The Democratic Party Platform: Moving America Forward
The Republican Party Platform: We Believe in America
Libertarian Party Platform
Green Party Platform
Preliminaries: Both the Republicans and the Democrats have party platform titles. So, which is better? The Democrats have "Moving America Forward," which reminds everyone of Kang's famous debate speech in that episode of The Simpsons:
My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball; but tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!
The Republicans have "We Believe in America," which sounds a little desperate. Neither gets points for originality or memorability, so I judge them to be an unimpressive tie. Since it's better to have no title than a stupid title, victory on this point goes to the Libertarians and the Greens.
Organization: As always, the Libertarians dominate the organization category, so the real question is who loses worst. The Greens are going with their usual front-filler/ values / details organization -- a bit messy, but everything is in nice outline form. They are obviously in second place. Both the Republicans and the Democrats are going with the usual major-party format of lots-of-random-topics-thrown-together-in-loose-family-groups. However, I give the bare edge to the Republicans because they at least put a table of contents in the PDF version of their platform. It's a useless table of contents, but it shows at least a vague recognition that a party platform should be presented in such a way that if some weird person wanted to look something up, and had printed out the PDF, they could actually look somewhere to get an idea of where it might be. This is a step backwards for the Democrats, who have usually been better with tables of contents than Republicans.
Preamble: And here we are at the big glamor category of our contest. Let's take them each in turn.
The Republicans helpfully start out their party platform preamble with the claim, "The 2012 Republican Platform is a statement of who we are and what we believe as a Party and our vision for a stronger and freer America," thus confirming that, whether or not they know what needs to be done, they know what a party platform is. We are told that our nation faces "unprecedented uncertainty." You might think that perhaps there were other times of uncertainty that could serve as some precedent, in the Great Depression, or before the World Wars, or during the Civil War, but no. In general, however, the Republicans do a good job of walking that fine line between pandering enough to look sympathetic and not looking like they are pandering as much as they are. They have also helpfully clarified any lingering issues about Romney's Mormonism by taking the Mormon position that the Constitution is a "sacred document" as part of the party platform. They quote Reagan and Washington but not Lincoln. Disappointing, Party of Lincoln (TM); surely mentioning Lincoln is one of the things Elephants are never supposed to forget?
The Democrats begin their party platform, which, again, is called, "Moving America Forward," by reminding us that we intended to move forward four years ago. The whole Democratic project, then, is not in some vague realm of projects and plans, like that of the Republicans, but is in fact still on our to-do list. We also see the usual difference between Republican and Democratic party platforms, regardless of which party is in power: the Republicans tell us how great they are, and the Democrats tell us how bad the Republicans are. This joint effort to insist that every election is all about the Republican Party is one of the clear proofs that bipartisan cooperation is not dead in this country. There are some odd claims here. "We believe America can succeed because the American people have never failed and there is nothing that together we cannot accomplish." 'Never failed' seems a little strong to cover our entire history. Also, saying that "there is nothing that together we cannot accomplish" would be more heartening if the whole preamble were not about how we are severely divided as a nation. I do give the Donkeys props for actually trying to build an argument in their preamble, though; with this preamble they've broken out of their usual preamble-writing category of 'obviously awful', so it's a good preamble year for Democrats.
Notably, both the Republicans and the Democrats mention "the American Dream" (they're for it, if you're wondering).
The Libertarians have their usual kind of short-and-to-the-point preamble; not to be outdone by the Republicans, they let us know that they, too, understand what a party platform is: "In the following pages we have set forth our basic principles and enumerated various policy stands derived from those principles." It's a cleaner statement than the Republican one, though. This is a preamble in the fine Libertarian minimalist tradition of preamble-writing, but it is also pretty much what they say every election year.
The Greens as always muddy the waters by first thinking that they need to call us to action before they get around to their preamble, as if the preamble were not a perfectly good place for calls to action. Their preamble starts out boldly, though: "Never has our country faced as many challenges and crises as we do now." You only thought the Civil War was hard. They, too, want to make clear that they know what a party platform is: "The Green Party Platform seeks to identify the most crucial problems facing our country and offers ideas for responsible action to solve them." But this is a fairly clean and informative preamble; we learn more than we do from the Libertarian preamble, for instance.
All in all the preamble quality is better than it has been. I think I rate the Greens first this year, followed by the Democrats, then the Libertarians, then the Republicans, but it's a close race all around.
An additional point of interest is worth mentioning.
From the Republican Party Platform Preamble: "Providence has put us at the fork in the road, and we must answer the question: If not us, who? If not now, when?"
From the Green Party Platform Preamble: "If not us, who? If not now, when? We are the ones we have been waiting for. Join us!"
So we have a nice little circular dialogue here: The Greens say, "If not us, who?", to which the Republicans shout "Us!" And the Republicans say, "If not us, who?", to which the Greens shout, "Us!" And what in the world does it mean to say "If not now, when?" Obviously it has to be now, because the election's this year. It makes much more sense for the Greens to say it than the Republicans, however, because "Next election" is an entirely reasonable answer to the question when the Republicans say it.
General Informativeness: The Greens do very well this year with general informativeness; we get a precise and clean layout of Green policies across a wide range of issues. They therefore manage to edge out the Libertarians, who usually are the most informative. This leaves us the major parties, who both suffer from the usual Major Party Disease, which is to write "Blah blah blah blah." However, the Republicans end many of their little sections with a sort of recap that says what their proposed policies are; a somewhat better strategy than the Democratic approach, which consists in ending several of their little sections with a sort of recap that says what the Republicans' proposed policies are.
Principles and Values: And here we see the real dividing lines between the parties: does the platform have a statement of principles or values? Libertarians have principles, but no values. Greens have values, but no principles. Democrats and Republicans have neither principles nor values. This is a step back for the Republicans, who in previous platforms would list values, even though they were somewhat random and had nothing to do with anything else in the platform.
Internet Accessibility: All platforms were easy to find by search engine. The Libertarians, as always, have the cleanest layout, and the Greens have a cleaner and nicer webpage than they have in the past, but the Democrats have by far the most internet-friendly webpage for their platform, with nice buttons and colors. The Greens have their platform page link clearly displayed on their main page; the Libertarian link, while relatively easy to find, is not obvious and requires some searching. As usual, you can't easily get to the Republican Party platform from the main page, but this is also true of the Democratic Party platform. The Greens don't have any easily accessible PDF of their platform on the Platform pages. So this is a mixed bag for all parties except the Republicans, who are, as usual, last in internet accessibility.
* The Republican Party platform has a dedication: "The platform is dedicated with appreciation and reverence for: The wisdom of the Framers of the United States Constitution, who gave us a Republic, as Benjamin Franklin cautioned, if we can keep it." It is only found in the PDF version, however. The Republicans have done this before; they seem to be the only party interested in doing it.
* The Republicans have the best cover sheet for the PDF version, but it was not a heavily competitive year for cover sheets -- the PDF for the Democrats has no cover sheet at all, the Greens have no easily accessible PDF, and the Libertarians, while jazzing things up with a little blue and gold, can't really compete. The Republican cover sheet is, however, very, very red.
* Of the major parties, the Republicans suffer most this year from Major Party Disease, that is, going on and on and on and on.
* The Republicans have the best page formatting for their PDF.
It's a conservative year for party platforms; nobody tried anything risky or daring, and in several cases have clearly restrained some prior experiments. The Libertarians are going with their standard strategy. The Greens are, too, but they have cleaned up their act on a number of fronts, which pushes them ahead of the Libertarians. The Republicans continue to have the most bells and whistles, but they are pretty minor. On the two most important categoires, the Preamble and Internet Accessibility, the Democrats have done far better than they have done in the past -- the Democratic Party Platform page is a very nice webpage, and I do give them credit for actually trying to lay out a serious argument in their preamble, however defective it is in parts. So it comes down to the Greens and the Democrats, and I think I will award it to the Democrats for the sheer extent of their improvement over past years.