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Obama’s Open Source Platform

Democrats are now reviewing the first draft of the 2008 party platform. The Atlantic’s Mark Ambinder posts excerpts and a PDF of all 54 pages, TWI’s Spencer Ackerman likes the Iraq plank (but notes it looks soft on contractors), and The Washington Post’s Jonathan Weissman thinks the platform shows Sen. Barack Obama’s "takeover" of the party. The conventional wisdom, however, is that platforms don’t really matter. The conventional wisdom is wrong.

Political scientists find that most presidents follow through on platform pledges. One study found that between 1944 and 1976, presidents implemented 70 percent of platform planks.

Platforms also provide a crucial snapshot of the party’s priorities. In 2000, for example, the Democratic platform, drafted by Al Gore’s team, singled out Osama bin Laden as a foreign-policy target for the U.S. The Republicans 2000 platform did not mention him.

At a practical level, platforms are usually formed by the nominee and other influential party leaders. David Keene, who heads the American Conservative Union, writes that "in most cases the platform reflects the desires of those who do the nominating and electing and because the final product generally reflects the nominee’s views."

The Obama campaign is shifting this model, however, by broadening the process from the official platform committee — made up of politicians and members of the state delegations who populate the convention — to include thousands of grassroots platform meetings. As the official committee rounds out its work, the question is whether the final document will reflect a broader set of views.

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