Democratic Party Platform Expedition Part I: Economic Policy

by Benjamin Studebaker

As promised, the Democratic Party platform is to receive a similar treatment to the one recently given to the Republican Party platform. Get out your grappling hook–we’ve got a mountain to climb.

The democrats have always, as a group, been less regimented and orderly than the republicans, and their party platform reflects this. Unlike the republicans, the democrats don’t bother with a table of contents. They simply jump right in, and the only way to sort out how the platform is meant to be divided up at all is by carefully examining the font size of the headings. As best as I can discern, the platform is divided up into several sections:

  • Rebuilding Middle Class Security
  • America Works When Everyone Plays by the Same Rules
  • Greater Together
  • Stronger in the World, Safer and More Secure at Home

As with the republicans, the democrats have chosen to name their sections in such a way that the meaning is utterly obscured. As best as I can tell, these sections are best understood to be “Economic Policy”, “Reforms”, “Social Policy”, and “Foreign Policy”. Today’s section focuses on economic policy.

The section on economic policy opens with some praise for the Obama administration’s creation of 4.5 million jobs since 2008, and criticises Romney’s tax plan.

It then opens with how the democrats plan to create jobs. Unfortunately the bit on jobs spends an awfully large portion of its length defending previous moves made by the administration and attacking Romney’s plan, rather than putting forth new policies. The criticisms of Romney, while intellectually valid, are not what those of us reading the platform came here for–we’d like to be seeing what sort of alternative growth policies democrats will advocate over the next four years.

The platform them moves to a discussion of health reform, in which it does precisely the same thing–praises Obamacare and criticises Romney for seeking to repeal it. The criticisms made of Romney are again valid, but this contains no new policy, and new policy is what I’m here to evaluate.

Amazingly, as if there were not enough personal anecdotes and stories being told in campaign speeches already, the democrats even stick an anecdote in their platform:

My life was saved by the Affordable Care Act. I have a family history of breast cancer, and when I heard on the news  that the health care law was going to make sure I could get a mammogram without any copay, I breathed a sigh of  relief. I knew I’d be able to keep on schedule and stay up to date on my breast cancer screenings. Then I had a mammogram and found out I had a small tumor. Luckily, we caught it very early and I’m doing fine. – Judith Smith

Argument from anecdote has been a longtime democratic past time. It plays on emotions rather than reason and logic, which is a shame considering the particular claim being made here–that Obamacare has improved access to healthcare–is a true one and can stand on its own merits. I’m sure Judith Smith is a lovely person, but her story, or the stories of any other individuals impacted by the healthcare law (or any other law for that matter), has absolutely no place in a party platform.

There’s a section on the housing sector, in which the platform speaks of the mortgage refinancing the administration did. This is once again both true and valid, but it provides no new policies promises, merely an intent to continue the same attitude of the past.

There’s a section on Medicare and Social Security that promises to maintain these programmes as is and rejects the changes Romney/Ryan are wishing to make. Interestingly, this anti-change section reads as though it was written by Burkean, old fashioned conservatives, always sceptical of reforms. That said, the scepticism expressed is justified, as the privatisation policies are projected to raise costs and decrease benefits. I made those criticisms when I wrote about the Republican Party platform, however. I’m looking to evaluate new democratic policy. I still have yet to find any.

There is a goal to achieve the highest percentage of college graduates in comparison with all other nations by 2020. Presently, the United States ranks sixth, with 40.3% of prime age workers college educated, trailing New Zealand, Japan, Israel, Canada, and, very surprisingly, world leader Russia, which boasts a 54.0% rate, according to CollegeBoard. The platform notes various policies Obama has already enacted with this aim in mind (Federal aid to struggling school systems saving teacher jobs, expanding Head Start, helping states fund education reform, reforming the student loan programme to make credit cheap for college students and setting repayment rates to be in proportion to post-college salaries). Mostly perfectly lovely policies, though none of them new. It also accuses Romney’s plan to cut spending of undermining this goal, pointing out that austerity policies typically result in job losses among teachers, firefighters, police officers, and so on. As with the rest of the platform to this point, it emphasises what Obama has already done or tried to do, criticises Romney, but provides no new policy. It also chucks in two more anecdotal quotes from regular people claiming to have benefited from various things Obama has done, again pandering to emotion.

This is followed by a section on the deficit, in which the platform brags about all the spending reductions the democrats have made during a period of weak economic growth. Pandering to popular beliefs regarding the urgency of debt reduction, this section undermines the critical role stimulus plays in strengthening the economy along with the rest of modern macroeconomics. It is anti-intellectual and shameful. The simultaneous claims made in the very same section about how the Obama administration plans to invest in America while the Romney plans to make the very same cuts that Obama seemed to previously be advocating. The platform is right to point out that Romney’s plan includes tax cuts on the rich that self-defeat its own spending reductions, but this bit nonetheless strikes me as cynical pandering.

The Democratic Platform agrees with the Republican Platform on the “all of the above energy policy”, but emphasises renewables more than it does fossil fuels, while the republicans did the reverse. It even includes nuclear power, somewhat surprisingly and commendably.

There is yet more praise for past actions taken by the Obama administration, with an entire section devoted to the automotive industry bailout. There is criticism of outsourcing and an expressed desire to redevelop US manufacturing, which was absent from the Republican Party platform. There is an expression of support for lowering corporate tax rates while closing loopholes and giving tax breaks to industries that bring jobs back to the US from outside. The precise size of the rate cut or the particular loopholes that would be closed are not included.

There is support for additional infrastructure investment, as there was in the Republican Party platform, with the primary difference being that the democrats include trains and high-speed rail, while the republicans do not.

There are commitments made to investment in technology. The platform talks of Obama’s new instructions for NASA (though leaves out the fact that Obama has done little to boost NASA funding). There is also a promise to increase access to high speed internet as well as internet speed itself. The platform also includes a promise to protect free speech and free expression on the internet, though, like the republicans, support by many democrats for SOPA, PIPA, and other laws that restrict that behaviour is ignored. There is also a paragraph in which the democrats show support for intellectual property laws, though those specific bills are not referenced.

While the republicans expressed hostility toward unions, the democrats seems to remain broadly in favour, opposing the right’s proposed reforms–again, sounding like a party of traditional conservatives in favour of the status quo.

The democrats emphasise 18 small business tax cuts passed by the administration since it took office, with promises of continued support of an undefined but similar nature.

Like the republicans, the democrats also issue support for free trade, though there is more emphasis on the need for that trade to be fair and for the fairness to be reciprocated by trade partners–China is criticised for artificially depreciating is currency to give itself an advantage over the United States in exports.

So far, my overall impression is that really, the Democratic Party is now a traditional conservative party, while the Republican Party is now a party of reactionary reform. The democrats want to keep things the same or continue the same policies we have been seeing, while the republicans want to enact radical, reactionary policies to revert various elements of the government back to the way they used to be. It is a sort of activist hard right party, while the democratic party remains cautiously anti-change. Hence the absence of new radical policies to this point in the Democratic Party platform. The real losers here are those who would be interested in any kind of radical left-ward shift to more European economic policies. There’s no support for single or multi-payer healthcare, no support for the tax or regulatory policies of the European states, no plans to expand the welfare state or entitlements, no support for further direct absorption of the government of university costs for students, none of the things that conventional leftists would look for in a party platform, really. So far, this is the sort of platform that Richard Nixon or Dwight Eisenhower could have without anyone really batting an eye. It speaks to the lack of choice available in the United States’ political system these days, and of its lack of dynamism.