Monday, September 19, 2016

Rating Party Platforms on Things Other than Politics

It's a Presidential election year, which means that it is time for one of our traditions around here: it's the fourth quadrennial rating of party platforms on things other than politics. The first time I did this, the Libertarians won by spartan basics. The following Presidential election, the Republicans squeaked by with flash and gloss. Last time, the Democrats won as a pity prize. And now we are off again! Which party put the most thought into its party platform cover sheet? Who has the best preamble? Will the Major Parties avoid the temptation of blah-blah-blah? Who gave their party platform the best title? The thoughtful public wants to know.

Democratic Party Platform

Republican Party Platform

Libertarian Party Platform

Green Party Platform

Titles
In every party platform there are always things you see before anything else! The title of the Democratic party platform is, "2016 Democratic Party Platform," which is not even trying; but the Republicans aren't, either, since theirs is called, "Republican Platform 2016". The title of the Green Party Platform is "Platform" or "Platform 2016". And the title of of the Libertarian Party Platform is "Libertarian Party Platform". Fail, fail, fail, fail.

Cover Sheets
On cover sheets, the Democratic Party continues not to make much of an effort, since its cover sheet is black and white with no graphic. Sad! The Republican cover sheet is far better, with red, white, and blue stars and stripes. There is a lot of red. The Libertarians have no cover sheet, but they do have a nice logo. But the one that stands head and shoulders above them all is the Green Party. That's a nice cover sheet -- lots of green, but not monotonous and overwhelming, and with an elegant logo. So cover sheet win goes to the green Greens, followed by the red-white-blue Elephants, followed by the just-a-logo Libertarians, and in last place the lazy black-and-white Donkeys.

Organization
The Libertarians have no table of contents, but their platform is always short enough that they can afford to do without it, especially since they have their usual admirable taste for clear and well ordered headings. The Green and Democratic tables of contents both have a nice breakdown of their platforms. The Republicans are definitely last place on table of contents, because their table has six entries, with titles like, "Restoring the American Dream" or "America Resurgent". Silly Elephants, you're supposed to save your vague and useless titles for the whole party platform, not the things inside it! The Democratic table of contents at least reads like it's out to do things, practical things. Lazy Republicans in last place. The rest is a bit of matter of taste -- I put the Greens and the Democrats as tied at the top and the Libertarians underneath, because, again, having no table of contents when it makes sense is better than having a table of contents that is just wasting our time.

As to internal structure. The Greens organize the main part of their platform around certain basic themes: Democracy, Social Justice, Ecological Sustainability, Economic Justice and Sustainability. The Libertarians, of course, have always done the same. The Democrats, on the other hand, organize theirs around particular actions, things like 'Create Good-Paying Jobs'. The Republication organization is much better than one would expect from the table of contents, and the 'Restore Constitutional Government' section is especially nicely done. A strong year all around for internal organization.

Preamble
And now, the moment everyone always waits for, the glamor category of our non-political contest among party platforms, the preamble category! Who gives us the best preamble?

The Republican preamble talks a great deal about beliefs. It helpfully lets us know that Republicans don't disagree with the rights in the Declaration of Independence and believe in the Constitution as the founding document of the United States. That's a relief; important to let us know. They then tell us that their party platform is in clear language, which is handy for those who can't actually judge the matter for themselves. They daringly deviate from Republican tradition in terms of the main thrust -- Republicans usually use their preamble to talk about how great they are, but this time they try focusing a bit more on how bad the Democrats are. Also, Party of Lincoln (TM), I have not come across a single Lincoln quote yet. Was this really written by a Republican?

The Democratic preamble is remarkably similar -- a lot of 'We believes' this year. We also learn that things are going great, except in the case of a lot of people, and all the bad stuff is the fault of the Republicans. Donald Trump is also very bad. But it does have a nice, resounding ending, which the Republican preamble lacked. Saying that our belief that we can make things better is "unerring" seems a little strong, though.

The Green preamble opens with "Never has our country faced as many challenges and crises as we do now." You only thought the Civil War or the Great Depression was bad! It has nothing on now. Of course, they suffer the usual Green mistake of having too much non-preamble preambular material -- they feel they have to have a Call to Action, first; and the PDF also has an 'About the Party' section. All of these things are what preambles are for, folks. But they do have the nice feature of actually explaining their platform rather than (like the Republicans) telling us that it is optimistic and in clear language, and the explanation also makes sense of the preambular non-preambles.

The Libertarians helpfully let us know that they 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." But, as usual, it has a nice, to-the-point feel to it.

I give the advantage to the helpful Greens, followed by the no-frills Libertarians, followed by the melodramatic Democrats, followed by the reads-like-bullet-points Elephants.

General Informativeness
What about the workhorse category of our contest? Republicans, you promised clear language. Did you deliver? Of course not; you're a Major Party, and therefore vague and verbose is your MO. Here, for instance, is the Republican tax proposal:

Our proposal is straightforward. Wherever tax rates penalize thrift or discourage investment, they must be lowered. Wherever current provisions of the code are disincentives for economic growth, they must be changed.

That's a winning plan, for sure; it beats all the tax plans that have the goal of penalizing thrift and discouraging investment, and I don't think anyone can deny that! The Constitutional chapter, the best section of the Republican platform, is admittedly much better in terms of information, as is (to a lesser degree) the Goverment Reform section, but on energy and environment the platform is only specific when attacking Democratic plans, and on health care and education most of its specific claims are about what the Republicans won't do. In foreign policy, we learn that the Republicans are really big into solidarity and friendship this election, but at least they are occasionally specific about what that means in terms of treaty obligations.

The Donkeys are trying something new this year by being far more specific than the Elephants. To be sure, we do get a great many vague generalities, but you can regularly find definite proposals. The foreign policy section is the worst part of the platform, since we don't get an actual foreign policy so much as an extended reflection on how bad Donald Trump is, with vague assurances that they are not Donald Trump. It has in the past been a standard Democratic flaw that their platform ends up being about the Republican party -- both parties consistently seem to agree that the single most important political institution in the United States is the GOP, and that every election turns entirely on the agenda set by it. This is not quite so obvious this time -- the Republican platform is a bit more reactionary against the Democrats than usual, and the Democratics focus less on Republican party policies and more on the character of Donald Trump. But it is still noticeable to the eye that knows to look for it. Nonetheless, there is no question that the Democratic Party platform is more informative this year than the Republican Party platform.

As always, the Libertarians are the best party at getting to the point and sticking to it; the only criticism to make is that Libertarian brevity sometimes works against specifics -- the Major Parties are more blah-blah-blah, but they also through all the fog give us occasional first steps in policy, whereas the Party of Principle has difficulty getting much more specific than general principles.

The Green organization -- affirming their general commitments and then giving specific "Green Solutions" -- works very much in their favor in this category, since it helps them rival the Libertarians in conciseness while descending into specifics. Yes, there are a lot of cases in which we are left wondering how they are going to accomplish their 'solution', or how the 'solution' is going to accomplish anything, but at least they don't waste our time babbling on and on about it like the Major Parties do, and we do get a lot of first steps in specific policy, which is about all that one can usually ask in a party platform.

This round definitely goes to the Greens; then Democrats and Libertarians, whose very different approaches make them difficult to compare; and the Republicans are last.

Page Formatting
The Democrats are not even trying this year; I can literally format pages better in fifteen minutes on Microsoft Word. The Libertarians go with clean and simple, as they always do -- easy to read, but unexciting. So it's really a duel between the Republicans and the Greens. The Green layout is more interesting, but also sometimes comes across as more busy. I will declare this one a tie.

Principles and Values
The Libertarians have explicit principles, which makes sense because they call themselves the Party of Principle. The Green Party has explicit values, which makes sense given that they say in their Call to Action that they are committed to values-based politics. Democrats and Republicans have decided to have neither principles nor values this time around. I guess they might have been assuming that their preambular creeds covered that?

Internet Accessibility
Democrats, I can't find your party platform from the Democratic Party website front page. That's just lazy and saying you don't care. The party platform I could easily find is on the Democratic Convention website in a black and white PDF.

The other platforms were easy to find. Republicans, of course, are the flashiest. There is an easy-to-navigate HTML version, quite glitzy, and a PDF. The Libertarians have HTML and PDF, and the promise of a future Spanish translation. The Green Party has HTML and a PDF of the 2014 Platform; it's usually quite confusing which platform you are getting in which format with them, so this is par for the course. One nice feature the Greens have is that they have a button for sharing pages of the platform through Google+; as far as I can tell, they are the only ones to make any use of social media for their platform, slight though it is.

Miscellaneous
* The Republicans continue their tradition of dedications for their party platforms, and they seem to have put some serious thought into this one; very nice.
* The Green Party Call to Action cracks me up. "If not us, who? If not now, when? We are the ones we have been waiting for." OK, then; easiest wait ever. But I suppose if you are Minor Party, you get a lot of practice asking who is winning instead of you and wondering when you'll win, since it's not now.
* The Republicans not only do well with online accessibility this year, they easily have the best platform website.
* The Party of Lincoln mentions once that it is the Party of Lincoln, but only quotes Lincoln briefly and in passing once. Sad!
* Donkeys, Donkeys, can I just reiterate how stupid it is that no one can find your actual party platform very easily when they go to your website. You don't have to be just the party of non-Donald.

This was a very bland and conservative year for party platforms -- no bold experiments or interesting shifts in approach -- but the result has arguably been good organization all across the board. The undeniable winners of the contest this year, however, are the Greens, who seem finally to have gotten their platform act together this year. It's a great improvement over a couple of cycles ago when they couldn't even manage to make available anything more than a disorganized and out of date platform draft. The Greens it is, then. I would send them a certificate of achievement, but that would be a bad use of trees and I couldn't justify the carbon emissions of mailing it.

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