Examining the Democratic Platform Part VIII: “Renewing the American Community” Part II: Micro-Level Issues

This is continued from Parts I-VII of my examination of the Democratic Platform.

“Firearms”: Ah, now this is a touchstone issue: is the Second Amendment unassailable, or can we restrict firearm purchases to help keep them out of the hands of criminals and children?

We recognize that the right to bear arms is an important part of the American tradition, and we will preserve Americans’ Second Amendment right to own and use firearms. We believe that the right to own firearms is subject to reasonable regulation, but we know that what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne. We can work together to enact and enforce common-sense laws and improvements – like closing the gun show loophole, improving our background check system, and reinstating the assault weapons ban, so that guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals. Acting responsibly and with respect for differing views on this issue, we can both protect the constitutional right to bear arms and keep our communities and our children safe.

The platform may have been written (in August) before a Supreme Court ruling that was a big victory for the “unassailable” position. Being a city slicker, I’ve never quite understood why some people cling so tightly to their guns, bitterly or otherwise. It’s not like you’re likely to be in a situation where you’ll both need to and be able to shoot someone trying to break in or something. That, combined with my exposure to the “militia-only” interpretation of the Second Amendment, makes me think I might not be in the best position to comment on this, pending more clarification of what I think about the Second Amendment. More on this when we return to the Republicans.

“Faith”: Is it a coincidence that both halves of the infamous “bitter” comment come back to back here? “We honor the central place of faith in our lives. Like our Founders, we believe that our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith and the countless acts of justice and mercy it inspires.” Some people might be a bit confused at the depiction of the Founders as faith freaks.

We believe that change comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up, and that few are closer to the people than our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. To face today’s challenges–from saving our planet to ending poverty—we need all hands on deck. Faith-based groups are not a replacement for government or secular non-profit programs; rather, they are yet another sector working to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

So… would you attempt to influence the direction the churches would attempt to lead the flock? To say that “faith-based groups are not a replacement for government” might outrage some on the Right who think we should dial down on government as much as possible, and “that which governs best governs least”, but it also works the other way around, and it’s saying we need everything and can’t just dial down government to zero.

We will empower grassroots faith-based and community groups to help meet challenges like poverty, ex-offender reentry, and illiteracy. At the same time, we can ensure that these partnerships do not endanger First Amendment protections – because there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution. We will ensure that public funds are not used to proselytize or discriminate. We will also ensure that taxpayer dollars are only used on programs that actually work.

The line about how “there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and…our Constitution” sounds like the Democrats taking a stand; if you just parachuted in from a distant planet you might be surprised to learn that this is actually a concession to the Republicans. It only violates the First Amendment if those groups use public funds to only serve their own faith or try to convert others, which begs the question of how you ensure that doesn’t happen, especially considering they probably don’t want to be interfered with. And how can we trust the Democrats to “ensure that taxpayer dollars are only used on programs that actually work”? The Republicans have lambasted the Democrats left and right for wasting money on programs that don’t work.

“The Arts”:

Investment in the arts is an investment in our creativity and cultural heritage, in our diversity, in our communities, and in our humanity. We support art in schools and increased public funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. We support the cultural exchange of artists around the world, spreading democracy and renewing America’s status as a cultural and artistic center.

So you do assure us you won’t reduce school to preparing for the test with nothing but rote learning, but how will art fit in? Is more funding for the arts throwing money away? The “cultural exchange of artists” certainly sounds… okay.

“Americans with Disabilities”: “We will once again reclaim our role as world leaders in protecting the rights of people with disabilities” and will sign the UN convention on the topic. “We will ensure there is sufficient funding to empower Americans with disabilities to succeed in school and beyond.” Sounds good. “We will fully fund and increase staffing for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.” Better make sure it works. “We will restore dignity for Americans with disabilities by signing the Community Choice Act into law, which will allow them the choice of living in their communities rather than being warehoused in nursing homes or other institutions.” This certainly sounds like a good idea, but what’s keeping them from “living in their communities” now, and would that mean an unfair burden being placed on those communities?

“Children and Families”: “If we are to renew America, we must do a better job of investing in the next generation of Americans. For parents, the first and most sacred responsibility is to support our children: setting an example of excellence, turning off the TV, and helping with the homework.” Once again, trying to tell parents how to raise their families; I’ve still yet to hear much of an assurance one way or the other on whether the Democrats would actually meddle in home life. “But we must also support parents as they strive to raise their children in a new era. We must make it easier for working parents to spend time with their families when they need to.” The phrase “must also support” seems to imply the previous sentence is somewhat antagonistic to parents… How do you intend to help working parents in this way? “We will make an unprecedented national investment to guarantee that every child has access to high-quality early education, including investments in Pre-K, Head Start, and Early Head Start, and we will help pay for child care.” Covered already.

“We will ensure that every child has health insurance, invest in playgrounds to promote healthy and active lifestyles, and protect children from lead poisoning in their homes and toys.” The investment in playgrounds is the only thing new here. “Improving maternal health also improves children’s health, so we will provide access to home visits by medical professionals to low-income expectant first-time mothers.” Certainly sounds good, but how good will the pros be? “We must protect our most vulnerable children, by supporting and supplementing our struggling foster care system, enhancing adoption programs for all caring parents, and protecting children from violence and neglect.” Sounds good but short on details – of what the problems are. “Online and on TV, we will give parents tools to block content they find objectionable.” Parents already have quite a few tools of this nature, but no one uses the V-chip and successor technologies. Besides, it can breed what seems to be a wild goose chase, especially online. “We also must recognize that caring for family members and managing a household is real and valuable work.” That’s it. Nothing on what follows from that. Perhaps some sort of tax credit for stay-at-home parents? Certainly no mention of that or any other possible reward or load-lightening.

Fatherhood Too many fathers are missing–missing from too many lives and too many homes. Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and are more likely to commit crime, drop out of school, abuse drugs, and end up in prison.” Um, maybe that’s because they’re more likely to be in poverty? “We need more fathers to
realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to understand that what
makes a man is not the ability to have a child–it’s the courage to raise one.” Sounds like more meddling in people’s lives. “You’ll believe what we want you to believe!”

We will support fathers by providing transitional training to get jobs, removing tax penalties on married families, and expanding maternity and paternity leave. We will reward those who are responsibly supporting their children by giving them a tax credit and we will crack down on men who avoid child support payments and ensure those payments go directly to families instead of bureaucracies.

“Removing tax penalties on married families”? That serves as reassurance to people who read the part of the Republican platform in my Part III that warned that rolling back the Bush tax cuts would mean “[t]he ‘marriage penalty’ would return for two-earner couples” – but it may be false reassurance. Expanding paternity leave is reasonable, but I’d like to make sure you aren’t just expanding maternity leave to allow more people to escape work. I’m not sure lack of a job is entirely the problem for fathers who leave their kids, but maybe it’s part of it (and covered earlier I believe). What form would the tax credit for “those who are responsibly supporting their children” take? Would it put more money in the pockets of the rich who are more likely to be able to be responsible fathers? Keeping bureaucracies out seems like a paean to people who’ve been reading the Republican platform.

“Seniors”: Compare this to a section late in Part VI of my examination of the Republican platform. “We will protect and strengthen Medicare by cutting costs, protecting seniors from fraud, and fixing Medicare’s prescription drug program.” The Republicans expand on Medicare’s susceptibility to fraud, but neither party provides specifics of their respective plans to fix it. The Democrats described one way they would cut costs in their Part I.

“We will repeal the prohibition on negotiating prescription drug prices, ban drug companies from paying generic producers to refrain from entering drug markets, and eliminate drug company interference with generic competition–and we will dedicate all of the savings from these measures towards closing the donut hole.” Many of these things were covered earlier in the Democrats’ discussion of health care, way back in Part I, although I’m not sure what the “donut hole” is. I presume it probably has something to do with being “in the center”… Other than “the benefits of competition” the Republicans don’t talk about this.

“We will end special preferences for insurance companies and private plans like Medicare Advantage to force them to compete on a level playing field.” Awkward grammar in this sentence. It almost suggests an ulterior motive for the Democrats’ health care reform proposal, perhaps accidentally suggesting a move to get rid of private insurance. Speaking of which, the paragraph ends by calling back to the health care reform plan in relation to “older Americans who are not yet eligible for Medicare”.

The parties have different priorities with regard to Medicare. The Democrats talk about lowering prescription drug prices for seniors and creating “a level playing field” for insurance. The Republicans want to encourage doctors to “coordinate care”, increasing “choice” in doctors, and allowing people in Medicare to add their own funds. Although I’m skeptical of that last one, I think it’s worthy to pick some from column A and some from column B.

“We will take steps to ensure that our seniors have meaningful long-term care options that are consistent with their individual needs, including the option of home care.” Sounds good; might have been mentioned already. “We believe that we must pay caregivers a fair wage and train more nurses and health care workers so as to improve the availability and quality of long-term care.” SGWTM. What wages are caregivers being paid now? “We must reform the financing of long-term care to ease the burden on seniors and their families.” Sounds reasonable… The Republicans don’t seem to have touched on this so far at all. “We will safeguard Social Security. We will develop new retirement plans and pension protections that will give Americans a secure, portable way to save for retirement. We will ensure a safe and dignified retirement.” The Democrats discussed Social Security in my Part II, which this refers to. “We will work to end abuse of the elderly.” But you give that cause a single sentence that’s shorter than this one. “We will safeguard from discrimination those who choose to work past the age of 65.” Good thinking, both to help save Social Security from bankrupting the government as the baby boomers retire and to help keep our economy moving, but will that mean companies won’t be able to kick out employees who legitimately aren’t able to work anymore?

“Choice”: The Republicans will cover this in their section on “values”, which I’m no longer sure I’m going to get to; the Democrats touched on it in (surprise!) their discussion of health care. “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.” This is such a strong position it suggests you support it in all circumstances regardless of moral sketchiness. I generally don’t like abortion except in the first three months, in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake.

“The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to comprehensive affordable family planning services and age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives.” The Republicans earlier called for ending “‘family planning’ programs for teens” in order to back abstinence-only sex ed. The Democrats claim that “such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.” “The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.” Mostly covered already. I’d be interested in seeing what forms the “programs for… parenting skills [and] income support” take.

This is about where the work I did before dropping off right before the election ends, and the work I ended up doing right before posting this begins. So if my positions start evolving, now you know.

“Criminal Justice”: The Republican position on this will be examined in my Republican Part VIII (which I’ve done no work on, and assuming I get to that), so for now, we’re covering the Democrats alone. “As Democrats, we are committed to being smart on crime. That means being tough on violent crime, funding strategic, and effective community policing, and holding offenders accountable, and it means getting tough on the root causes of crime by investing in successful crime prevention, including proven initiatives that get youth and nonviolent offenders back on track. ” Let’s see if the rest of the section tells us what all this is.

We will reverse the policy of cutting resources for the brave men and women who protect our communities every day. At a time when our nation’s officers are being asked both to provide traditional law enforcement services and to help protect the homeland, taking police off of the street is neither tough nor smart; we reject this disastrous approach. We support and will restore funding to our courageous police officers and will ensure that they are equipped with the best technology, equipment, and innovative strategies to prevent and fight crimes.

This all sounds good, but the way the Democrats so vigorously defend this position, I’m curious to find out how the Republicans could possibly justify the position it implies. With their get-tough stance to everything, how do they not properly fund the “First Responders”? What’s really going on here? On the flip side, this is also a SGWTM situation. Really, how do the Democrats intend to be fiscally responsible with all the stuff they want to “increase funding” to?

“We will end the dangerous cycle of violence, especially youth violence, with proven community-based law enforcement programs such as the Community Oriented Policing Services.” You mentioned COPS already. When I saw “the cycle of violence” I thought it had something to do with poverty, and wondering how “community-based law enforcement”, no matter how laudable, had anything to do with that other than providing jobs, but this certainly sounds good. “We will reduce recidivism in our neighborhoods by supporting local prison-to-work programs.” Do those work, or do they just increase joblessness among the law-abiding citizens? “We believe that the death penalty must not be arbitrary. DNA testing should be used in all appropriate circumstances, defendants should have effective assistance of counsel. In all death row cases, and thorough post-conviction reviews should be available.” Some people would argue the death penalty itself is immoral, and certainly we’re on a shrinking list with some bad company of countries that still use it, and while all of these are good and add up to something formidable I’m not completely certain they’re going to be enough.

“We must help state, local, and tribal law enforcement work together to combat and prevent drug crime and drug and alcohol abuse, which are a blight on our communities. We will restore funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program and expand the use of drug courts and rehabilitation programs for first-time, non-violent drug offenders.” Some people would say “drug crime” isn’t really crime and we should stop treating it like one. But the second half of the second sentence sounds good, though I don’t know what the BJAG program is. “We support the rights of victims to be respected, to be heard, and to be compensated.” Sounds good, but who would disagree with it, and why a single-sentence paragraph on that? Truth be told, the Democrats’ education program will have as much of an effect on crime as anything in this section.

“Ending violence against women must be a top priority. We will create a special advisor to the president regarding violence against women.” Really? You’re going that far? “We will increase funding to domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs.” SGWTM. “We will strengthen sexual assault and domestic violence laws, support the Violence Against Women Act, and provide job security to survivors.” This is more no-brainer stuff. On the flip side, you can’t keep strengthening the laws forever, because you reach a point where the remaining abusers are driven by things more powerful than concern for the law. No, I do not know this from personal experience. “Our foreign policy will be sensitive to issues of aggression against women around the world.” No details, of course.

“A More Perfect Union”: This is part summation of the entire part, part miscellaneous section, part section on discrimination in general.

We believe in the essential American ideal that we are not constrained by the circumstances of birth but can make of our lives what we will. Unfortunately, for too many, that ideal is not a reality. We have more work to do. Democrats will fight to end discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and disability in every corner of our country, because that’s the America we believe in.

All an agreeable sentiment, although the forces discriminating on the basis of “sexual orientation [or] gender identity” remain disturbingly strong. “We all have to do our part to lift up this country, and that means changing hearts and changing minds, and making sure that every American is treated equally under the law.” “Changing hearts and changing minds” sounds disturbingly like something the Republicans would say, not to mention something people in an Orwellian government would say. “We will restore professionalism over partisanship at the Department of Justice, and staff the civil rights division with civil rights lawyers, not ideologues.” Some people may have heard the stories about DoJ being used for political purposes under Bush. I’m wondering what the Democrats are talking about regarding the civil rights division, however. Will they be fair, or will they give alleged victims the benefit of the doubt too much? “We will restore vigorous federal enforcement of civil rights laws in order to provide every American an equal chance at employment, housing, health, contracts, and pay. We are committed to banning racial, ethnic, and religious profiling and requiring federal, state, and local enforcement agencies to take steps to eliminate the practice.” All sounds good, though money may be a concern.

“We are committed to ensuring full equality for women: we reaffirm our support for the Equal Rights Amendment, recommit to enforcing Title IX, and will urge passage of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” The ERA is still around??? The Republicans objected to the convention because it dared to mention abortion, as I talked about in my Republican Part II. I’m ambivalent about most of this pending knowing some of what they contain; I know at least a little about Title IX and I am concerned that it may have some negative side effects that no one really sees as necessary or desirable. “We will pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.” What does that involve?

We will restore and support the White House Initiative on Asian-American and Pacific Islanders, including enforcement on disaggregation of Census data. We will make the Census more culturally sensitive, including outreach, language assistance, and increased confidentiality protections to ensure accurate counting of the growing Latino and Asian American, and Pacific Islander populations, and continue working on efforts to be more inclusive.

I have no idea what the Initiative involves. Why do these ethnic groups in particular need more “confidentiality protections”? What’s the problem with how the Census deals with them now? “We will sign the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and restore the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That is the America we believe in.” I’m very curious how the Democrats would “restore the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Has it been strengthened to the point of absurdity, or weakened too much? The former would be something you’d expect the Democrats to carry out, and the Republicans to fix, yet that’s the one I’ve actually heard a little about…

“We support the full inclusion of all families, including same-sex couples, in the life of our nation, and support equal responsibility, benefits, and protections. We will enact a comprehensive bipartisan employment non-discrimination act. We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and all attempts to use this issue to divide us.” No mention of gay marriage, however. Incidentally, why all the outrage over Prop 8 now, after the election? Where was the outrage when it could have actually influenced the outcome?

“But it is no good to be able to ride the bus when you can’t afford the bus fare. We will work to provide real opportunities for all Americans suffering from disadvantage; we will pioneer new policies and remedies against poverty and violence that address real human needs and we will close the achievement gap in education and provide every child a world-class education.” This all sounds good, if begging for details, especially in the middle part of the second sentence. But: “We support affirmative action, including in federal contracting and higher education, to make sure that those locked out of the doors of opportunity will be able to walk through those doors in the future.” If there’s one thing I unequivocally disagree with the Democrats over, it’s affirmative action, AKA “reverse racism”. I have grown convinced it may be useful if applied solely to the basis of economic standing (poor over rich), because really, all the self-perpetuating differences caused by past discrimination really come down to the advantages rich people have over poor people. Otherwise discriminating on the basis of ethnicity is wrong one way or the other.

We’ve cleared out Part III, and if we get around to Part IV, it could well close out the series for the Dems in one part!

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