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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Platform Committee Proposes Draft

The LPUS Platform Committee met Feb. 15-16 in Las Vegas to work on filling the Platform holes created by the 2006 LP convention in Portland. At that convention, delegates voted to keep only 7 of the old Platform's 62 planks. 15 deleted planks had been consolidated during the Portland Platform debate into 8 new planks, and those 8 plus the 7 retained planks form the current 15-plank LP Platform. It is widely considered incomplete due to its lack of planks on property rights, taxation, monetary policy, the environment, health care, welfare, education, labor, national defense, foreign policy, free trade, and electoral reform.

Going into Portland, members of the Reform Caucus had voted to delete 15 planks and rewrite another 17. When 55 of 62 legacy planks failed to win majorities for retention, a Reform Caucus shadow Platform committee proposed to replace the entire Platform with about a dozen single-sentence planks on a subset of issues where libertarian ideas are most popular. At the same time, traditionalists and radicals were arguing that the Portland deletions should simply be undone, yielding again a Platform of scores of detailed planks.

The 2008 Platform Committee considered both approaches and found each to be inadequate. Most members were uncomfortable with the idea of a non-comprehensive Contract With America style of platform that leaves our fundamental principles backstage and only spotlights a handful of popular near-term policy proposals that overlap with those principles. They also did not favor a resuscitation of the old platform's laundry lists, complaining issue descriptions, random philosophical justifications, vouching for efficacy, and implementation minutiae that had encrusted our shining principles over the decades. They instead worked throughout the fall and winter spelunking through a dozen past LP platforms all the way back to the 1972 original, mining them for language that can describe for each issue what the Bylaws mean by "a libertarian direction in public policy". The goal was to build a "Pure Principles" platform that states for each policy area the timeless libertarian principles that are consistent with both incremental reform and radical ultimate goals.

As the February Vegas meeting approached, PlatCom interim Chair Alicia Mattson conducted a survey of past and present LP members and NatCon delegates. The survey indicated that over 75% of likely convention delegates want a Platform that "states our positions [even where] mainstream Libertarian thought is at odds with what most voters want", but that also provides"little to no implementation detail [rather than] comprehensive detail". 60% also agreed we should "delete the old planks and start from a clean slate" rather than "amend the existing language".

The first question in Vegas was whether to seat LNC-appointed alternates for the two LNC-appointed PlatCom members who were absent from what was apparently the first PlatCom since 1983 to meet well ahead of the convention weekend. A tie vote upheld the ruling that the sentence "Ranked alternates may be named by the appointing bodies to fill any vacancies in the Convention Committees" excludes similar purposes such as filling absences. There was not much dispute over how to interpret that sentence, and the main objection seemed to be that past PlatComs as well as the LNC had set a precedent for seating alternates for absences. The Chair quoted the rule saying that precedents must give way to rules when they conflict. She also pointed out that 1) the LNC is a board authorized (just as committees are forbidden) to adopt extra rules, 2) the LNC had adopted such an absence-filling rule, and 3) the LNC alternates rule did not have a "to fill any vacancies" qualification. A majority on PlatCom seemed to agree the Bylaws Committee should change the rules to say that alternates may fill absences.

The PlatCom largely accepted the recommendations of the subcommittee proposal for a platform of roughly 25 planks of recycled language organized into three sections: Personal Liberty, Economic Liberty, and Securing Liberty. (The old Platform had four sections, including one that classified things like agriculture, education, and population as "Domestic Ills".) The PlatCom was unhappy with the language available for recycling on Education, Environment and Resources, and included three one-sentence planks as placeholders for them. It also adopted two recommendations to amend its gay rights and financial markets planks with some novel language to address concerns with the recycled language. The gay rights amendment benefited from the advice of the two alternates, who are both officers of Outright Libertarians.

Aside from the subcommittee recommendations, the PlatCom proposed two historic changes. The first is to replace all abortion language with simply this: "We recognize that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on both sides. Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for other people's abortions, nor should any government or individual force a woman to have an abortion."

The second is to remove the initial "cult of the omnipotent" sentence of the Statement of Principles, a move which LP founder David Nolan recommended as preferable to replacing it with the novel language that the committee had been considering. He said that at an early 1990's LP convention this change came within one vote of the required supermajority margin for passage. (As head of the Restore04 caucus, Nolan was also requested by the committee to submit a draft the 2004/2006 hybrid platform that the caucus has reportedly been working on.)

No PlatCom member voted against recommending that the Denver delegates delete all 15 planks from the 2006 Platform. With a quorum varying between 13 and 15 members, only 6 of 30 recommendations attracted more than one nay for adoption, and only 3 of them more than two. The committee's current report and draft will be available at

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