Examining the Democratic Platform Part VI: “Advancing Democracy, Development, and Respect for Human Rights”, “Protecting our Security and Saving our Planet”, and “Seizing the Opportunity”

This is continued from Parts I-V of my examination of the Democratic Platform. Today was not a good day for work on my platform examinations.

“Advancing Democracy, Development, and Respect for Human Rights”:

No country in the world has benefited more from the worldwide expansion of democracy than the United States. Democracies are our best trading partners, our most valuable allies, and the nations with which we share our deepest values. The United States must join with our democratic partners around the world to meet common security challenges and uphold our shared values whenever they are threatened by autocratic practices, coups, human rights abuses, or genocide.

It sounds like the Democrats may be up for “joining with other democracies” as well – there may be some hints here that the Republican program of expanding democracy and forming a clique of democracies isn’t 100% disagreed to by the Democrats. But really, this sentiment and the actual position taken with it is very reasonable.

“Build Democratic Institutions”: “The Democratic Party reaffirms its longstanding commitment to support democratic institutions and practices worldwide. A more democratic world is a more peaceful and prosperous place. Yet democracy cannot be imposed by force from the outside; it must be nurtured with moderates on the inside by building democratic institutions.” I may have jumped the gun on making this point during my examination of the Republican Platform. We’ve seen what happens when democracy is “imposed by force from the outside” in Iraq: it doesn’t work and creates lingering resentment, and it doesn’t help that Iraq may not have had the cultural values that nurture a democracy.

“The United States must be a relentless advocate for democracy and put forward a vision of democracy that goes beyond the ballot box. We will increase our support for strong legislatures, independent judiciaries, free press, vibrant civil society, honest police forces, religious freedom, equality for women and minorities, and the rule of law.” Does that mean a “strong legislature” in the United States, where even with the opposition party in power Congress has basically rolled over for whatever the President wants? And the “rule of law” makes a comeback! And this all deserves a call back to the Republicans’ statement that “[s]ocieties that enjoy political and economic freedom and the rule of law are not given to aggression or fanaticism. They become our natural allies.” So the US has some interest in all of this!

These are all good goals but they touch on what I mean by being “culturally ready for democracy”. In some societies, “independent judiciaries, free press,” and “civil society” is unheard of; religious freedom is literally heretical; women have defined, inferior roles that are seen as the natural order of things; and minorities are naturally inferior. The cultural underpinnings of democracy, we sometimes forget, are almost all Western; trying to institute democracy on a very different culture with very different values, without understanding that culture and its differences, could be courting disaster. Democracy seems to be working well in India and Israel, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule, as they have had strong, historical Western influence.

“In new democracies, we will support the development of civil society and representative institutions that can protect fundamental human rights and improve the quality of life for all citizens, including independent and democratic unions.” Gotta plug those unions! If you know what civil society is, you may be wondering how government can “promote” it, since it consists mostly of institutions outside of government. This is pretty much all an agreeable platitude. “In non-democratic countries, we pledge to work with international partners to assist the efforts of those struggling to promote peaceful political reforms.” Sounds reasonable. Keep funding our pro-democracy programs as well, because that “reflects American values and serves our interests”. After the Democrats put in all their social programs, will there be any money to fund those programs?

“Invest in Our Common Humanity”:

To renew American leadership in the world, we will strengthen our common security by investing in our common humanity. In countries wracked by poverty and conflict, citizens long to enjoy freedom from want. Because extremely poor societies and weak states provide optimal breeding grounds for terrorism, disease, and conflict, the United States has a direct national security interest in dramatically reducing global poverty and joining with our allies in sharing more of our riches to help those most in need.

This all sounds reasonable and an important point. Compare the Republican statement that “Societies that enjoy political and economic freedom and the rule of law are not given to aggression or fanaticism. They become our natural allies.”

It is time to make the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which aim to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015, America’s goals as well. We need to invest in building capable, democratic states that can establish healthy and educated communities, develop markets, and generate wealth. Such states would also have greater institutional capacities to fight terrorism, halt the spread of deadly weapons, and build health-care infrastructures to prevent, detect, and treat deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and avian flu.

Sounds good and could help build our own prosperity. Certainly controlling terrorism and stopping weapons trafficking are important goals. “We will double our annual investment in meeting these challenges to $50 billion by 2012 and ensure that those new resources are directed toward worthwhile goals.” Could be considered throwing money away, especially when you consider all the other ways Democrats want to spend money, but then you feel like a bastard for not caring about people in third world countries. But: “We will work with philanthropic organizations and the private sector to invest in development and poverty reduction.” Sounds good – allow entities outside government to do their work – but would the government meddle in their operations? Nudging the private sector into development in third world countries is certainly good, though.

But if America is going to help others build more just and secure societies, our trade deals, debt relief, and foreign aid must not come as blank checks. We will recognize the fragility of small nations in the Caribbean, the Americas, Africa, and Asia and work with them to successfully transition to a new global economy. We will couple our support with an insistent call for reform, to combat the corruption that rots societies and governments from within.

What’s the carrot on the stick that will actually make them reform? At least the Democrats recognize the Republicans’ challenge when they said: “Decades of massive aid have failed to spur economic growth in the poorest countries, where it has often propped up failed policies and corrupt rulers.” But they don’t answer the Republicans’ “call for… greater accountability by recipient countries so as to ensure against malfeasance, self-dealing, and corruption, and to ensure continued assistance is conditioned on performance.” The Republicans supported democratization over token gestures of food and monetary aid, and the Democrats supported democratization in the previous section and “development” here. And education:

As part of this new funding, we will create a $2 billion Global Education Fund that will bring the world together in eliminating the global education deficit with the goal of supporting a free, quality, basic education for every child in the world. Education increases incomes, reduces poverty, strengthens communities, prevents the spread of disease, improves child and maternal health, and empowers women and girls. We cannot hope to shape a world where opportunity outweighs danger unless we ensure that every child everywhere is taught to build and not to destroy.

More throwing money away, but “bring[ing] the world together” implies that not all the money would come from the American government. This makes education sound like the “magic bullet” that will solve all the Third World’s problems. The Republicans just list education on a list of “core development programs” to give “greater attention” to, but they also listed “emphasizing literacy and learning” on a list of “high-impact goals” for aid, as part of their “no more handouts” program.

“Our policies will recognize that human rights are women’s rights and that women’s rights are human rights. Women make up the majority of the poor in the world. So we will expand access to women’s economic development opportunities and seek to expand microcredit.” The first half of the first sentence is a tautology; the second is simultaneously a tautology and bound to be controversial. Republicans also called for “microcredit funding for small enterprises” as one of the “foundations of economic development”, but that’s not really what the Democrats are talking about. “Women produce half of the world’s food but only own one percent of the land upon which it is grown. We will work to ensure that women have equal protection under the law and are not denied rights and therefore locked into poverty.” In places primed for the idea of women’s equality, where trying to “make women into men” won’t cause riots, that’s fairly common sense. The Republicans would reject the UN convention on women’s rights because it gave some sort of support to abortion, so the GOP could protect “traditional” “marriage and family”. I’m still smarting from that.

“We will modernize our foreign assistance policies, tools, and operations in an elevated, empowered, consolidated, and streamlined U.S. development agency. Development and diplomacy will be reinforced as key pillars of U.S. foreign policy, and our civilian agencies will be staffed, resourced, and equipped to address effectively new global challenges.” I’m sure Republicans should sound relieved that the development agency would be “consolidated and streamlined”, but I don’t know what needs “modernization”. And there’s a lot of other stuff that needs to be “staffed, resourced, and equipped” as well.

Time to take another shot at Bush: “American leadership on human rights is essential to making the world safer, more just, and more humane. Such leadership must begin with steps to undo the damage of the Bush years. But we also must go much further. We should work with others to shape human rights institutions and instruments tailored to the 21st century.” What are the new challenges of the 21st century that current human rights institutions are not prepared for? “We must make the United Nations’ human rights organs more objective, energetic, and effective.” You already mentioned keeping human rights violators off the Human Rights Council, but good. “The U.S. must lead global efforts to promote international humanitarian standards and to protect civilians from indiscriminate violence during warfare.” Sounds good. “We will champion accountability for genocide and war crimes, ending the scourge of impunity for massive human rights abuses.” Would that include joining the International Criminal Court?

“We will stand up for oppressed people from Cuba to North Korea and from Burma to Zimbabwe and Sudan. We will accord greater weight to human rights, including the rights of women and children, in our relationships with other global powers, recognizing that America’s long-term strategic interests are more likely to be advanced when our partners are rights-respecting.” I’m not 100% sure what the connection is between respecting human rights and advancing “America’s long-term strategic interests”. But as a human rights-advancing move, it certainly sounds like a good idea to restrict negotiations and/or make tougher demands unless human rights abuses are tamped down (an approach the Republicans espouse on several specific occasions). It is worth noting that you just came close to the Republican position of making our diplomats “advance[] America’s values”. Although if you insist on the right to an abortion I know some people who will scream bloody murder. And I notice you finally name-dropped Burma in there.

“Global Health”:

Democrats will invest in improving global health. It is a human shame that many of the diseases which compound the problem of global poverty are treatable, but they are yet to be treated.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic is a massive human tragedy. It is also a security risk of the highest order that threatens to plunge nations into chaos. There are an estimated 33 million people across the planet infected with HIV/AIDS, including more than one million people in the U.S. Nearly 8,000 people die every day of AIDS. We must do more to fight the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, as well as malaria, tuberculosis, and neglected tropical diseases. We will provide $50 billion over five years to strengthen existing U.S. programs and expand them to new regions of the world, including Southeast Asia, India, and parts of Europe, where the HIV/AIDS burden is growing. We will increase U.S. contributions to the Global Fund to ensure that global efforts to fight endemic disease continue to move ahead.

More potential throwing money away, and this entire section will tie back into the Democrats’ health care plan. I know I’ll sound like a bastard again, but this has the added problem of being of unclear national interest, aside from the “plunge nations into chaos” line. It’s also worth noting that some people, especially Republicans, will tell you that there are cultural problems that make AIDS worse in Africa, and combating it more difficult.

“We also support the adoption of humanitarian licensing policies that ensure medications developed with the U.S. taxpayer dollars are available off patent in developing countries.” Not sure what the practical effect of that would be… “We will repeal the global gag rule and reinstate funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).” The “global gag rule” is the Republicans’ policy of refusing to provide any support to organizations that aid abortion in any way, which I tore to shreds in Part II of my Republican examination. “We will expand access to health care and nutrition for women and reduce the burden of maternal mortality.” Sounds good. A lot of good-sounding platitudes in here. “We will leverage the engagement of the private sector and private philanthropy to launch Health Infrastructure 2020a global effort to work with developing countries to invest in the full range of infrastructure needed to improve and protect both American and global health.” Obviously, very gimmicky.

“Human Trafficking”:

We will address human trafficking—both labor and sex trafficking–through strong legislation and enforcement to ensure that trafficking victims are protected and traffickers are brought to justice. We will also address the root causes of human trafficking, including poverty, discrimination, and gender inequality, as well as the demand for prostitution.

The Republicans preferred to take on human trafficking by establishing the gimmicky “Inter-Agency Task Force on Human Trafficking, reporting directly to the President”, prodding other governments to crack down, and extending the American policy of “publicizing the identity of known offenders” to international travel. The Democrats don’t have anything as specific but they do want to focus on the “root causes” in addition to their “strong legislation and enforcement”.

“Protecting our Security and Saving our Planet”: Yes, it’s a return to the topic of climate change, this time specifically focused on climate change and not just “energy independence”! But what does it have to do with national security and foreign affairs?

We must end the tyranny of oil in our time. This immediate danger is eclipsed only by the longer-term threat from climate change, which will lead to devastating weather patterns, terrible storms, drought, conflict, and famine. That means people competing for food and water in the next fifty years in the very places that have known horrific violence in the last fifty: Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. That could also mean destructive storms on our shores, and the disappearance of our coastline.

We understand that climate change is not just an economic issue or an environmental concern–this is a national security crisis.

I almost want to say, you better touch on climate change in both of the remaining parts as well. Before we begin, I want to make some clarifying remarks about “cap-and-trade” schemes. Back in Part II, I said I was deeply suspicious of cap-and-trade schemes but gave a description of them that was not necessarily accurate. At least some cap and trade schemes involve setting a hard limit not on each individual producer’s carbon emissions, but on the emissions of the whole economy. To produce any emissions at all, companies would have to purchase carbon credits from the government, and have to deal not only with other companies producing carbon but also environmentalists buying credits to lower emissions even further. It all sounds like a good way to move us towards a green future while raising money for the government and green research projects, but there are enforceability concerns and it encourages energy efficiency more than new energy sources. Anyway, enough talking; on with the show!

“Establish Energy Security”: The Democrats take an oblique shot at Bush and the Iraq war, saying “achieving energy security in the 21st century requires far more than simply expending our economic and political resources to keep oil flowing steadily out of unstable and even hostile countries and regions.”

Rather, energy security requires stemming the flow of money to oil rich regimes that are hostile to America and its allies; it requires combating climate change and preparing for its impacts both at home and abroad; it requires making international energy markets work for us and not against us; it requires standing up to the oil companies that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying and political contributions; it requires addressing nuclear safety, waste, and proliferation challenges around the world; and more.

For the most part, this all sounds good, but I notice the Democrats are also standing up for nuclear (sigh) but they are calling to address its “challenges”. Not sure what the problem with “international energy markets” is. “Democrats will halt this dangerous trend, and take the necessary steps to achieving energy independence. We will make it a top priority to reduce oil consumption by at least 35 percent, or ten million barrels per day, by 2030. This will more than offset the amount of oil we are expected to import from OPEC nations in 2030.” Once again, the Dems aren’t being ambitious enough. 35 percent by 2030? Ideally we should be able to get rid of our oil consumption almost entirely by then, between electric cars and mass transit – and we should, especially in the likely scenario we start running out of oil.

“Lead to Combat Climate Change”: This is the sort of sentiment I like to see from a major party:

We will lead to defeat the epochal, man-made threat to the planet: climate change. Without dramatic changes, rising sea levels will flood coastal regions around the world. Warmer temperatures and declining rainfall will reduce crop yields, increasing conflict, famine, disease, and poverty. By 2050, famine could displace more than 250 million people worldwide. That means increased instability in some of the most volatile parts of the world.

Never again will we sit on the sidelines, or stand in the way of collective action to tackle this global challenge. Getting our own house in order is only a first step. We will invest in efficient and clean technologies at home while using our assistance policies and export promotions to help developing countries preserve biodiversity, curb deforestation, and leapfrog the carbon-energy-intensive stage of development.

Not only the first sentence of the first paragraph, but most of the policy positions in the second, are “hear, hear” remarks. “[L]eapfrog[ging] the carbon-energy-intensive stage of development” almost takes the words right out of my mouth, and “developing countries” can’t just include third-world countries but also nations like China. I pretty much said as much in my hysterical anti-climate-change rant.

“We will reach out to the leaders of the biggest carbon emitting nations and ask them to join a new Global Energy Forum that will lay the foundation for the next generation of climate protocols.” Gimmicky but sounds like a good idea. “China has replaced America as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Clean energy development must be a central focus in our relationships with major countries in Europe and Asia.” That’s a good approach. “We need a global response to climate change that includes binding and enforceable commitments to reducing emissions, especially for those that pollute the most: the United States, China, India, the European Union, and Russia.” Another good idea, but I hope the Democrats really will be willing to limit themselves under international pressure. As should the other nations listed. Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats aren’t whining that we shouldn’t “expect the U.S. to carry burdens which are more appropriately shared by all.” “This challenge is massive, but rising to it will also bring new benefits to America. By 2050, global demand for low-carbon energy could create an annual market worth $500 billion. Meeting that demand would open new frontiers for American entrepreneurs and workers.” Let’s try and create that demand and meet it pretty close to right now.

“Seizing the Opportunity”:

It is time for a new generation to tell the next great American story. If we act with boldness and foresight, we will be able to tell our grandchildren that this was the time we confronted climate change and secured the weapons that could destroy the human race. This was the time we defeated global terrorists and brought opportunity to forgotten corners of the world. This was the time when we helped forge peace in the Middle East. This was the time when we renewed the America that has led generations of weary travelers from all over the world to find opportunity and liberty and hope on our doorstep.

Hyperbole much? This “section” is really a summary of the whole part. I have a feeling it’ll be difficult for future generations to grasp the magnitude of the WMD threat today. Similarly, some people may not even realize that “the America that has led generations of weary travelers…to find opportunity and liberty and hope on our doorstep” even needed renewing, except from the Bush years. It sounds good that you’re going to “help[] forge peace in the Middle East”, but well, there’s a reason that would be “the next great American story”. But defeating terrorists and combating the climate crisis? That is the next great American story.

The Democrats devote another two very short paragraphs to a past when America was a beacon of hope around the world instead of a flashpoint of hatred, and call for America to return to the former, but I’m going to “seize the opportunity” to look back on the part and whether the Democrats met their goals. They said “today’s threats” “come from weapons that can kill on a mass scale and from violent extremists who exploit alienation and perceived injustice to spread terror.” So the Democrats will take steps to reduce and hopefully end any worldwide need for nuclear weapons, and secure materials that could be used to make them. They have a superior strategy to the Republicans’ (provisionally) in dealing with Iran, but the Republicans are tougher on North Korea. But my biggest problem I have with the Democrats here is that I’m not sure they’re willing to invest in actually preventing biological and chemical weapon attacks, only in reducing their impact. The Democrats might be soft on cyberterrorism as well. As for terror, the Democrats are superior to the head-in-the-sand Republicans on Pakistan, but their real strength lies in their quest to restore America’s integrity and likability, and in their quest to aid development in countries prone to the message of extremism. The one concern I have is whether the Democrats have a system to monitor terrorists that won’t impinge on America’s civil liberties.

They come from rogue states allied to terrorists and from rising powers that could challenge both America and the international foundation of liberal democracy.” This is a vague sentence, and sometimes the Democrats address it and sometimes they don’t. “They come from weak states that cannot control their territory or provide for their people.” So the Democrats put a focus on development and democratization to build up third world countries – goals the Republicans espouse as well. “They come from an addiction to oil that helps fund the extremism we must fight and empowers repressive regimes. And they come from a warming planet that will spur new diseases, spawn more devastating natural disasters, and catalyze deadly conflicts.” And both of those are dealt with in the same way. The Democrats are far superior to the Republicans in combating the urgent matter of climate change. There is plenty of room for improvement and they take a liking to a number of alternative energies I don’t like, but realistically, given the choice between the Democratic or Republican plan, I would rather take the Democrats. I’m just concerned they might not have an urgent enough stance on the problem.

Short part, isn’t it? Well, the Democrats’ Part III is right around the bend – we might be entering the home stretch here as well!

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