Platform debate: Convention delegates make major/minor changes
While most of the attention was focused on nominating a presidential ticket for the November elections, the delegates to the 1996 Libertarian Party National Presidential Nominating Convention took care of other important business as well.
A number of changes -- some major and some minor -- were made to the Libertarian Party Platform.
Delegates voted by computer-scanned ballot to express their approval or disapproval of each plank of the platform.
All planks were approved by the delegates by about 85-90 percent, except "Children's Rights," which was approved by 53 percent, and "Women's Rights and Abortion," which was approved by about 73 percent.
Since all planks were approved by a majority of the delegates, no planks automatically required amendment or deletion, as the new procedure called for.
Still, delegates did make a number of changes to the platform, either through recommendations from the platform committee or from proposals from the floor.
As foretold by the close vote in the computer balloting, one of the most significant changes was to come with the deletion of the "Children's Rights" plank. Those in favor of dropping the plank argued that it led to confusion over just what rights the LP believed children should have. The plank stated, in part, "Children are human beings and, as such, have all the rights of human beings." Some argued that this meant a three-year-old had the right to own a gun, drive a car, etc.
Opposition to the deletion of the plank came from some delegates who felt that the plank had important language in it -- such as opposition to curfew laws -- and that while the LP is trying to appeal to young people it would be a mistake to ignore them completely by deleting the plank in its entirety.
Proponents of the deletion of the plank, however, won with the argument that if something in the platform is unclear and ambiguous, it should be deleted.
While the Children's Rights plank was dropped, a new plank entitled "Sexual Rights" was added.
The new plank states: "We affirm the right of adults to private choice in consensual sexual activity.
"Government must neither dictate, prohibit, control, nor encourage any private lifestyle, living arrangement or contractual relationship.
"We call for repeal of all legislation and government policies intended to condemn, affirm, encourage or discourage sexual lifestyles or any set of attitudes about such lifestyles."
The "Women's Rights and Abortion" plank also was debated at some length. In an attempt to recognize that Libertarians can have honest views on both sides of the abortion issue, the following new wording for the plank was approved:
"We hold that individual rights should not be denied or abridged on the basis of sex. We call for repeal of all laws discriminating against women, such as protective labor laws and marriage or divorce laws which deny the full rights of men and women. We oppose all laws likely to impose restrictions on free choice and private property or to widen tyranny through reverse discrimination.
"Recognizing that abortion is a very sensitive issue and that libertarians can hold good-faith views on both sides, we believe the government should be kept entirely out of the question, allowing all individuals to be guided by their own consciences. We oppose all restrictions on the sale of RU 486, and on the sale of menstruation-inducing contragestive pills, which block fertilized eggs from attaching themselves to the womb. We oppose legislation restricting or subsidizing women's access to abortion or other reproductive health services; this includes requiring consent of the prospective father, waiting periods, and mandatory indoctrination on fetal development, as well as Medicaid or any other taxpayer funding. It is particularly harsh to force someone who believes that abortion is murder to pay for another's abortion.
"We also condemn state-mandated abortions.
"It is the right and obligation of the pregnant woman, not the state, to decide the desirability or appropriateness of prenatal testing, Caesarean births, fetal surgery, voluntary surrogacy arrangements, and/or home births."
One additional sentence was inserted in the "Right to Property" plank. The new sentence reads: "We specifically condemn all government interference in the operation of private businesses, such as restaurants and airlines, by either requiring or prohibiting designated smoking or non-smoking areas for their employees or their customers."
Showing concern for privacy issues relating to computer encryption technology, the delegates approved a replacement paragraph in the "Protection of Privacy" plank addressing that issue. The new paragraph reads: "We oppose all restrictions and regulations on the private development, sale, and use of encryption technology. We specifically oppose any requirement for disclosure of encryption methods or keys, including the government's proposals for so-called "key escrow" which is truly government access to keys, and any requirement for use of government-specified devices or protocols. We also oppose government classification of civilian research on encryption methods."
The old "Discrimination" plank was renamed "Freedom of Association and Government Discrimination." In addition, one word was changed -- "society" to "government" -- in the first paragraph of the plank, and the second paragraph was rewritten. The new wording is as follows: "Discrimination imposed by the government has brought disruption in normal relationships of people, set neighbor against neighbor, created gross injustices, destroyed voluntary communities, and diminished human potential. Anti-discrimination laws enforced by the government are the reverse side of the coin, and will for the same reasons create the same problems. Consequently, we oppose any government attempts to regulate private discrimination, including choices and preferences, in employment, housing, and privately owned businesses. The right to trade includes the right not to trade -- for any reasons whatsoever; the right of association includes the right not to associate, for exercise of the right depends upon mutual consent."
Going into the convention, it was clear that the "Tarriffs and Quotas" plank was going to come under scrutiny. Because party members hold differing opinions on the wisdom of NAFTA and GATT, new wording was sought that would be more acceptable to all members. The delegates included new language in the plank specifically addressing NAFTA and GATT, and changed the title -- it is now titled "Trade Barriers."
The new plank reads: "Like subsidies, tariffs and quotas serve only to give special treatment to favored special interests and to diminish the welfare of consumers and other individuals, as do point-of-origin or content regulation. These measures also reduce the scope of contracts and understanding among different peoples. We therefore support abolition of all trade barriers and all government-sponsored export-promotion programs, as well as the U.S. International Trade Commission and the U.S. Court of International Trade. We affirm this as a unilateral policy, independent of the trade policies of other nations. Concurrent with the adoption of this policy shall be the complete and unilateral withdrawal from all international trade agreements including the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)."
The "Health Care" plank in the platform was amended slightly to include wording relating to the medical use of marijuana and other drugs. A revised paragraph now reads: "We condemn efforts by government to impose a medical orthodoxy on society. We specifically condemn attempts by the FDA to restrict the use of vitamins, herbs, and other supplements. Until such time as the tyrannical and futile drug prohibition is repealed, we advocate immediate reclassification of all drugs, particularly marijuana and heroin, to make them available for medicinal use." Additional wording from the same paragraph was retained in a new paragraph.
In addition, a minor change was made to the "Freedom and Responsibility" plank, and "The War on Drugs" was moved in the platform, but the wording was not changed.
There also was an attempt to change the wording of the "Statement of Principles." The first sentence of the statement declares: "We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual." The words "cult of the omnipotent state" have bothered many members over the years, concerned that the language can "frighten" new or potential Libertarians.
According to the party bylaws, however, it takes seven-eighths of the delegates to agree on a change in the Statement of Principles. A quick poll of the delegates showed that although a majority of the delegates would approve a change, the seven-eighths super majority would not be in favor. Therefore, the statement stands as it has for years.