Party platforms often ignored, but revealing

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Among the functions when the Democratic National Convention gavels open Tuesday night -- listen to speeches, wear funny hats, root, root, root for the home team -- is the adoption of the party’s platform.

The document, a nonbinding statement of principles, matters a great deal to an exceedingly small number of people, who spend long stretches of time indoors niggling over the finer points of a manifesto that will be gnored by the vast majority of Americans.

Bob Dole, nothing less than the Republican Party’s 1996 presidential nominee, famously said on the eve of his party’s convention that he hadn’t bothered reading the GOP platform and wouldn’t be bound by whatever it said.

So when it comes to politics, platforms are sort of the Rodney Dangerfield of documents. (Helpful link for those younger than, say, 50.)


But academics who study such things (and are presumably paid to do so) say the documents actually offer a helpful guide to a party’s priorities and the direction they would take the country.

In the category of the blindingly obvious, the Democratic document lays out a liberal agenda and the Republicans’ a conservative vision. The gap on issues can be yawning, but one thing members of both parties could endorse is this summation from the platform the Democrats released Monday: “This election is not simply a choice between two candidates or two political parties, but between two fundamentally different paths for our country and our families.”

Some contrasts in the two parties’ platforms on the issues:


Democrats state their unequivocal support for Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, and advocate taxpayer support for the procedure by declaring a woman’s right to “a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.”

Republicans oppose abortion without exception, including rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at stake. Their platform opposes using public funds to pay for abortion or to fund any organization that performs or advocates abortion.


Democrats credit President Obama with responsibly ending the war in Iraq, routing the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, killing Osama bin Laden and starting to wind down U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. They endorse a strong military, but say defense cuts must be part of any plan to balance the federal budget.

Republicans accuse the Obama administration of weakness in dealing with enemies North Korea and Iran and of coddling China, an economic competitor. It says Obama wants to irresponsibly weaken the country through cuts in military spending.


Democrats say Obamacare strengthens Medicare, the federal insurance program for the elderly, by providing new benefits, fighting fraud and improving patient care. Their platform staunchly opposes any effort to turn Medicare into a premium-support, or voucher, system.

Republicans say the current Medicare program is unsustainable and support a transition to a premium-support, or voucher, system that would allow recipients to shop for their preferred healthcare plan.


The Democratic document endorses “comprehensive” reform that would include a path to citizenship for millions of people in the country illegally.

Republicans emphasize law enforcement, opposes “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, calls for the Justice Department to end its lawsuits against states that have cracked down and advocates making English the country’s official language.

Same-sex marriage

The Democratic platform reflects President Obama’s movement on the issue, endorsing the opportunity for same-sex couples to wed.

The Republicans define marriage as a union between a man and a woman and favor an amendment writing that definition into the Constitution.


Democrats call for extending tax cuts for the 98% of American families who make less than $250,000 a year and allowing the Bush-era tax breaks for the very wealthy to lapse.

The GOP platform would extend the Bush-era tax breaks pending a thorough overhaul of the tax code. It calls for repealing the estate and alternative minimum taxes and eliminating taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains for lower- and middle-income Americans.

Follow Politics Now on Twitter and Facebook

Twitter: @markzbarabak