The Corner

On Those ‘Odd’ Parts of the GOP Platform

The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer has posted a list, titled “The 10 oddest items in the GOP platform.” Some of the items are debatable, to be sure. But the most weighty of them are not only not “odd” but are actually vital to conservatives of all stripes. Among Plumer’s complaints:

1) Repeal the Sixteenth Amendment! Maybe… “In any restructuring of federal taxation, to guard against hypertaxation of the American people, any value added tax or national sales tax must be tied to the simultaneous repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment, which established the federal income tax.”

Sounds good to me! What could be more important to advocates of limited government and low taxation than ensuring that changing the manner in which the federal government collects taxation is not transmuted into an invitation massively to increase revenues? Tax rates and government grow like Topsy; it is a rule of the universe. The Sixteenth Amendment, which allowed for the federal income tax, was passed in 1913, in which year a 7 percent top rate was paid on income above $500,000 or more (in 1913 dollars, no less). By 1916, on income above $2,000,000, this had reached 15 percent, and by 1921, it was 73 percent on income above $1,000,000. Yes, the First World War accounted for (most of) the spike. But at what level did it settle at after the war was over? Around 25 percent on incomes of $100,000. Not only was this a world away from the original 7 percent top rate, but it was also the last time in American history that it would be this low.

The Depression and Second World War pushed this top rate slowly upwards, first to 63 percent, then to 79 percent, then 81, 88, and 94 percent in 1945. Since that time, it has never dropped below 28 percent. For most the time, it has been much — much — higher (take a look here). Republicans, quite rightly, have no faith whatsoever that any tax introduced alongside the income tax wouldn’t creep up and up until both were strangling the life out of the republic. The federal government should be made to choose between forms of taxation. Those who consider that fears of huge tax increases are rooted in paranoia should have no issue with this arrangement.

Plumer continues:

3) Defend the Electoral College at all costs. “We oppose the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact or any other scheme to abolish or distort the procedures of the Electoral College.” (See here for an explanation of the National Popular Vote compact.)

Count me in. The Electoral College is crucial both to the federal nature of the United States and to the anti-majoritarianism built into the Constitution. As George Will has argued:

Critics of the Electoral College say it makes some people’s votes more powerful than others’. This is true. In 1996, 211,571 Wyoming voters cast presidential ballots, awarding three electoral votes, one for every 70,523 voters, whereas 10,019,484 California voters awarded 54 electoral votes, one for every 185,546 voters.

So what? Do critics want to abolish the Senate as well? Delaware, the least populous state in 1789, understandably was the first to ratify the Constitution with its equal representation of states in the Senate: Virginia, the most populous, had 11 times more voters. Today Wyoming’s senators’ votes can cancel those of California’s senators, who represent 69 times more people. If that offends you, so does America’s constitutional federalism.

As Will implies, the states are not merely regional departments of the federal government but sovereign entities in their own right. Republicans are right to insist that this remains the case, and supporting the Electoral College is one of the most effective ways in which they can do so. Plumer likely considers this “odd” because he would answer Will’s rhetorical question with a “yes, constitutional federalism offends me.” That is fair enough. But constitutional federalism most definition does not offend most Republicans, which is why an endorsement of it is in their platform.


6) Selective statehood. “We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state if they freely so determine.” So, good news for Puerto Rico. But don’t get too excited, D.C.: “We oppose statehood for the District of Columbia.”

Again, quite right. Puerto Rico is not comparable to Washington, D.C., and to pretend otherwise is to misunderstand what the District of Columbia is supposed to be and why it is supposed to be that way. Whether or not one considers Puerto Rico to be a good candidate for statehood — and the platform does not pass judgement on the question — the territory sits in a similar position to that in which Hawaii found itself prior to 1959 and in which many of the former territories found themselves prior to admission to the union. By contrast, Washington, D.C., as James Madison argued in Federalist No. 43, is the national capital — not a state — and there are distinct benefits to keeping it in a category of its own. Madison argued that “a dependence of the members of the general government on the State comprehending the seat of the government, for protection in the exercise of their duty, might bring on the national councils an imputation of awe or influence, equally dishonorable to the government and dissatisfactory to the other members of the Confederacy.” The Republicans’ support for one and opposition to the other are only confusing or inconsistent to those who do not understand the nation’s history.

As regards the rest? Well, there are calls to root out “ideological bias” in the university system, to end dependence on “foreign imports of fertilizer,” to “vigorously enforce” the pornography and obscenity laws, to investigate a return to the Gold Standard, to oppose a minimum wage for the Mariana Islands, to endorse “liberty” as the driver of innovation and entrepreneurship, and to reform the political culture inside Washington, D.C. Taken together, these strike me as a rather predictable combination of Republican philosophical orthodoxy and the inevitable products of the coalition politics to which both parties claim fealty. Big tents hold many people — this is hardly news. In truth, that Plumer went through the whole thing and could find only these ten instances to support his claims of “oddity” is the bigger story this afternoon. One might well say, Bravo!



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