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GOP Platform In Years Past Supported Equal Rights, Higher Wages, Funding For The Arts

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(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Republican Party's 2012 platform is one of the most conservative in modern history, with policy positions that even GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won't endorse. It endorses a constitutional ban on abortion access, comes out squarely against same-sex marriage rights and calls on the District of Columbia to loosen its gun laws.

The Republican platform has not always been so extreme. It has consistently touted smaller government, lower taxes and the benefits of private enterprise. But the GOP's past policy positions on issues like labor, women's rights and environmental protection sound more like planks that today's Democrats would have in their official platform, showing how the Republican Party has shifted more and more to the right since World War II.

LABOR

Labor unions are a top target of Republican disdain these days, with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) elevated to conservative hero status after taking on public employee unions' collective bargaining rights in his state last year.

The 2012 Republican Party platform shows little love for the labor community, railing against "concentrating power in the Washington offices of union elites" and objecting to labor cornerstones like the Davis-Bacon Act and the ability of unions to automatically collect dues from workers' paychecks.

Compare that position to the one held by the Republican Party in 1956: "The protection of the right of workers to organize into unions and to bargain collectively is the firm and permanent policy of the Eisenhower Administration."

In 1960, the GOP platform expressed the belief that the interests of labor and management were best reconciled in a "climate of free collective bargaining." Republicans also boasted of achieving "[u]pward revision in amount and extended coverage of the minimum wage to several million more workers" and "[s]trengthening the unemployment insurance system and extension of its benefits."

These days, some Republican candidates struggle to name the federal minimum wage, and nearly all oppose increasing it. Top GOP officials also decry efforts to extend unemployment benefits, even though millions of Americans remain jobless.

A recognition of the role of labor unions continued into the 1960s, with the 1968 GOP platform reading, "Organized labor has contributed greatly to the economic strength of our country and the well-being of its members. The Republican Party vigorously endorses its key role in our national life."

WOMEN'S RIGHTS

Essentially the only mention of women's rights in the 2012 GOP platform pertains to reproductive rights. There's a whole section on "The Sanctity and Dignity of Human Life" that expresses the belief that women should not have access to abortion under any circumstances, even in cases of rape and incest.

Abortion first appeared in the Republican Party platform in 1976 -- and the language, at that time, simply acknowledged that there was a debate within the party on the issue.

"The question of abortion is one of the most difficult and controversial of our time," read the platform. "It is undoubtedly a moral and personal issue but it also involves complex questions relating to medical science and criminal justice. There are those in our Party who favor complete support for the Supreme Court decision which permits abortion on demand. There are others who share sincere convictions that the Supreme Court's decision must be changed by a constitutional amendment prohibiting all abortions. Others have yet to take a position, or they have assumed a stance somewhere in between polar positions."

The party soon shifted further to the right on the issue, and the language in the current platform is similar to what was inserted in 2004 and 2008.

What primarily concerned Republicans for some time, with respect to women's issues, was the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have amended the U.S. Constitution to ensure equal rights for women.

The GOP platforms in 1952, 1956, 1960, 1972 and 1976 all endorsed the ERA.

In 1976, the party boasted of its commitment to the amendment, stating, "The Republican Party reaffirms its support for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Our Party was the first national party to endorse the E.R.A. in 1940. We continue to believe its ratification is essential to insure equal rights for all Americans."

But in 1980, the GOP dialed back its support.

"We acknowledge the legitimate efforts of those who support or oppose ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. We reaffirm our Party's historic commitment to equal rights and equality for women," read the platform.

The 1980 platform was a victory for conservative crusader Phyllis Schlafly, whom Time called "the most visible and effective critic" of the ERA. Schlafly, who is now head of the conservative Eagle Forum, went up against feminist groups pushing for the ERA, which was ratified by 34 of the 38 states needed for adoption to the U.S. constitution. It lost momentum in the 1970s, in large part because of Schlafly's anti-feminist activism.

CIVIL RIGHTS

Little is said about civil rights in the 2012 GOP platform, with the phrase appearing just three times. There's a section on stopping undocumented immigration and a reiteration of the belief that English should be the official language of the United States.

In the 1950s and 1960s, during some of the nation's heady civil rights battles, the Republican Party devoted significantly more space to the issue, pledging the elimination of lynching and poll taxes in 1952.

"The Republican Party will not mislead, exploit or attempt to confuse minority groups for political purposes. All American citizens are entitled to full, impartial enforcement of Federal laws relating to their civil rights," read the platform that year.

While some Republicans at the state and local level are now working to discourage multiculturalism, at one time, the Republican Party's official position was to embrace it.

"While working to eradicate discriminatory practices, every citizen should be encouraged to take pride in and foster the cultural heritage that has been passed on from previous generations," read the 1976 platform. "Almost every American traces ancestry from another country; this cultural diversity gives strength to our national heritage."

The platform also said that there should be efforts to help Spanish-speaking individuals become fluent in English -- "while maintaining their own language and cultural heritage."

"Hispanic-Americans must not be treated as second-class citizens in schools, employment or any other aspect of life just because English is not their first language," stated the platform. "Hispanic-Americans truly believe that individual integrity must be paramount; what they want most from government and politics is the opportunity to participate fully. The Republican Party has and always will offer this opportunity."

This multicultural trend continued in 1980, when the Republican Party stated, "Neither Hispanics nor any other American citizens should be barred from education or employment opportunities because English is not their first language."

CULTURE

In the 1970s, Republicans considered arts and culture programs national treasures worthy of taxpayer support.

The 1972 platform said the Arts Endowment "encouraged the creativity of individual artists and writers" and the Humanities Endowment was "fostering improved teaching and scholarship in history, literature, philosophy and ethics."

In 1976, the party again pledged funding for the two institutions, as well as for public broadcasting.

This upward trend in funding for the National Arts and Humanities Endowments "deserves to continue," read the platform, which added, "We favor continued federal assistance to public broadcasting which provides us with creative educational and cultural alternatives. We recognize that public broadcasting is supported mainly through private sector contributions and commend this policy as the best insurance against political interference."

In contrast, as soon as Republicans won a strong majority of seats in the House of Representatives in 2010, the party went about trying to defund NPR. Romney has also said he would like to get rid of federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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