June 27, 2004

The Case of the Disappearing Republican Oath

A long time ago I posted a note in my Nettle blog that I was going to document my observations on the user experience of American political websites. Well, I've been meaning to, but got busy. Finally getting around to it. Sort of.

What follows is less about user experience and more about plain politics, I suppose, which is why it's not in Nettle and is instead here in brianstorms.

Every now and then I surf Democratic, Republican, Green, and Libertarian websites to see what they look like, what messages they're conveying, how sophisticated they are, how deep they are in terms of content and functionality, and what's changed since the last time I visited. I'd take notes, save bookmarks for stuff I found notable, and "move on," so to speak.

This report was going to be about what I found from surfing around Republican websites. Instead, it's about a document I found on some of the sites. Read on . . .

1. The Republican Oath
So the first thing that caught my eye after surfing around The Republican Web was the recurrence of The Republican Oath --- a short document of beliefs and tenets reproduced on many Republican websites all over the country --- regional, state, and local. Here's the Oath, in full:

  • I believe that the proper function of government is to do for the people those things that have to be done but cannot be done, or cannot be done as well by individuals, and that the most effective government is government closest to the people.

  • I believe that good government is based on the individual and that each person's ability, dignity, freedom and responsibility must be honored and recognized.

  • I believe that free enterprise and the encouragement of individual initiative and incentive have given this nation an economic system second to none.

  • I believe that sound money policy should be our goal.

  • I believe in equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, creed, age, sex or national origin. I believe that persons with disabilities should be afforded equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity as well.

  • I believe we must retain those principles worth retaining, yet always be receptive to new ideas with an outlook broad enough to accommodate thoughtful change and varying points of view.

  • I believe that Americans value and should preserve their feeling of national strength and pride, and at the same time share with people everywhere a desire for peace and freedom and the extension of human rights throughout the world.

  • Finally, I believe that the Republican Party is the best vehicle for translating these ideals into positive and successful principles of government.

Now, we can debate all day long and into the night the content of the Oath. We can debate all day long and into the night whether that Oath should have the word "Republican" anywhere near it. We can debate whether or not every line, every single sentence in that Oath is betrayed by the actions of the current administration, and for the Oath to appear on any Republican website is the height of hypocrisy. Let's not debate all that here. It's been done elsewhere.

We can also debate whether or not, with minor modifications, the Oath pretty much describes a set of ideals and beliefs that the majority of Americans --- regardless of political persuasion --- would embrace, support, and live by. I've shown that Oath to die-hard progressives and liberal thinkers, and some have told me, lose the last line, and they'll agree to and support that Oath in a flash. I must confess that find it hard to disagree with much in the Oath, minus the last line.

I disagree with the last line because I've always thought that America itself was supposed to be the best vehicle for translating those ideals into positive and successful principles of government.

Someone somewhere (google it if you want) once wrote that it was notable that the word "democracy" doesn't appear anywhere in the Oath. It is indeed notable, in my opinion. But still, I suspect that if all Americans, including the politicians and those in government, really lived each day according to this Oath, the country, not to mention the world, would be a lot better off. Don't you think?

2. The Oath on the Web
The Republican Oath appears at the national Republican "Team Leader" site, as well as eleven official state-level Republican sites:

States with GOP Websites Containing The Oath

When I started looking for the Oath, I assumed it'd be on every Republican site, starting with the mothership, GOP.com. Amazingly, the Republican Oath cannot be found on the main GOP.com site. Apparently it used to be there. When asked why it wasn't there anymore, the communications office of the Republican National Committee, the headquarters of the GOP in Washington, D.C., told me there was a GOP website redesign in January and its removal was "inadvertent."

May be, but nearly seven months later, it is still missing. And the fact that only one-fifth of all the Republican state websites in the U.S. have the text of the Oath somewhere on their sites suggests to me that the Oath is slowly, quietly, being swept under the carpet in the era of Dubya.

3. Searching for Clues

"People aren't talking, and it's the way they're not talking that's unnatural."
-- line from the film All The President's Men

This Oath has had me intrigued. Who wrote it? When? Where? Why? What were the circumstances? Does one have to swear to the Oath before one can become a Repulbican? Is there a secret handshake? Does it originate from, say, the 1800s? Was this an Abe Lincoln original that I'd never heard about before now? Might be. I have no idea.

See, that's the mystery. So far I am unable to find out anything about the origins of The Republican Oath.

Start at the top, I always say. One would think that someone at GOP national headquarters would know. So I called the RNC. They don't know. I called them several times last week. Spoke to a different person in the communications office each time I called. Each of 'em were equally stumped. Got the same story each time: "That's a good question!" and "I'll have to ask around!" and "We don't have historians here at the Party, so, it's not like we have anyone who would know..." and "We'll get back to you!"

So far they have not gotten back to me.

I called Ed Gillespie's office. He's head of the RNC. His admin person said he was out of the office and busy. I left a message. Funny, you'd think she'd cellphone him the moment she heard it was the brianstorms blog calling. Oh, I forgot to mention that to her. That must be it. :-)

Not getting anywhere with the RNC HQ, I started contacting officials from Republican Party organizations all over the country, mainly by email. Phil Palisoul, Executive Director of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, was one of the few to reply to my inquiries. "I had no idea the oath even existed before you told me about it," sais Palisoul. "I have asked around but no one seems to know where it came from, or who wrote it."

Jay Mandraccia, an official with the Oklahoma Republican Party, wrote back with, "Sorry, Brian, I'm not famliar with this document. Could you forward it to me? Thank you." I forwarded him a copy. "Thank you. I'll do a little research and let you know what I find out."

Still waiting to hear back from him.

Dawn Phillips, the Communications Director of the Oregon Republican Party, responded saying, "Thanks for your inquiry. We'll ask around, but I'm not entirely sure either." (Too bad, since the Oregon Republican Party actually has the Oath on its website.)

Thought maybe Newt Gingrich might have had something to do with it. I emailed him and some of his staff at Gingrich Communications. Kathy Lubbers wrote back, saying, "To my knowledge, Speaker Gingrich did not have anything to do with this oath."

Dead ends everywhere. I sent out well over 100 emails to people all over the country beginning last Tuesday. I've gotten about six replies so far. I guess a 6% response rate, in the era where spam accounts for over 80% of worldwide email, is a good number and I shouldn't complain.

Late Friday night I got a reply from Wayne MacDonald, the Vice Chairman of the New Hampshiore Repulbican State Committee (New Hampshire does not include the Oath on its website). He said, "That's a great statement of principles, but I'm afraid that I don't know where it came from. Good luck in your search. Have you tried the Ripon Society?"

Never heard of 'em. Went to their site, got their email addresses, and fired away. I eagerly await hearing from the Riponistas. Who knows, maybe they wrote it.

4. Looking in the Library
I love libraries, and I love librarians. They totally rock. They love finding stuff, and they love solving a mystery. And best of all, they do it for free! I knew they'd find my inquiry a juicy one. So I called up UCSD's main library's "Ask a Librarian" (as in, "Go Ahead, Make Our Day") service, and told them of my quest. When I got to the part about not even the Republican National Committee in Washington knew anything about the Oath or its history, I knew I had them hooked. So over the next few minutes, we went through Lexis/Nexis. Nothing. Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. Nothing. WorldCat. Nothing. Melvyl. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Reference after reference, with no hits.

It really is remarkable, if you think about it.

So I asked the Librarian to gimme the call letters for where Republican-related books are generally shelved at the Library. She gave me the codes. I wrote 'em down. I thanked her profusely (did I say that Librarians totally rock?). Got in the car, and drove to UCSD.

Hopped on the elevator, went to the sixth floor, and found the stacks for books on American Politics. There were quite a few books related to Republicans. I didn't know where to begin, so I just started with the biggest one, a history of the GOP. Nothing. No mention of the Oath.

Some fifty dusty books and a few sneezes later, I gave up. There was not a single reference to "The Republican Oath" in any of the books on the shelves.

So that's where things are at the moment.

I wish I had a punch-line to the story, but I don't yet. I hope that more of the Party officials will respond to my inquiries. It would especially be nice if someone from one of the San Diego area Republican groups would get back to me. (So far, nobody in SD is talking. Nada. Nothing. Zippo.)

5. A Brief Digression
While rifling through books on all things Republican, I came across a 1995 book called Restoring the Dream: The Bold New Plan by the House Republicans. Towards the end of the book was a single page with something called A VISION OF AMERICA. I thought you might find it quaint, if not interesting. Remember, this dates from 1995, a time that looks so very innocent now:

It is the year 2003. It is Monday morning. No American was murdered over the weekend. Every child in America is attending as first-rate school in which he or she is learning in an environment of safety, not violence. Where there was once the desolation of public housing, there is now the pride of home ownership and urban renewal. Teenagers are not having babies out of wedlock or doing drugs; they are in high school or college preparing to compete and win in the information age. America now lives under a tax code that rewards work, risk taking, saving for the future, and entrepreneurship. Businesses are moving into rather than out of our cities, which once again are becoming symbols of America's economic might. In short: America is back at work.

And as Americans get in their cars to go to school or work, they turn on the radio and celebrate the morning news flash report: for the first time in more than thirty years, the U.S. government ran a budget surplus last year. This is the future that we envision for America. It is called the American Dream.

6. No Help from the Democrats
I thought, wouldn't it be awesome if I solved this Oath mystery by talking to the Democrats -- maybe they knew? So I called the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C.

Unlike the RNC (whose website has names and email addresses and phone numbers for the separate divisions of the organization), the DNC just has one phone number and no names and no individual emails.

When you call the DNC, you get a switchboard operator. You tell her what person or department you want and she puts your call through. Each time I called the DNC, I had this vision of a switchboard operator from say the 1920s pulling out patch cords and inserting them in other plug holes on the switchboard in front of her.

Each time I tried to reach the Communications office, I got a recording for voice mail. The message said if it's urgent try a number for the Director of Communications. So I tried his number. Voicemail recording. Tried later in the day. Recording. Tried next day in the morning. Recording. Tried midday. Recording. Basically, I never go through to a human at the Democratic Party headquarters other than the switchboard operator.

Contrast this with the RNC, where no matter when I called, no matter what time of day, someone in the Communications office answered on the FIRST ring.

Note to Democrats: hire more people. Get more phones.

7. That's All for Now.
I hope to have a Part II installment of this blog post when I have more news. Until then, ask every Republican you know: do they know the Oath? Have they heard of it? Can they recite it? Do they know where it comes from? Let me know what you find out.

Posted by brian at June 27, 2004 10:35 PM | TrackBack


http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=1999CRH3681F%40us.govnews.org appears to contain some of the text of the oath. You can clumsily search the congressional record at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/crecord/retrieve.html and put in 1999, and choose "H3681" as the page number and get back a PDF (?) of that usenet post.

I find this a fascinating mystery Brian.

Posted by: Joe Crawford at June 28, 2004 06:49 AM

FYI the word “democracy” would never appear on a republican web site. As you may already know, most Republicans believe in the ideals of a Republic or rule of law which is our current system of government. Despite popular opinion, no pun intended, America is not and never was a “democracy”. The word doesn’t appear anywhere in the constitution. However the word “Republic” is everywhere including the oath our children take everyday before class. The founding fathers did not allow mob rule or “democracy”, which is essentially the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people. If we had instilled a “Democracy” much like FDR quoted in his now famous speech, we would be stuck with outdated and centuries old ideas like slavery, and we would be well on our way to tyranny. BTW I’m not a Republican but I also believe in their oath.

Posted by: Trex at June 29, 2004 12:53 PM

I hate to say it but this sucks. I was hoping to find out where the oath originated myself when I stumbled across your blog on a Google serch for the "Orgin of the Republican Oath".

I'll keep digging and check back now and then to see if you have uncovered anything.

Posted by: Erebus at September 2, 2004 06:20 PM

Dear Brian,
I find your quest for this search of origin very intriguing. But, I have something else for you that might make your search a little bit more interesting. Well, I was looking through some of my old files and about 4 or 5 years ago I had a copy of the Republican oath. I went on the internet looking to see whether the oath was still posted but what was intersting was that the oath was posted, but the oath changed. The republicans changed their oath over the course of four or five years. Why did they change their oath? For example, in the old oath, it is stated that people will not be judged by their national origin, but now, that it taken out of the oath. What happened???? This doesn't make sense to me. If they changed their oath, shouldn't they be called the "new republicans"?? Let me know if you have anything on this. Thanks

Posted by: Zeenat at September 29, 2004 02:35 PM

The oath is in the GOP website. But note the differences from what you have posted and what many of the states have posted. Intriguing.


Posted by: Dan L at September 30, 2004 01:44 PM

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