Back in June, our writer Jim noted the emergence of a shadow of a new political party in the USA. It calls itself 1787, and has declared that it will run a candidate for President of the United States in 2016.
The Democratic Party has proven to be an untrustworthy ally for liberal Americans, and the Green Party has been both ineffective and just plain odd. The Libertarian Party promotes dangerous schemes that would concentrate power even more densely in the hands of corporations and the wealthy. The Republican Party is occupied by a combination of furious bigots and arrogant economic elitists.
So, when a new political party comes along, I’m willing to seriously consider it. Serious consideration means looking beneath the superficial gloss, though. In fact, 1787 is encouraging critical scrutiny of its plans, writing to the FEC, “We encourage every American to work hard to prove us wrong, because that is the best way to find the best solutions.”
Taking 1787 up on its offer, I find some troubling pieces of information.
Jim has already pointed out that the bylaws of 1787 allow for Board of Directors to control the way the political party operates, without any democratic input from the membership. That’s a serious problem that caused Unity08 and Americans Elect, other recent attempts at creating new political parties, to lose credibility and fall apart.
1787’s political philosophy is extremely vague, amounting to a new version of Ross Perot plan to govern by getting smart people together to come up with intelligent policies. 1787 writes to the FEC, “1787 has one goal: to find intelligent and sustainable solutions for our national challenges. Every policy is grounded in extensive research and common sense. There is no preconceived agenda, no inflexible platform, and no misplaced loyalty to special interest groups.” What is there to 1787, then? Intelligence and sustainability aren’t really differentiating points. Every political party has intelligent members, among the not-so-intelligent members. Every political party seeks to sustain its policies. What does “common sense” mean, to 1787’s leadership? Squinting at a problem and seeing what feels right?
That squint and see what feels right has been employed by 1787’s founder and Chairman, Emily Mathews. To help promote 1787, Mathews has written a thin book entitled The Butterfly Effect. In that book, Mathews argues vigorously against funding Head Start education for preschool children. She wants to see Head Start completely thrown out, because, she concludes, Head Start has failed. Mathews bases this conclusion, however, on a single study which was profoundly flawed. The study purported to compare children who went to Head Start programs with children who did not, but many of the children who were recorded as going to Head Start actually stopped attending the program early on during the study. Furthermore, many children in the control group actually went to other preschool programs, rather than not attending preschool at all, which is what would happen if, as Mathews recommends, Head Start is completely dismantled.
How could Emily Mathews support the destruction of Head Start education programs, on the basis of one flawed study? Well, she’s a Texas Republican. Mathews ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican in 2004 – but was soundly defeated by her rivals. Mathews received only 2.72 percent of the vote in the Republican primary.
The Texas shines through in 1787 again as the new political party proposes using “fossil fuel as a bridge” between fossil fuels and environmentally responsible fuels. That’s like proposing Manhattan as a bridge between Manhattan and Long Island.
1787 has so far completely failed to address the NSA spying scandal. Both on the party’s web site and in The Butterfly Effect there is no discussion at all of the massive electronic surveillance system created by National Security Agency, or of the laws that have enabled the construction and maintenance of that system: The FISA Amendments Act and the Patriot Act. The complete failure of 1787 to address this issue suggests that the party’s leadership doesn’t have a particularly strong regard for the Bill of Rights.
Though 1787 sometimes claims to be completely open in its politics to whatever its members want it to be, at other times, 1787 promotes very specific political ideas. For example, in financial policy, 1787 promotes “New standards for credit ratings and nationally recognized statistical rating organizations,” but then states that “Our policies will be fluid as our national conditions change or when we discover a better way – a perpetual work in progress.” In the area of civil liberties, 1787 has no specific policies at all – only vague assurances that freedom is important.
1787 claims to have “no misplaced loyalty to special interest groups,” but it has no mechanisms for preventing such corrupt connections from forming. It places no special campaign finance restrictions on its candidates, and, although it promises to have an independent audit, 1787 doesn’t say anything about whether the results of that audit will be shared, or will merely be shredded on receipt.
1787 proposes having a National Convention in September next year, in Philadelphia, to sort out issues like these. Perhaps it will, and perhaps the result will be a political party worth supporting. At present, however, 1787 looks like a poorly conceived mess.