a constitutional right to privacy - an issue too important during the ongoing "War on Terror" to be confined to discussion of women's reproductive choices.

Additions? Alternative language? Criticism? Feel free to submit whatever you like - consider this a community project, and we'll see what, if anything, we come up with. And, over the next week, I'll try to offer up a few more proposals on other issues for which we can do the same - maybe building a better NDP platform in the process (for whatever that is worth).


Blogger Daily Bulldog said...

You are a delegate??

HA HA ha ha HA ha ha!!!!

Are you flippin' serious?

No wonder the Dems in this state are in such disarray. I thought the Rs were inadequate, but you???

Ha ha ha ha!!!!

Sorry, I have to excuse myself....

Anonymous Dundee Reader said...

I'd strike that last sentence re: reproductive rights. That's what makes it sound iffy! It's also a "duh" point - you either do or don't support the democratic process. Unless that phrase is tacked on to the end of the party position statement on EVERY issue, it comes across as a cop out.

Anonymous Dundee Reader said...

Also, Kyle - I like your reworking, but I'd leave the "promoting adoption" to later in the list. Yes, that's symantic, but it makes a difference. I might also specify promoting sex education beyond 'abstinance' AND mention the need to support & engage in prevention education re: sexual violence. Victimization is VERY CLOSELY related to early "activity", promiscuity and teen pregnancy (and for the record, the younger the mom, the older the dad - well established fact). And my personal belief is that prevention ed isn't just aimed at girls, it's aimed at both genders.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...


Comprehensive sex education already has its own plank, around which there remains some confusion as to the exact language (otherwise, I would post it here). But, rest assured, it's in there. Right now, however, it calls for a system in-which parents can opt their children out of sex ed. I see no legitimate reason to single-out this important subject and to allow a few unfortunate students to remain ignorant of life-saving facts about basic sexual health.

Good call on the issue of sexual victimization, though. If I'm not mistaken, that would go along nicely with the language submitted above.

Anonymous JFinNe said...

Calling on those "who oppose abortion...." is like having a convention of Wets and Drys. If there was ever a year when Dems need to take positive Stands as opposed to compromises, it is now.

Personally, I would like the Convention to come out with an Impeach Bush Now statement.

Blogger Karl said...


I would be wary about the wording of sexual education and expanding access to contraception right next to each other in the statement. I think some people might interpret this as teaching the use of contraception and making the them freely accessible at the school, which I personally believe is the right thing to do, but could open candidates to attacks on not having Nebraska Values and promoting teenage promiscuity. I think it will cost votes in the smaller school districts.

Anonymous randy said...

i appreciate the way you linked the issue with economic fairness, but im wondering if rather than "war on poverty" something more specific. child healthcare for example.

Anonymous Patrick said...


Given the divisions within the party on this issue a somewhat abiguous statement may be all that can be managed. I personally like where HRC is on this issue. The following borrows largely from her website (and the current NDP statement):

“The Nebraska Democratic Party believes that abortion should safe, legal, and rare. We stongly support efforts to reduce the number of abortions through the promotion of adoption and expansion of family planning services.

The United States Constitution protects democracy by forbidding government intrusion into deeply personal decisions. Government control of such deeply personal decisions, from compelled pregnancy in Communist Romania to the limits on children enforced by China today, conflicts with the fundamental principles of democracy and freedom which all Americans respect and enjoy.

The Nebraska Democratic Party recognizes that the issue of abortion is a personal, medical, philosophical, and religious issue. We respect the views of individuals that differ from those adopted here and their right to a civil, peacful discussion of the issue.

The Nebraska Democratic Party further believes that sound medical science, rather than partisan politics, should dictate whether particular contraceptives are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.”

“Safe, legal, and rare” is a short, but meaningful phrase that conveys the important points of the NDP position in an easy to remember form. Safe = if we outlaw abortion young women in trouble will seek them out anyway and will end up in life-threatening situations. Legal = constitutional support of the right. Rare = we care about reducing abortion to the lowest level possible.

A quick note on your suggestion: You don’t mention the Constitution. The fundamental disagreement on abortion, at least from my perspective, is between those who believe that abortion is not protected in any way by the US Constitution and is therefore subject to any rational state regulation and those who believe that it is protected to at least some degree by the Constituion and not subject to state (or Congressional) regulation not related to “compelling” interests. I think a position statement on abortion has to say something about the Constituion.



P.S. Thanks for continuing the interesting posts – as a former Nebraskan I enjoy keeping up on what’s going on back home. Also enjoy the convention – I attended in 2000.

Fun story from convention 2000: I shook hands with Bob Kerrey (I always screw up the last name so I apologize if I have done it again) and he said something like “Thanks for supporting me/us, PATRICK.” I was so excited that he knew my name – I wondered if somebody I knew who worked for him had told him that I was attending the convention. I was really excited and puzzled for about five minutes until I realized I was wearing a name tag.

Anyway, have fun.


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