How to write an Effective Political Platform

[The following article from Centroids was solicited by PetitionSpot, apparently because they were impressed by my petition to Elect Jon Stewart].
Inspired by what I considered excessive solutions, I thought I should actually write down what I think a good, actionable Platform would look like. Or, more precisely what we’d need to do in order to do the job effectively in the context of the Unity08 movement.

The basic process would be to:

  1. Identify the audience we want to connect with
  2. Determine what kind of message would resonate with them
  3. Figure out which of our principles would suit that message
  4. Articulate them with sufficient specificity to attract an audience, but not so precise as to foreclose debate or generate a negative reaction

Make sense? So, let’s see how far I can get.

A) Audience

So, the nominal audience
for our Platform is anyone paying attention
to Unity ’08, which includes students,
participants in the forum, the Decision Makers and Funders behind Unity ’08, and ultimate the
candidates who will compete for the

The total audience is enormously
diverse, and it is impossible to articulate
anything that everyone would agree with; if we try to
please everyone we’ll alienate everybody.
On the other hand, we can’t be so radical
that we please nobody. The ‘radical middle’, if
you will, would be to articulate a minimal
platform that a solid core of people could
fully back, that most others would at least
grudgingly support, and that alienated only
the fringes.

This requires having some
understanding of what draws people to Unity
’08, in order to help us decide whom to
target. Let me posit a few attributes that
the bulk of Unity ’08 participants share:

  1. a. They have above-average interest in
  2. b. They are frustrated by partisan
  3. c. They don’t identify strongly with one party
    over the other (but may have once)
  4. d. They believe that the “other side” has at
    least a few good ideas
  5. e. They consider “compromise” a positive, not
    negative term
  6. f. They feel there is a fundamental crisis with
    our two-party system

Obviously not
everybody involved feels this way, but I think anything
that targets this hypothetical voter would
probably go a long way.


Given the noise levels (and
our small size), I believe that we need One
Big Idea as the core of our platform. The reason is that we
have no leverage — by default, we have to
rely on word of mouth, which means we need
something so concise that people can intrigue
their friends with a single sentence. We can
(and should) address a wide range of
topics, but they all need to logically support each

The other reason for such
internal coherency is that we need a united
movement. Ideally, we want something so
well-constructed that if you accept the
core principle, you’ll immediately be comfortable with the
whole enchilada; otherwise, we’d waste all
our time infighting _within_ our core


Given that goal, there’s
several possible concepts that might provide
such a foundation;

  1. ? The Radical Middle (interpolating between
    two extremes)
  2. ? Systems Theory (positive and negative
  3. ? Communitarian (balancing individual and
  4. ? Radical Centrism (humility, justice, and

and there may be others. The
challenge is to find something simple
enough to easily convey, yet fertile enough
to support a broad platform.


As I said before, I
think our Core Agenda has to have 10 or so
points; otherwise nobody can remember enough
of it to decide whether they like it or
not. In addition, we need to keep our high-level
statements vague enough (but no vaguer 🙂
that people focus on the broad principles
instead of quibbling about

Ideally, I’d like there to be
three over-arching themes which encapsulate
9-12 major initiatives. Not only does is that easier to
memorize, it would also enable us to provide
a useful graphical summary.

the key is to make people feel *empowered*. That is, we
want them to feel comfortable that they grok
the essence of our platform, so that they
feel safe supporting and endorsing

Does that sound like a

To be sure, we could take the
easy way out and wait until Unity ’08 comes
up with their list of questions, and merely respond to those.
But what would be the fun in that?

N. Prabhakar, Ph.D.