Columns » Max Brantley

Core beliefs

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I was surprised to get a comment on our Arkansas Blog the other day complaining that the Arkansas Democratic Party’s platform had explicitly opposed same-sex marriage. Not exactly, I learned, after looking up the 2004 state Democratic Party platform on-line. It says: “The Democratic Party recognizes that marriage is a union between a man and a woman as defined by Arkansas law.” Well, sure. That’s the law. I say if Democrats are going to wuss out, why not go all the way. Why not also proclaim joy that the constitution not only prevents same-sex marriage, it prevents any sort of fair or convenient treatment of families comprising a loving couple of the same sex. This isn’t the only issue where the party tap-dances. That has for years been its problem against an unambiguous Republican Party sales pitch. If Democrats are going to get nailed for being soft on the red meat flavor of the day — be it God, guns, gays or abortion — why not talk straight? Where Democrats do seem to talk straight, it’s the delivery that’s lacking. For example, the Democratic platform endorses the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. But Democratic lawmakers would never endorse repeal of the right-to-work law or extend collective bargaining to public employees. The platform also espouses a living wage and fair benefits, but the recent Democratic legislature wouldn’t raise the minimum wage a dime or ease the punitive workers comp law. Democrats oppose sexual harassment in the workplace and discrimination for any reason, including sexual orientation, but the legislature won’t pass the Equal Rights Amendment or extend civil rights protection to sexual minorities. Prayer? Individual prayer in school is legal, the platform notes, but the party “upholds the constitutional separation” of church and state. Only in the breach, we’d observe. The Arkansas legislature wouldn’t pass a resolution endorsing that bedrock concept. The Democratic platform opposes school vouchers, as damaging to the public schools. But many Democrats in the legislature are fighting to send money to unproven startup charter schools, which are often merely private schools in which the voucher money is deposited directly, rather than passing through a parent first. Credit the platform for espousing adoption of hate-crime legislation. Credit the majority Democratic legislature for its failure to pass. Also the state’s general uneasiness, if not hatred, toward homosexuals. The Democratic platform opposes elimination of any tax that could lead to devastation of public schools. But without Democrats, this legislature never would have passed legislation that will steal base school millage for private developers’ projects, from movie theaters to sporting good stores. We need a highway program, the platform says, but it’ll take money. The platform encourages Democrats to lead. In which direction, it doesn’t say. Are you green? The Democratic platform is for you, too. Government should have a balanced policy, but “err on the side of the preservation of the environment.” That’s why Democratic legislators want to fill wetlands in North Little Rock to build a shopping center and drain East Arkansas dry to irrigate an already heavily subsidized rice crop. Guns, we should add, are nowhere mentioned. I’m not demanding that Democratic legislators uphold the platform. I just wish they’d give an indication they’d read it.

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