Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Platforms and Parties

The 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, FloridaWas following some of the buzz on my Twitter feed yesterday regarding the Republican Party’s national convention which has gotten underway down in Tampa, Florida. The Dems will be having theirs next week right close to me in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Since I follow a lot of poker people, it wasn’t surprising to see some discussing the GOP’s 2012 platform and its statement of position regarding online gambling. A platform, of course, is that often lengthy statement of a party’s positions on all sorts of subjects, kind of like a manifesto in which one finds included a long list of ideals for which a party purports to stand. Yesterday the Republican delegates in Tampa ratified their party’s platform for 2012.

The 2012 GOP platform is about 30,000 words long, up a bit from the 2008 platform (about 24,000 words), though shorter than the massive 2004 one (around 48,000 words). Forty-five of those words in this year’s GOP platform concern online gambling. That is to say, there’s a lot else on the party’s plate at the moment.

The statement about online gambling appears in a category of items falling under the heading of “Renewing American Values to Build Healthy Families, Great Schools and Safe Neighborhoods.” It’s the first paragraph of a short section called “Making the Internet Family-Friendly,” and goes as follows:

“Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families. We support the prohibition of gambling over the Internet and call for reversal of the Justice Department’s decision distorting the formerly accepted meaning of the Wire Act that could open the door to Internet betting.”

The second and last paragraph in the section then discusses protecting children against online predators and sex offenders and stopping child pornography.

When I saw folks discussing this paragraph on my Twitter feed last night, I thought how the mention of wanting to prohibit online gambling wasn’t anything new as far as GOP platforms were concerned. I knew a similar statement appeared in the part of the 2008 platform, too. I decided to look back to see just where the references to online gambling first began appearing in GOP platforms.

There’s a neat website where you can find all of each major parties’ platforms going back to the mid-19th century, as well as platforms for other parties, too, thus making it easier to find out these things.

2008 GOP Platform

The Republican PartyIn 2008, the GOP’s statement about online gambling appeared in the category “Protecting Our Families” as its own short little section, coming just after “Stopping Online Child Predators and Ending Child Pornography” and before “Ridding the Nation of Criminal Street Gangs.” In fact, the statement is identical to what appears in the 2012 platform except for the additional reference to the recent memo from the DOJ regarding the Wire Act:

“Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families. We support the law prohibiting gambling over the Internet.” (Sounds like “the law” might refer to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, even if that is not what the UIGEA really is. Or, if not that, another law that might be used to argue such a prohibition to be in place.)

2004 GOP Platform

In that novella-length platform of 2004, the reference comes not in the category titled “Strengthening Our Communities,” but rather in another one, “Building an Innovative, Globally Competitive Economy.” It strangely arises in a section on “Higher Education Affordability” that mostly concerns college costs. Here’s how it goes there:

“Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families. We support legislation prohibiting gambling over the Internet or in student athletics by student athletes who are participating in competitive sports.” Pretty much the same, although “the law” here is referred to as “legislation” (i.e., there was less confidence such a prohibition was already on the books?).

I suppose we could conclude from the different location of the statement that if we go back a decade or so, the issue of online gambling was for some more closely connected to sports gambling, especially among student-athletes. Later it would get moved over next to street gangs, child pornography, and so on.

2000 GOP Platform

Online gambling was mentioned by the Republican Party in its platform way back in 2000, too, with what amounts to the first-draft version of the statement that has remained in the platform ever since. This time the reference comes amid a grab bag of items appearing under the heading of “Justice and Safety,” with the reference to sports betting among student-athletes again part of the statement:

“Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families. We support legislation prohibiting gambling over the Internet or in student athletics by student athletes who are participating in competitive sports.”

No change in the wording, then, from 2000 to 2004. And looking back, the statement has been there pretty much since shortly after online gambling was invented.

1996 GOP Platform

No references to gambling of any kind in the 1996 GOP platform. In fact, there’s just one brief mention of the internet, which had yet to grow into such an important part of our culture. “The Internet today is the most staggering example of how the Information Age can and will enhance the lives of Americans everywhere,” goes the reference. “To further this explosion of newfound freedoms and opportunities, privacy, through secured communications, has never been more important.”

There is talk of “internet freedom” in the 2012 GOP Platform, too, with a more thorough statement about how the web “offers a communications system uniquely free from government intervention” and how the party intends to “remove regulatory barriers that protect outdated technologies.” There’s also discussion of individual freedoms and the need to “ensure that personal data receives full constitutional protection from government overreach.”

The Democratic PartyI took a peek at the Democrats’ recent platforms as well. Not seeing any mention of gambling in those -- online or otherwise -- as far as I can tell.

There are statements about the need to “protect the Internet's traditional openness and [to] ensure that it remains a dynamic platform for free speech, innovation, and creativity,” as well as calls “to identify and prosecute those who exploit the Internet to try to harm children.” But there’s nothing about either prohibiting any forms of gambling or ensuring that adult citizens who wish to have the freedom to gamble are allowed to do so.

I kind of feel like sorting through the platforms for brief mentions of online gambling like this is a mostly trivial pursuit. Sure, the platforms give us a general idea how elected officials might position themselves and thus cast their votes. But when it comes to online gambling, the many related issues are obviously much too complex to be covered in a sentence or two. And in truth, individual legislators are often motivated by wildly disparate purposes in their favoring or disproving of Americans playing poker or participating in other forms of gambling on the internet.

In other words, which party a legislator belongs to is obviously meaningful, but perhaps less so when it comes to online gambling than with other issues over which Republicans and Democrats are more obviously divided.

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