Democratic Party Platform Expedition Part II: Reforms and Social Policy

by Benjamin Studebaker

Time to pick back up where we left off in our exploration of the Democratic Party’s new platform. Regular readers may recall that last time we addressed the economic policies laid out in the platform. Today we shall discuss some reforms the platform proposes, as well as its social policy. So put on your wheat lamp–it’s dark down here.

The first reform discussed is reform to the financial system–the one the democrats already passed. Once again, the platform praises past moves and criticises Romney. The section is shockingly short on details, even on the reforms already passed. Take this bit:

Today Democrats are holding Wall Street accountable, bringing new transparency to financial markets, and ending taxpayer-funded bank bailouts and the era of “too big to fail.” President Obama put in place new rules of the road that  refocus the financial sector on getting capital to entrepreneurs and small and mid-sized businesses who create jobs  and financing to millions of families who want to buy a home or send their kids to college.

What are these new rules? How do they do what the platform claims they do? For a paragraph praising the merits of “transparency”, it’s rather short on the details. Fortunately, more information on those reforms is easily obtainable online from journalists, but we should be able to expect more details in the platform itself than we get from journalists.

The Republican Party platform did much in the way of criticising the Obama administration for lacking transparency. The democrats hit back by claiming to have done all sorts of things in the name of transparency. Who’s right and who’s wrong is the sort of thing best evaluated on a case by case basis. The same section also brags of having made regulations more efficient and effective.

There’s one interesting claim made that’s worth noting:

[Obama] has approved fewer regulations in the first three years of his presidency than his Republican
predecessor did in his.

This turns out to be true.

There is one position strongly taken here that isn’t referencing past legislation passed by the administration–the democrats state their opposition to the Citizens United decision that allowed the formation of SuperPACs, allowing donors to anonymously contribute unlimited sums of money to nominally independent political advocacy groups. It provides support for making donations public and reducing the impact of lobbyists. None of these issues receive any coverage in the republican equivalent.

We now move on to the social policies. The first thing hit upon is immigration, in which the democrats tout the DREAM Act, which provides a path to citizenship for young immigrants.  At the same time, the platform claims that security at the border is up and that crossings are a 40-year low. This also turns out to be true. The platform expresses support for comprehensive immigration reform, but does not specify the nature of these reforms or what they should do.

As in Part I, I notice anecdotes thrown into the platform to pull at the heartstrings of leaders. This remains undignified propaganda and really should not be in the platform. The democrats should remember that a platform is not a campaign speech, it is meant to be a comprehensive plan for what the party supports and does not support, what it intends to do and what it does not intend to do.

There’s a section touting the administration’s policy of giving tax credits to families regardless of the sexual orientation of the parents and of supporting efforts to provide fathers more time to spend with their children. The real-world efficacy of these policies is not elaborated upon.

Like the republicans, the democrats devote a section to praising soldiers and supporting veterans. The normal, standard, patriotic and nationalist chest-thumping.

Social policy is one of the areas where differences between the democrats and republicans are sometimes more clear. The democrats issue a statement of support for embryonic stem-cell research while the republicans maintain opposition. Both groups claim to be pro-disabled people while advocating more or less opposite policies.

There is a section in which the democrats affirm support for faith-based organisations, taking precisely the same view on them as the one taken by the republicans in their platform.

The democrats claim to have invested in agriculture and rural communities, promise to continue doing so, and claim that the republicans would reverse those benefits.

Both the republicans and the democrats support more self-governance for Native American tribes and less federal control.

The democrats seem to passionately want Puerto Rico to either become a state or declare independence, claiming that the lack of resolution on its status holds it back economically.

The democrats promise more funding for the arts and culture in schools; the republicans made no mention of this issue.

There are statements of firm support for both women’s rights and LGBT rights. Women’s rights was unmentioned by the republicans and LGBT rights were firmly rejected in their platform. This is a clear point of distinction. There is strong support for abortion rights The democrats wish to support women who choose to move forward with their pregnancies by funding various programmes of adoption, but nonetheless affirm the right to an abortion with totality.

Contrary to the republican platform, the democrats take a firm stand against voter ID laws.

While the republicans advocated for more direct congressional oversight of Washington DC and wholly rejected it statehood, the democrats have taken the opposite position:

Every citizen of the United States is entitled to equal citizenship rights, including the 638,000 residents of the nation’s capital who pay federal taxes without representation. The American citizens who live in
Washington, D.C., like the citizens of the 50 states, should have full and equal congressional rights and the right to have the laws and budget of their local government respected without congressional interference.

Not merely are the rights LGBT people offered protection in the abstract, there is direct support for gay marriage and opposition to various amendments to state constitutions opposing it. Religious groups are offered the freedom to choose not to administer said marriages, however.

There is an affirmation of the right to bear arms, though it is qualified with support for regulation of that right and for strong enforcement of existing regulations.

There is support for the funding of infrastructure upgrades to cities and towns.

There is an issue of support for policies that help lift people out of poverty, including one impressive and specific policy–raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation. To this point, that policy is probably the one I find most impressive in the entire platform, though it remains to be seen whether or not it will see implementation. The democrats claim that poverty is not a priority for republicans–they would seem to be correct. The section on poverty in the republican platform praised welfare reform and offered no further support or assistance.

The platform points out that crime is at a 50 year low–this is true. It offers support for DNA testing prior to the use of the death penalty, but does not oppose it outright. Like the republicans, the democrats ignore the problem of prison overcrowded and offer more of the same on drug law enforcement.

There are words of support for charities and service organisations, touting budget increases for the Peace Corps and others.

This section closes with a bit on the environment. Unlike the republicans, who seemed to believe that the goal of cleaning up the environment has more or less been achieved and who denigrated the administration for considering climate change a serious problem, the democrats affirm continued efforts to clean up the environment, reduce emissions, and combat climate change. A notably bold passage follows:

We know that global climate change is one of the biggest threats of this generation – an economic, environmental, and national security catastrophe in the making. We affirm the science of climate change, commit to significantly reducing the pollution that causes climate change, and know we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits.

There are many ways in which the distinction between the parties has become insubstantial, but there are a few key areas here where the democrats do promise things you just won’t see from the republicans, namely:

  • LGBT rights and support for gay marriage
  • Higher minimum wages and indexing the minimum wage to inflation
  • Taking climate change seriously
  • Continued support for abortion rights
  • Embryonic stem cell research

There may be a lot riding on some of those issues, and while, with the exception of climate change, they are unlikely to have the same broad universal impact as whether or not the country undergoes austerity or increases wealth inequality, they are definitely significant issues and would make a large difference in the lives of many people.