Gays, God and grammar: On the 2016 Texas GOP platform

Good morning Austin:

Just as it appeared Donald Trump had slain political correctness, along comes its condescending cousin – grammatical correctness.

 

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The story on the popular liberal web site continues:

Due to a grammatical error in the section condemning homosexuality in the 2016 Texas Republican platform, the state party has actually suggested that the “majority of Texans” are gay and that the behavior of LGBT people is “ordained by God.”

The section reads:

Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that has been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nations founders, and shared by the majority of Texans.

The copy editors at NPR noted that by using the singular “has” instead of “have,” the rest of the sentence refers to “behavior” instead of “truths.” NPR noted that the 2014 Texas Republican platform does not contain the same errors.

Here is the 2014 version:

Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that have been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nation’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans.

Yes indeed. Two years ago, the same sentiment was expressed more correctly, using the word “have” instead of “has,” and, unnoticed or unmentioned by the punctuation police, who may be a whole different constabulary from the grammar gendarmes, with an apostrophe that made an honest possessive of nation’s founders.

The story was picked up far and wide – a light and easy way to characterize Texas Republicans as not just homophobic bigots but also grammatical dunces.

TPM cited NPR. NPR cited Texas Monthly. Texas Monthly cited a web site, The New Civil Rights Movement, where John Wright,  under the headline, Grammar Fail: Texas GOP Platform May Actually Imply That Most Texans Are Gay; Plank Also Suggests Founding Fathers Supported Homosexuality, wrote:

Some members of the Texas Republican Party are questioning the wording of an anti-gay plank in the party’s platform, saying it mistakenly implies that the majority of the state’s residents are gay. 

“There’s a grammatical argument going on,” said Rudy Oeftering, vice president of the LGBT Republican group Metroplex Republicans, who brought the issue to my attention. “Some are insisting the use of commas in the ‘Homosexuality’ plank in the platform could be interpreted as saying that the founders and the majority of Texans are gay.” 

OK. I will resist the temptation to speculate on which of the founders were gay.

But, it seems the fuss about the platform’s language is a bit puerile – as if to say, “Ha, ha, you said most Texans are gay.”

Regrettably, I missed the state convention, and particularly missed the platform deliberations, a personal favorite. Last week I called, Stephen Broden, a member of the Platform and Resolutions Committee, to catch up on what I missed.

First, it was a pleasure talking to Broden, pastor  of Fair Park Bible Fellowship Church in Dallas. As a pastor, it is not surprising that he is extraordinarily well-spoken. But he is an ideal interview. He speaks deliberately, allowing me time to keep up taking notes, and he speaks in complete and coherent thoughts, the punctuation present even in the spoken word.

The homosexuality plank has been a source of controversy at the Republican convention, in 2014 and 2016.

The sentences following the one in question reads as follows:

Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples. We oppose the granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 2.16.39 AMThe first, contested sentence, about the Biblical underpinnings for this plank, had been dropped by the platform subcommittee that brought it to the full committee.

“It’s very rare that any plank in the platform gives you a why. If we’re not going to say why on everything else, why are we adding it to this one,” said Jeff Davis, head of the Texas Log Cabin Republicans, who wants to see the whole plank go, and considers every bit of chipping away at it progress.

But, when it came before the full committee, Broden moved to have the opening sentence restored.

Said Broden:

The first sentence is an explanation. It is the context of why it is we believe that way. Without that sentence, it presents an opinion without any justifiable reason. The why behind that is in the first sentence.

Broden’s motion was to restore the language – with its correct grammar and punctuation – to the platform.
Somewhere, in the retyping, mistakes were made – have became has, an apostrophe was lost. But, as someone who writes for a living – and, even in this day and age (and not day in age – “a nonsensical eggcorn derived from a mishearing of day and age’) that means typing – I am sympathetic to how easy it is to simply screw up.
And, for that, Broden said, “We’re being called troglodytes again.”
Pastor Stephen Broden

Pastor Stephen Broden

In an interview last week with Jay Leeson, co-host of West Texas Drive on KRFE AM 580 in  Lubbock, Texas GOP Chairman Tom  Mechler said he found the grammar controversy “humorous.”
“It’s a typo. We all know it’s a typo,” said Mechler, who did yeoman work as chair of the Platform Committee in 2014, referring to the “total chaos” of pulling the final platform language together on the fly. “It’s being corrected.”
Mechler was elected at the state convention to his first full term as Texas Republican chairman in a contested race in which a brightly-colored mailer, sans typos, supporting his further-right opponent, declared, “it’s time to end Tom Mechler’s disgusting homosexual agenda.”
Meanwhile Mechler told Leeson:
The media picks through our platform every two years with a fine-tooth comb.  They go out there and they’re always looking for something and I never hear them doing that to the Democratic platform, and I’m sure they have typos on their side as well. The media never does that. It would be nice if that scrutiny was both ways.

Attention  Celia Israel, the Austin representative, who is chairing the Democratic Party Platform Committee: Mind your p’s and q’s, apostrophes, commas and subject-verb agreement.

But, Mechler undersells the news value of his party’s platform.

It does not require a fine-tooth comb, even if, as Sean Collins Walsh reported from Dallas, the convention defeated an effort on the floor to add a Texas secession plank to the platform that would have earned Texas Republicans national, even international headlines, though, “t

Charles Pierce’s piece on the platform in Esquire was headlined, Texas Republicans Accidentally Called the Majority of Texans Homosexuals: As part of an amazingly batsh*t party platform.

Connoisseurs of American wingnuttery wait with great anticipation every four years for the release of the Texas Republican state platform. It is like Christmas morning. We wait for it the way America waited for that first cold beer on the evening of December 4, 1933. This is the real deal, the pure uncut hallucinogen of all American political ideology, the ultimate monster from the conservative Id. And this is not produced from some compound in Idaho. It is not stapled to a lamp post in downtown Coeur d’Alene. It is the official adopted philosophy of the Republican party in one of the most important states in the Union.

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Read the whole thing. Gaze in awe. I swear, every time the Texas GOP produces one of these documents, it’s like somebody cleaned out every bad idea in the attic of American history and decided to throw a yard sale.

One small correction – connoisseurs have their appetite sated every two years, not every four.

But Pierce’s point is that the Texas Republican Party Platform is an interesting and provocative and ultimately important document.

Indeed, the approval of the Texas Republican Party Platform in Dallas may have been worthy of the Guinness Book of Records. With some 8,000 registered delegates, the Texas Republican State Convention is renowned for being larger than any other convention in the United States, including the national nominating conventions.

But, in an innovation this year, every delegate voted in a paper ballot that looked like a standardized test on each of 262 platform planks – from the preamble to the five action items for the next legislative session – with only those that passed being included in the platform that was brought to the floor for an up or down vote. (All 262 planks passed by large, though varying, margins.)

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Perhaps never before had so many delegates at any American political convention voted on so many individual platform items.

If anything, it seems the platform did not get its due in terms of the publicity it generated.

I think that If Sen. Ted Cruz had still been in the presidential race, still trying to stop the candidate of New York values from claiming the Republican nomination, the platform would have received much more national attention. Cruz would have faced relentless questioning about whether the Texas Republican Party platform accurately described his values.

There is, for example, a Texas Republican platform chestnut –  what the John Birch Society describes as its signature issue – getting the U.S. out of the United Nations and the United Nations out of the U.S.

Then there is the even more retro campaign to repeal the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, which I wrote about back in 2013.

On May 31, 1913, the 17th Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution providing for the popular election of U.S. senators and doing away with the Founding Fathers’ design, which vested that power with state legislatures. It was, at the height of the Progressive Era, an overwhelmingly popular move toward purer democracy.

One hundred years later, it has become an article of faith among many tea party activists that the 17th Amendment was a terrible mistake that undermined the federal system, reducing state power in relation to the federal government, and ought to be repealed.

For most Americans it remains an arcane issue, with a radically retro sound to it, a throwback, perhaps, to an age when generally only white, male property owners could vote. But nowhere has repealing the 17th Amendment gained more traction from political heavyweights than in Texas.

This one puzzle me, coming from the tea party. Under that system, there is no question that David Dewhurst, or perhaps Joe Straus, would be the junior senator from Texas, and definitely not Ted Cruz.

The border wall plank would, if Cruz were still contesting Trump, have sounded oddly tepid:

Border Wall – We support building a high wall with a wide gate in order to prevent illicit border crossings without preventing legal border crossings as one part of a complete border security plan. The wall will only be built where it is deemed effective and cost-efficient.

If cooler heads prevailed on secession/independence, the platform did include a strong state sovereignty plank. After all, why secede when you can nullify.

State Sovereignty: Pursuant to Article 1 Section 1 of the Texas Constitution, the federal government has impaired our right of local self-government. Therefore, Federally mandated legislation, which infringes upon the 10th Amendment rights of Texas, should be ignored, opposed, refused, and nullified. Regulation of Commerce in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution has exceeded the original intent. All attempts by the federal judiciary to rule in areas not expressly enumerated by the United States Constitution should be likewise nullified. Any federal enforcement activities that do occur in Texas should be conducted under the authority of the county sheriff.

And then there’s this.

Unelected Bureaucrats: We oppose the appointment of unelected bureaucrats and we support defunding and abolishing the departments or agencies of the Internal Revenue Service, Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Interior (specifically, the Bureau of Land Management), Transportation Security Administration, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and National Labor Relations Board. In the interim, executive decisions by departments or agencies must be reviewed and approved by Congress before taking effect.

I know Cruz made abolishing the IRS a signature issue, and has called for eliminating the Education Department. But, from reading this, it sounds like members of Congress are going to be extremely busy micro-managing virtually every federal function, or what’s left of them.

And, what about that most nefarious federal agency of them all – the EPA?

Oh, that comes under Environmental Protection, or rather:

Protection from Extreme Environmentalists: We oppose environmentalism that obstructs legitimate business interests and private property use, including the regulatory taking of property by governmental agencies. We oppose the abuse of the Endangered Species Act to confiscate and limit the use of personal property and infringement on property owner’s livelihood. “Climate Change” is a political agenda promoted to control every aspect of our lives. We support the defunding of “climate justice” initiatives and the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency and repeal of the Endangered Species Act.

For the first time, the convention platform also set five priorities for the 85th Texas Legislature:

1. Pass constitutional carry while maintaining licensing as optional for reciprocity purposes.

No more need for those stinkin’ licenses.

2. Abolish abortion by enacting legislation to stop the murder of unborn children; and to ignore and refuse to enforce any and all federal statutes, regulations, executive orders, and court rulings, which would deprive an unborn child of the right to life.

This is very interesting. Instead of calling for new restrictions on abortion that might test the limits of Roe v. Wade, this says, just ignore Roe v. Wade and let the Notorious RBG come to Texas and make something of it.

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3. Prioritize the allocation of funds to effectively secure the border through whatever means necessary, including but not limited to barriers, personnel, and technology over land, sea, and air, because the federal government refuses to secure the southern border of Texas.
 4. Call for a limited Article V convention of states for the specific purpose of restricting the power of the federal government, including the implementation of term limits, and balanced budget amendment. Any proposed amendments must be ratified by ¾ of the states.

This is Gov. Abbott’s big cause and the centerpiece of his new book, Broken But Unbowed.

5. And to replace the property tax system with an alternative other than the income tax and require voter approval to increase the overall tax burden. We request the Republican State Chair and the State Republican Executive Committee to utilize reasonable Party resources necessary to promote and support passage. It should be understood that these five priorities are not meant to diminish the requirement for the legislature to address the full platform of planks.

And the crown jewel of the platform – at the current moment in time:

Gender Identity:  We urge the enactment of legislation addressing individuals’ use of bathrooms, showers and locker rooms that correspond with their biologically determined sex.

Bathroom politics was the last straw Cruz grasped in his bid to stop Trump in Indiana.

With the Cruz campaign ended, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick became the point man at the convention on the issue, called out and dissed by White House press secretary Josh Earnest as a radio talk show host – for Patrick, manna from heaven.

 

He also appeared with Megyn Kelly on Fox, who didn’t seem impressed.

We are at a moment in time when the Big Three of Texas politics – Cruz, Abbott and Patrick – place their conservative Christian faith at the center of their politics.

Cruz frequently predicted 2016 would be a religious liberty election.

From the state platform.

Safeguarding Religious Liberties: We affirm that the public acknowledgement of God is undeniable in our history and is vital to our freedom, prosperity, and strength. We pledge our influence toward a return to the original intent of the 1st Amendment and toward dispelling the myth of separation of church and state. Tax deductions for charitable contributions are not government subsidies and give no authority for government oversight. Americans should be free to express their religious beliefs, including prayer in public places. We urge the legislature to increase the ability of faith based institutions and other organizations to assist the needy and to reduce regulation of such organizations. We also support vigorously protecting the rights of commercial establishments to refuse to provide any service or product that would infringe upon freedom of conscience of religious expression of the commercial establishments as stated in the 1st Amendment.

We are at an interesting, perhaps even historic moment.

For a half century after the 1925 Scopes Trial in Tennessee – until the rise of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, evangelical Christians retreated from the public square. The Texas Republican Party – and in particular Cruz’s 2016 campaign – may have represented the high-water mark of its resurgence.

From H.L. Mencken’s coverage of the Scopes Trial

The meaning of religious freedom, I fear, is sometimes greatly misapprehended. It is taken to be a sort of immunity, not merely from governmental control but also from public opinion. A dunderhead gets himself a long-tailed coat, rises behind the sacred desk, and emits such bilge as would gag a Hottentot. Is it to pass unchallenged? If so, then what we have is not religious freedom at all, but the most intolerable and outrageous variety of religious despotism. Any fool, once he is admitted to holy orders, becomes infallible. Any half-wit, by the simple device of ascribing his delusions to revelation, takes on an authority that is denied to all the rest of us.

I do not know how many Americans entertain the ideas defended so ineptly by poor (William Jennings) Bryan, but probably the number is very large. They are preached once a week in at least a hundred thousand rural churches, and they are heard too in the meaner quarters of the great cities. Nevertheless, though they are thus held to be sound by millions, these ideas remain mere rubbish. Not only are they not supported by the known facts; they are in direct contravention of the known facts. No man whose information is sound and whose mind functions normally can conceivably credit them. They are the products of ignorance and stupidity, either or both.

In terms of the public debate, not much seems to have changed. Mencken today would no doubt have been at the Republican State Convention describing the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center as a “meaner quarter” – a Scopes Trial with air conditioning.

But what would Mencken make of Donald Trump, who may put the religious politics practiced by Cruz, Patrick, Abbott – and add to that list Rick Perry – to its severest, trickiest test.

Cruz’s lock on the support of key evangelical leaders won him a narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses, but little else. Trump – despite being Donald Trump and all that entails – somehow, won the evangelical voters (though Cruz won those who attended church most regularly), and won the backing of Jerry Falwell Jr.

And, while Cruz is holding back, Abbott and Patrick and Perry, quickly endorsed Trump.

From Sean Collins Walsh’s story at the Republican Convention:

In the wake of the Obama administration’s directive to school districts across the country to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Friday called the issue a “modern day ‘come and take it’ moment” that will propel Donald Trump to the White House and fuel the school-choice movement.

“We’re not going to be blackmailed by the president, and we’re not going to sell out our school children for 30 pieces of silver,” Patrick told reporters at the Republican Party of Texas convention in Dallas.

Patrick, who has come to the forefront of the issue this week after calling for the resignation of the Fort Worth school district’s superintendent for a policy accommodating transgender students, said he has been in contact with Trump’s campaign about how to handle the bathroom debate.

In the wake of the Obama administration’s directive to school districts across the country to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Friday called the issue a “modern day ‘come and take it’ moment” that will propel Donald Trump to the White House and fuel the school-choice movement.

“We’re not going to be blackmailed by the president, and we’re not going to sell out our school children for 30 pieces of silver,” Patrick told reporters at the Republican Party of Texas convention in Dallas.

Patrick, who has come to the forefront of the issue this week after calling for the resignation of the Fort Worth school district’s superintendent for a policy accommodating transgender students, said he has been in contact with Trump’s campaign about how to handle the bathroom debate.

Trump, however, initially sided with Patrick’s opponents when the issue first arose following a North Carolina law that requires transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate. Patrick indicated Friday that the presumptive GOP nominee will be changing his position and said the issue could help Trump defeat likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

And Perry?

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Donald Trump wasn’t my first choice. I was my first choice.

Donald Trump wasn’t my second choice. That was Ted Cruz.

But from Bloomberg’s recap of  Perry’a CNN appearance.

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But, Pastor Broden isn’t there yet.

Personally, I’m not a Trump fan. I think that he’s the wrong candidate to lead us forward but, things are as they are, so the choice is – and the choice that I have not made a concrete decision on – is to support the Republican nominee or to allow Hillary Clinton to win, so that’s an ugly choice.

We’re facing a schism in the party. Donald Trump is an interesting person. I have yet to put a finger on what he’s all about. If anything he has been able to read the public better than the other candidates and has played to the public, the fears …. the anger.

The question is will he listen, is he teachable, can he take instruction because he’s going to need a whole lot of help.

And, can Texas Republicans reconcile their party’s state platform with their party’s presidential nominee?

“What you’re seeing in the platform is what conservative, Bible-believing constitutionalists want for the state of Texas,” said Broden.

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Robert Draper had a fantastic cover story in the New York Times Magazine Sunday –Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride: Down the homestretch with the impossible nominee.

It’s a great read from start to finish.

There is this nugget.

On the TV, the Fox News pundits were speaking consolingly of the soon-to-be-vanquished Cruz’s political future. Standing in front of the oversize screen, Trump scoffed: “I don’t think he has much of a future.” He returned to his seat and proceeded to scratch out a few notes for what would be his final speech as a Republican competing for the nomination.

And this:

At the golf resort, I brought up the more strategic criticism that had been leveled at the campaign, that Trump needed to turn his guerrilla squad into something resembling a more conventional operation, and asked (Corey) Lewandowski and (Hope) Hicks how that might happen. “Ever since we won Nevada, all these guys have been calling us and saying we had to build out the team,” Hicks said. The campaign’s core staffers had received this advice with eye-rolls, recognizing it as a worldview at odds with their own — and from time to time would draw up imitation organizational charts imagining what an expanded Trump World would look like:

 

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