Examining the Democratic Platform Part VII: “Renewing the American Community” Part I: Macro-Level Issues

This is continued from Parts I-VI of my examination of the Democratic Platform. It’s been a long time since the last part in this series, hasn’t it?

For anyone wondering what to expect from the new Administration, on the eve of the Inauguration. To see the rest of the series, click on the Democratic Platform Review label. Part VIII tomorrow, which combine to knock out the Democrats’ Part III. My heading for each part is somewhat arbitrary and a generalization, especially this one, but I think it works.

The platform itself – not just my rendering of the headings – changes format for Part III, “Renewing the American Community”. The section headings I had placed in bold earlier in the platform? They’re gone. Part III cuts straight down two levels of headings to the individual topics without grouping them. The introductory paragraph talks “of the need for compassion, empathy, a commitment to our values, and the importance of being united in order to take on the challenges and opportunities of the new century.”

They said that they valued Barack Obama’s message that alongside Americans’ famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga: a belief that we are connected to each other. We could all choose to focus on our own concerns and live our lives in a way that tries to keep our individual stories separate from the larger story of America. But that is not who we are. That is not our American story. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to us, even if it’s not our child. Similarly, if there’s a senior citizen in Elko, Nevada who has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes our lives poorer, even if it’s not our grandmother. Because it is only when we join together in something larger than ourselves that we can write the next great chapter in America’s story.

Those examples don’t appear, at least, to give this part much of a distinction from Part I. It expresses an agreeable attitude rather than a policy position: “we’re all in this together”. But we’ll press on anyway. “Service”:

The future of our country will be determined not only by our government and our policies but through the efforts of the American people. That is why we will ask all Americans to be actively involved in meeting the challenges of the new century. In this young century, our military has answered the call to serve, even as that call has come too often. We must now make it possible for all citizens to serve. We will expand AmeriCorps, double the size of the Peace Corps, enable more to serve in the military, create new opportunities for international service, integrate service into primary education, and create new opportunities for experienced and retired persons to serve.

Expanding AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, and “opportunities for experienced and retired persons” sounds good; hopefully it’s not burning money. By “enable more to serve in the military”, are you referring to increasing the military’s size or just loosening requirements for people to serve? What are these “opportunities for international service” and are they welcomed in those countries or seen as unneeded meddling? Are you really trying to get children to serve their communities somehow?

“And if you invest in America, America will invest in you: we will increase support for service-learning, establish tax incentives for college students who serve, and create scholarships for students who pledge to become teachers.” Some of this you mentioned already. “We will use the Internet to better match volunteers to service opportunities.” What form will this take, a search engine, or would you ask people who want to serve to join a service and be matched? All this will “meet America’s challenges in a uniquely American way.”

“Immigration”: This touches on a topic the Republicans covered all the way back in Part I. It starts with some expected platitudes: we’re a nation of immigrants, you can make it here, immigrants contribute to who we are, and so on. “Like the immigrants that came before them, today’s immigrants will shape their own destinies and enrich our country.”

Nonetheless, our current immigration system has been broken for far too long. We need comprehensive immigration reform, not just piecemeal efforts. We must work together to pass immigration reform in a way that unites this country, not in a way that divides us by playing on our worst instincts and fears. We are committed to pursuing tough, practical, and humane immigration reform in the first year of the next administration.

We cannot continue to allow people to enter the United States undetected, undocumented, and unchecked. The American people are a welcoming and generous people, but those who enter our country’s borders illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of the law. We need to secure our borders, and support additional personnel, infrastructure, and technology on the border and at our ports of entry.

I’m a bit surprised to see the Democrats be as high on trying to secure the border as the Republicans were, albeit much later in the platform in a way that makes this seem like a “miscellaneous” part. Still, if I gave you the above last three sentences, you might think they came from the Republican platform. They even say that “those who employ [illegal immigrants] disrespect the rule of the law”, which I was concerned about when it came up in the Republican platform. Compare the Republicans’ call for “more effective enforcement, giving our agents the tools and resources they need to protect our sovereignty, completing the border fence quickly and securing the borders, and employing complementary strategies to secure our ports of entry.” No call to add “personnel”, but the Democrats don’t directly say what “infrastructure[] and technology” are referring to. Yet. Of course, that’s arguably more specific than “tools and resources”.

“We need additional Customs and Border Protection agents equipped with better technology and real-time intelligence.” That’s basically a slightly more specific version of the last sentence replacing “infrastructure” with “intelligence”. “We need to dismantle human smuggling organizations, combating the crime associated with this trade.” The Republicans want to “impos[e] maximum penalties on those who smuggle illegal aliens into the U.S., both for their lawbreaking and for their cruel exploitation.” But now comes something that looks to be a bit of a break with the Republicans: “We also need to do more to promote economic development in migrant-sending nations, to reduce incentives to come to the United States illegally.” That pretty much took the words right out of my mouth – from my Republican platform examination, when I suggested that perhaps the best long-term solution to illegal immigration was to help rise Mexico out of abject poverty.

And we need to crack down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants. It’s a problem when we only enforce our laws against the immigrants themselves, with raids that are ineffective, tear apart families, and leave people detained without adequate access to counsel. We realize that employers need a method to verify whether their employees are legally eligible to work in the United States, and we will ensure that our system is accurate, fair to legal workers, safeguards people’s privacy, and cannot be used to discriminate against workers.

“[E]mployers need a method to verify whether their employees are legally eligible to work in the United States” could be considered a backing of the Republicans’ E-Verify system or could be saying that system is flawed enough not to count. Possibly pointing to the latter, the Democrats naturally proceed to throw in a bunch of caveats: it needs to be “fair to legal workers, safeguard[] people’s privacy, and cannot be used to discriminate against workers.” Would that result in making the system ineffective, especially the last two parts? I’m all for privacy and ending discrimination, but…

We must also improve the legal immigration system, and make our nation’s naturalization process fair and accessible to the thousands of legal permanent residents who are eager to become full Americans. We should fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy that hampers family reunification, the cornerstone of our immigration policy for years. Given the importance of both keeping families together and supporting American businesses, we will increase the number of immigration visas for family members of people living here and for immigrants who meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill, as long as appropriate labor market protections and standards are in place. We will fight discrimination against Americans who have always played by our immigration rules but are sometimes treated as if they had not.

The idea of easing access for the many people who become illegal immigrants despite not flouting the law otherwise is one of my touchstones on this issue. Both parties use the exact phrase “dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy”, which by this point is, in the case of the Republicans, part of a larger campaign against Big Bad Gov’ment Bur’cracy that needs to be “simplified”, but the Republicans don’t seem to put much of an emphasis on “family reunification”. Hopefully the Democrats won’t allow family members to be used as a Trojan horse to sneak in lawbreakers.

For the millions living here illegally but otherwise playing by the rules, we must require them to come out of the shadows and get right with the law. We support a system that requires undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, pay taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens. They are our neighbors, and we can help them become full tax-paying, law-abiding, productive members of society.

What’s the size of the fine? Is this enough penalty for breaking the law (a sore point for Republicans)? If not, is this a one-time deal to deal with the current crisis (similar to the bailout)? How will you make sure those people that aren’t “otherwise playing by the rules” (or trying to avoid crimes committed in Mexico) don’t sneak into the legal immigration system this way? (Actually, the “back of the line to become citizens” part may be crucial here, because presumably anyone who continued to break the law here could still be deported if they’re still not citizens, and if they stayed law-abiding in this country for long enough they’re probably reformed anyway.) On the plus side, this is the biggest assurance the Democrats have yet given that they won’t let America turn into Quebec, and it’s not quite “en masse legalizations” like the Republicans tried to paint it. I have a number of concerns with both sides’ policies here.

“Hurricane Katrina”: I don’t think the Republicans have touched on Katrina, but I’m not sure what section it would be in – possibly the “Values” section I haven’t gotten to yet. I’m going to cover this paragraph from the perspective of thinking we need to stand by Americans in times of need, and make sure New Orleans can thrive again, and then offer my actual, alternative, opinions.

“The people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are heroes for returning and rebuilding, and they shouldn’t face these challenges alone. We will partner with the people of the Gulf Coast to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina and restore the region economically.” Sounds good. “We will create jobs and training opportunities for returning and displaced workers as well as contracting opportunities for local businesses to help create stronger, safer, and more equitable communities.” That’s especially important, that part about offering “opportunities for local businesses”. Hopefully it won’t be Iraq 2.0.

“We will increase funding for affordable housing and home ownership opportunities for returning families, workers, and residents moving out of unsafe trailers.” On top of everything else you want to fund? “We will reinvest in infrastructure in New Orleans: we will construct levees that work, fight crime by rebuilding local police departments and courthouses, invest in hospitals, and rebuild the public school system.” That’s important and it can help create jobs, which also helps with the recovery. The matter of levees will be covered in my alternative opinion below. “We also commit to the rebuilding and restoration of the Iowa communities affected by the floods of 2008.” Kind of a token gesture sentence.

But honestly, I think this is a case where it is possible that the best approach may well be something that no politician – no one, period – in a million years would ever get away with. It would seem too cold, too inhumane. But practically, when you consider how much of New Orleans sits below sea level, and especially global warming potentially melting the ice caps and raising sea levels, it may well be that keeping building bigger and bigger levees is a waste of money and it’s an open question whether or not the city is much worth saving. In the same vein, we need to assess how much our levees on our rivers are helping or hurting. Levees don’t lower the amount of water flowing, just hold it back, and eventually all that water has to go somewhere and it results in megafloods instead of just plain floods. Certainly we need to reconsider using levees to protect agricultural lands, where floodwaters could actually help in some ways, as long as the farmhouses are properly protected and the rivers aren’t being used to dump waste that’s toxic to crops.

“Preventing and Responding to Future Catastrophes”:

We will also work to prevent future catastrophic response failures, whether the emergency comes from hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, wild fires, drought, bridge collapses, or any other natural or man-made disaster. Maintaining our levees and dams is not pork barrel spending—it is an urgent priority. We will fix governmental agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, ensure that they are staffed with professionals, and create integrated communication and response plans. We will reform the Small Business Administration bureaucracy, and develop a real National Response Plan.

All important points; “levees and dams” are only “pork barrel spending” if the money is being spent inequitably, so the levees are being maintained in places where powerful politicians come from and not in places where they aren’t. I notice the Democrats are again saying a “bureaucracy” needs to be fixed, and are returning to gimmicks like a “National Response Plan”. “We will develop a National Catastrophic Insurance Fund to offer an affordable insurance mechanism for high-risk catastrophes that no single private insurer can cover by itself for fear of bankruptcy. This will allow states and territories to deal comprehensively with the economic dislocation of natural disasters.” Sounds reasonable and important enough, but where will the money for it come from?

“Stewardship of Our Planet and Natural Resources”: Ah, it’s back to the well of global warming again, back in my wheelhouse! “Global climate change is the planet’s greatest threat, and our response will determine the very future of life on this earth. Despite the efforts of our current Administration to deny the science of climate change and the need to act, we still believe that America can be earth’s best hope.” Once again, the sentiment I like to hear!

“We will implement a market-based cap and trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic change and we will set interim targets along the way to ensure that we meet our goal.” I mentioned last time we talked about climate change that I was a little less skeptical about cap-and-trade than the time before. Why “the amount scientists say is necessary to avoid climate change”? I know you might want to hide from businesses how much you expect them to reduce their carbon emissions, but you could just as easily be hiding from me that you’re not really going to be as aggressive as “scientists say”. Hey, when you consider the lack of aggressiveness in the targets you actually have given, you can’t blame me for feeling this is a bit uncharacteristic.

“We will invest in advanced energy technologies, to build the clean energy economy and create millions of new, good “Green Collar” American jobs. Because the environment is a truly global concern, the United States must be a leader in combating climate change around the world, including exporting climate-friendly technologies to developing countries.” This all repeats stuff talked about in previous global-warming sections. “We will use innovative measures to dramatically improve the energy efficiency of buildings, including establishing a grant program for early adopters and providing incentives for energy conservation.” Those certainly sound like more good ideas. “We will encourage local initiatives, sustainable communities, personal responsibility, and environmental stewardship and education nationwide.” More good ideas, especially for the long term.

The rest of the section deals mostly with non-global warming environmental issues, by and large not touched on by the Republicans. “We will help local communities in the American West preserve water to meet their fast growing needs.” Some of those are pretty big “communities”, and how are you going to do that? “We support a comprehensive solution for restoring our national treasures—such as the Great Lakes, Everglades, and Chesapeake Bay—including expanded scientific research and protections for species and habitats there.” Not quite sure what the problems are in those places, what those “protections” would involve, or what.

“We will reinvigorate the Environmental Protection Agency so that we can work with communities to reduce air and water pollution and protect our children from environmental toxins, and never sacrifice science to politics.” All sounds good; have you noticed how often the Democrats harp on focusing on “sound science” or the like? “We will protect Nevada and its communities from the high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, which has not been proven to be safe by sound science.” Normally I’d be all over this statement, loving every minute of it, but since you already backed nuclear power earlier in the platform as a way of combating global warming, how do you intend to deal with the waste instead? “We will restore the “polluter pays” principle to fund the cleanup of the most polluted sites, so that those who cause environmental problems pay to fix them.” Certainly a reasonable way to do things – you broke it, you clean it up.

Federal Lands
We will create a new vision for conservation that works with local communities to conserve our existing publicly-owned lands while dramatically expanding investments in conserving and restoring forests, grasslands, and wetlands across America for generations to come. Unlike the current Administration, we will reinvest in our nation’s forests by providing federal agencies with resources to reduce the threat of wildland fires, promote sustainable forest product industries for rural economic development and ensure that national resources are in place to respond to catastrophic wildland fires.

Do you intend to put more lands under federal control? Is this a SGWTM situation? And while the second sentence sounds good, it’s important to remember that wildfires are often natural and should be let burn to reduce the impact of future wildfires and improve the overall ecosystem. Federal authorities should only protect humans living in or near the wilderness and any other important investments. “We will treat our national parks with the same respect that millions of families show each year when they visit. We will recognize that our parks are national treasures, and will ensure that they are protected as part of the overall natural system so they are here for generations to come.” Certainly sounds reasonable. “We are committed to conserving the lands used by hunters and anglers, and we will open millions of new acres of land to public hunting and fishing.” I wouldn’t have expected the Democrats to expand hunting and fishing, which would put them at odds with environmentalists – certainly vegetarians.

“Metropolitan and Urban Policy”: “We believe that strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America.” The Democrats want “equitable development strategies that create opportunities for those traditionally left behind by economic development efforts.” As long as it doesn’t take away most of the motivation to work. “For the past eight years, the current Administration has ignored urban areas. We look forward to greater partnership with urban America. We will strengthen federal commitment to cities, including by creating a new White House Office on Urban Policy and fully funding the Community Development Block Grant.” You notice I haven’t even been pointing out the shots at the Bush Administration. What sort of role will the “Office of Urban Policy” take? Will it be a Cabinet-level position, or more similar to the federal drug commission? Would this mean more bureaucracy? Funding the CDBG was mentioned much earlier, in my Part III.

“We support community-based initiatives, such as micro-loans, business assistance centers, community economic development corporations, and community development financial institutions.” All sound nice, but are they more government meddling? Ideally, when the lower classes start investing in themselves it can help the whole economy, but hopefully these really are “community-based”. “To help regional business development we will double federal funding for basic research, expand the deployment of broadband technology, increase access to capital for businesses in underserved areas, create a national network of public-private business incubators, and provide grants to support regional innovation clusters.” Many of these were mentioned earlier – more broadband and “incubators”, for example. Pretty much all of these are SGWTM, but ideally they can all result in more money for the government as a result of economic advancement. Expanding research, especially, helps all levels of the economy. Not sure what “regional innovation clusters” would be.

“Since businesses can only function when workers can get to their place of employment, we will invest in public transportation including rail, expand transportation options for low-income communities, and strengthen core infrastructure like our roads and bridges.” Ding ding ding! The Democrats just mentioned the “p-t” word! Once again, though, it’s part of a larger clause that also includes “roads and bridges”. Between the first and last items, especially the first, the middle item seems somewhat superfluous, and what does it actually mean? “We will provide cities the support they need to perform public safety and national security functions, reinvest in Community Oriented Policing Services, and keep children off the streets by supporting expanded after-school and summer opportunities.” Helping cities perform vital functions certainly seems important, and for all their “national security” emphasis the Republicans didn’t really hint at anything like helping cities invest in national security. (They probably would have wanted to privatize it.) Everything sounds good from here, as long as it doesn’t invite more government waste and throwing money away.

“Finally, we will work to make cities greener and more livable by training employees to work in skilled clean technologies industries, improving the environmental efficiency of city buildings, and taking smart growth principles into account when designing transportation.” And tying this all back into my own personal big issue! This all sounds good – I wouldn’t quite consider myself a “smart growth” backer but it’s possible I am without knowing it. I hinted at it with my discussion of “transit-oriented development” back when I was on a mass transit kick. There are a couple other things that are rolled up into “smart growth” but one of the things most of them have in common is the idea that the car has ruined things, so this may well be hinting at more emphasis on “public transportation” over “roads and bridges” than the Democrats have so far let on. More on this in a later post (maybe).

Yes, we are splitting the Democrats’ Part III into two parts even though both parts barely top 4,000 words, and this part requires me to write a long concluding paragraph (this one) to carry it over 4,000, but the combined examination topped 8,000 and the split is in an odd place, almost smack-dab in the middle of the discussion of “Firearms”. Be sure to come back tomorrow!

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