Nobody reads party platforms. They're still really important.
There's a saying about the battles academics wage with each other: The fights are so intense because the stakes are so small.
It's hard not to think of that when you read news about the impending conflicts Democrats, and to a lesser extent Republicans, will have over their party platforms. Every four years, the two parties appoint a committee of people who jockey, posture, argue, and negotiate over what these documents will say. And then almost no one ends up reading them.
If you're reading this article, you're almost certainly an informed citizen who's interested in politics. Have you ever read a party platform?
The Democrats' 2012 platform is more than 26,000 words long (you can read it here, if you dare), and the Republicans' over 32,000 (here it is). They tell you pretty much what you already know about the parties, their priorities, and their proclivities (for instance, the word "constitution" appears no fewer than 52 times in the Republican platform, a reflection of what I call the Founding Father fetishism that took over their party when Obama was elected).
The campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton engaged in some real maneuvering over how many members of the platform committee each would be granted; in the end, Clinton got six, Sanders got five, and the DNC appointed the other four. Sanders used the opportunity to name his supporter Cornel West, who has an almost venomous dislike for Barack Obama — that's the person who, you may remember, is the party's leader and easily its most popular figure. And now reporters are predicting fireworks in the platform committee, because both West and another of Sanders' picks, James Zogby, are strong advocates for the rights of Palestinians. "A bitter divide over the Middle East could threaten Democratic Party unity," declared The New York Times.
Actually, no. Party unity will not be determined by what happens in the meetings of the platform committee. In fact, amid all the theatrics and (possibly) drama of the convention, almost no one will know what's in the platform, let alone what kind of arguments it took to finalize the document.