Political Party Platforms Are Moral Documents: A U.S. 2012 Comparison
As a Christian pacifist and a Progressive social democrat I am often frustrated by how narrow the political discussion is in the U.S. Both major parties are too beholden to corporate interests–and until Citizens United v. U.S. is overturned (or abolished by a Constitutional amendment stating that corporations are not persons with free speech rights and that money is not speech) that is going to continue into the foreseeable future. Both parties are too militaristic and neither will commit to a foreign policy based on nonviolence and human rights. And, while the Democrats are far more environmentally concerned than the Republicans who deny climate change, their solutions are too small and timid for the scale of the problem. And without structural change (e.g., abolishing the electoral college, which would take a Constitutional Amendment; establishing instant run-off voting, and/or proportional representation), Third parties can usually play only the role of “spoiler,” siphoning off just enough votes to let the worst candidate win. (See Ralph Nader and the Green Party in 2000. Al Gore still won the popular vote, but the vote was close enough in FL to allow the U.S. Supreme Court to steal it for George W. Bush thanks to the Electoral College. Had Nader not campaigned in Fl–or even in NH–Gore would have won.) So, it’s frustrating. But there are real differences between the two main U.S. political parties–and those could not be clearer than in the 2012 Party Platforms.
Rev. Jim Wallis likes to point out that budgets (family budgets, church budgets, business budgets, and, yes, the budgets of national governments) are moral documents. What is included and what is excluded; what has funding cut and what has funding increased; these tell us the moral values of those who draw up the budgets and those who vote for them. We see this on the family level easily: A family budget that spent heavily on alcohol or gambling or expensive parties for the adults but skimped on nutricious food or clothing for the children would clearly be immoral. A nation that can always afford more military weapons, but is “forced” to cut education or health care or aid to the poor is likewise immoral.
I want to say that political Party Platforms are also moral documents. But the general public (unlike political nerds like me) seldom read them. So, I will compare and contrast the Republican and Democratic Party platforms in 2012 for you. In some years one finds broad areas of agreement. In this election, the differences stand out starkly and form clear moral choices. I don’t mean that all virtue is found in one party: I can understand those who are against abortion but in favor of economic justice being torn, for example. But I present these summaries as a chance for readers to make informed decisions on a moral basis before going to the polls in November. Now–in the U.S. system no one candidate is forced to agree with everything in a party platform. Inform yourself of Congresscritter X’s views on Y or candidate J’s positions on B. I’m a strong Democrat, but I have never voted a straight party ticket. But a platform does show one where a political party as a whole stands: what it’s values and vision are. That’s important.
I. Economics: The Democratic platform is about growing the Middle Class. It advocates federal investment in green tech companies, rebuilding infrastructure, and raising the minimum wage as ways to increase employment. It wants to keep taxes low on small businesses, but close tax loopholes which allow many large companies to pay no taxes whatsoever. It urges tax penalties for companies which offshore jobs and breaks for companies which bring jobs back home. It urges keeping the current tax rate for individuals making less than $250K per year, but raising back to the Clinton-era rates for all individuals making above $250K. The Democrats want to tax dividend income at the same rate as payroll income which would end the case of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies paying lower tax rates than their secretaries.
By contrast, the Republican platform would raise taxes on those making between $50K and $250K by $2000 per year and give even greater tax cuts to millionaires than they have now. Whereas the Democrats would end the taxpayer-funded giveaways to oil companies, the Republicans would keep them–and end subsidies for clean energy sources. The platform follows the Ryan budget (without the numbers) in calling for an end to food stamps, aid to families with dependent children, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (Reagan’s only good idea for helping families out of poverty!) as well as ending most homeowners’ tax deductions–effectively raising taxes on millions in order to give more tax giveaways to the rich.
The Republican platform commits the party to work for the complete elimination of taxes on income earned by interest, on capital gains, on dividend income, and on inheritances. This would balloon the deficit by billions. Also, since the wealthy seldom have paychecks with payroll taxes, this would nearly eliminate taxes for them altogether.
II. Healthcare: The Democratic platform commits to fully implementing the healthcare reform law (a.k.a.”ObamaCare”) and building on it to strengthen and expand Medicare and Medicaid. I wish it had committed to push again for a public option, but it doesn’t. But it does allow states to experiment and Vermont is leading the way with a Single Payer system. It also commits to finding both more savings and more revenue for both Medicare and Medicaid and to no reduction in benefits. I would like to have seen a specific commitment to reimporting drugs from Canada as a way to control senior drug costs, but this commitment is not there.
By contrast, the Republican platform promises to repeal “Obamacare.” The old slogan of “repeal and replace” is gone. They have no plans to replace it. They would again let women be charge more than men for the same procedures, increase costs for seniors, allow preexisting conditions to be grounds for denying coverage, allow insurance companies to charge any price they want and drop you if you get sick. Etc., etc. They also would cut Medicaid funding in half and make that limited block grants–effectively condemning millions of poor people to no medical care. And they would turn Medicare into a coupon system for private insurance–and would bankrupt Medicare in only a few years. (I cannot tell by reading the platform whether or not Bill Clinton is right that Medicare would be gone by 2016, but no Republican has given out any figures to refute this. He’s done the math.) The Republican platform seems to commit the party to WORSE than before “ObamaCare,” namely, to ending both Medicare and Medicaid and letting sick people who cannot afford private insurance to simply die or get help from private charities.
III. Social Security: The Democrats promise to keep Social Security strong, never to privatize it or place it on the stock market. The platform does not rule out raising retirement age, but it does rule out any reduction in benefits. I wish it would have ruled out any raise in the retirment age. The easiest way to keep Social Security solvent is to remove the payroll deduction cap. Currently Social Security payroll taxes are levied only on the first $100k of income. So, those who make more than $100k per year, pay no Social Security taxes on any income above that first $100K. Raise the cap to $250K and Social Security is fully solvent for the next 50 years or more. Remove the cap entirely, so that EVERY dollar of income earned is subject to the Social Security tax, and Social Security is solvent indefinitely. The Democratic platform DOES declare rightly that Social Security, because it is collected separately, adds NOTHING to the federal deficit and commits the party to making sure Social Security is NEVER included in any deficit reduction plans.
By contrast, the Republican platform returns to George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security and allow it to be “invested” in the Stock Market–despite the fact that this would have been disastrous in ’08. Remember what happened to your 401Ks and pensions? Imagine that happening to your Social Security, too.
Here is one area which, as recently as 2004, saw broad agreement between the two parties, but which has now disappeared. In ’04 both parties recognized the need to overhaul the federal immigration system, allowing for far more LEGAL immigrants and giving some path to citizenship to those here illegally. The Democrats still do that. They propose a fine and a longer waiting period for those who came here illegally (or allowed visas to lapse, etc.), but a path to citizenship, nonetheless. They also commit themselves again to passing the DREAM Act which would allow those brought here as children illegally to go to college, get a job, join the military, etc. without fear of deportation and also open a path to citizenship.
By contrast, the Republicans want to fortify the borders, restrict LEGAL immigration further (forgetting that we need the dynamism and energy and creativity of immigrants and always have), and deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants. They want to create harsh conditions that lead to “self-deportation,” including denying healthcare or primary school education to undocumented children. They also want to deny citizenship to those born here whose parents did not come here legally. The platform commends the harsh laws of Arizona as “a model for the nation.”
V. Gay Rights: The Republicans commit to reintroducing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military. They also want a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one woman and one man. They want an end to anti-bullying measures and to hate crime laws because this is supposedly a violation of the religious liberty of those want to bully or commit anti-gay hate crimes. (The logic escapes me). They want to overturn Lawrence v. Texas and reinstate “sodomy” laws which criminalize homosexuality altogether. They want the State Department to commend, not condem, countries which put gays to death!
By contrast, the Democrats are more strongly committed to equal rights regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity than ever before. They commit to defending the continued open service of gays and lesbians in the armed forces. They commit to repealing the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) which prevents same-sex marriages from receiving the federal benefits than opposite-sex marriages do. They also call for all states and the federal government to recognize full civil marriage equality–while also protecting the religious liberty of churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. which object to such marriages, so that none could be forced to peform or recognize them. The platform stops short of advocating a specific path to marriage equality: State-by-State, Constitutional Amendment, etc. But it puts the Democratic Party itself on regard as endorsing the freedom of all to marry whomever they love regardless of sex or gender.
The Democratic platform also commits itself to continue to push for enactment of the Employee Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) which would prevent anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace. No one could be fired or passed over for promotion or denied employment simply because of sexual orientation or gender identity–as they can now in the majority of states.
The contrast here could not be stronger. The days when the Democrats were saying, “We are slightly less homphobic than the other party” are over. There are Republicans who are pro-gay rights (Megan McCain, Clint Eastwood), but they have no voice in their party platform.
VI. Women’s rights:
The Republican platform says very little about this as such. You have to read what they say about abortion and birth control and what they say about the market setting wages and salaries (i.e., their opposition to equal pay for equal work) to see how anti-woman the party has become. It’s ironic since the Republican Party was the first to embrace women’s right to vote, elected the first women to the House and Senate, and were the first Party to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment (until Reagan had that removed). But that was a very different Republican Party than today.
The Democratic platform committed to continuing the struggle for the Equal Rights Amendment (it did not specify whether to try to get Congress to pass it again and send it to the states once more or whether to simply re-start the clock on state ratification where it left off). It committed to pushing for the Paycheck Equality Act to end sex discrimination by salary in the workplace. It committed to continuing funding for Title IX which has promoted equality in women’s sports programs in public schools and public colleges and universities. It committed the party for working to end the “glass ceiling” for women in all areas of life.
And the Democratic platform committed to defending Roe v. Wade. Abortions need to be reduced but NOT by reducing women’s choices. It also committed itself to protecting contraception coverage by insurance plans.
On the other hand, the Republican platform called for a Constitutional Amendment defining human life as beginning at conception and banning all forms of abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the life or health of the mother. It would ban some forms of contraception as forms of abortion.
Once more, the contrast could not be stronger.
That’s enough for this post. I’ll check other areas for a second post.