Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rating Party Platforms (on Things Other than Politics)

I've been meaning to do this, but it keeps slipping away. It's certainly time again to rate party platforms on things having nothing to do with politics. In 2004 the Libertarians won, hands down, followed by the Greens, then the Republicans, with the Democrats doing everything badly except for putting a nice logo on their cover page. Can the Libertarians capture the title again? Will the Democrats show that they can actually communicate this year? Here are the contestants this year.

The 2008 Democratic National Platform

2008 Green Party Draft Platform

National Platform of the Libertarian Party

2008 Republican Party Platform

OK, first of all, what in the world is with the Greens this year? It's almost election time and they still can't give us a party platform, just an extraordinarily messy set of documents relating to a draft platform? And I see the Democrats still think it's a good idea to give a party platform a silly title like "Renewing America's Promise". If you were to pick that up, what would you take away from it? Are we renewing promises America has made? Are we reinvigorating America's potential? What does it convey beyond a sense of warmed over rhetoric? On the other hand, it's a jillion times better than the title in 2004, which I won't even deign to repeat here.

Organization: The Greens obviously lose here. Hey, guys, if you can't even get a party platform in shape, how do you think you are going to get a government in shape? Without doubt, the Libertarians trounce the composition on organization, as they do every time they come up with a new platform. They should put 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0 in a different type to indicate that they are headings, but otherwise that's one spiffily organized party platform.

So we have the best and the worst on organization. Who does best between the Big Two?

Big plus for the Democrats: They have a decent table of contents. The Republicans only list major headings, but the Democrats give you content right away. Their headings are also easier to spot on the page. So this one goes to the Democrats.

Preamble: The Green Draft Preamble (I still can't get over the fact that all we get is a draft) is clean, short, and well-organized. I'm not sure what it means to talk about a compass embodied in principles, though. The Libertarians tell us the obvious: that in the next few pages they are going to "set forth our basic principles and enumerated various policy stands derived from those principles". I'm glad they know what a party platform is. But at least it's a preamble (and not a draft!).

The Democrats strike the note of doom -- vote us in or America will fall and the planet will die. That's perhaps to be expected. It's also filled with silly cliches and metaphors: "elected officials who failed to lead"? Failed to lead what, and how? And apparently they sometimes invited calamity and sometimes ignored calamity when it arrived. The government's apparently not anti-calamity enough. "The list of failures of this Administration is historic"? So the problem is that it has a historic list. I'm presuming that they don't mean 'historic' as in Gettysburg-Address historic. It's also almost three pages long. Do I really want to read a party platform whose preamble can't be made much shorter than three pages?

On to the Republicans: What's with this "Chairmen's Preamble"? How many people in the United States are seriously going to care what the Chairmen of the Republican National Convention think? At least it's less than a page. It's just as badly written as the Democratic preamble, though. "We present this platform at an uncertain point of time." We don't know whether it's 2008 or 2009; but we present the platform anyway. "In the economy and in society at large, it is a time of transformation." An uncertain point of time, but we know there's transformation going on. Of the economy and society at large, and you know how those never change. "We are an adventurous, risk-taking people, but we are not gamblers." I have no clue what that even means. But it is nice that they actually recognize in the platform that it's something they have to present to the American people to judge. The Libertarians just ignore everyone and state their goal, without any indication of accountability to anyone else; the Greens do the same, except that they have beliefs instead of goals. The Democrats tell the American people what their beliefs and goals should be.

So the Greens, I think, take the preamble prize, or would if we had an actual preamble instead of a draft, although the Libertarian preamble is slightly better-written. The Republicans partly redeem a stupid preamble with a show of humility; it doesn't outlast the preamble, but it's nice that they at least remembered once. In 2004 I called the Democrats "the bad-preamble-writing Donkeys"; apparently they still are.

General Informativeness: If I were from Mars and wanted to figure out what each party believed and advocated, which one would make my job easier? Well, the Libertarians (as usual) take the ball on conciseness. Very little fluff there. It's surprisingly tricky to extract their advocated policies from their platform, though, since they mostly stay abstract and general, usually only getting specific enough to say, "We're going to repeal everything that does such and such." The Greens are a little vague, too, but they do much better here, or would if this weren't just a draft.

The Democrats and Republicans still suffer Major Party disease, which is to say, their platform goes:

gobbledy-gook gobbledy-blah blah-blah-blah gobbledy-gook America blah blah blah-blah gobbledy-gobbledy-gook liberty blah-blah-blah we will devote $50 billion dollars to gobbledy-gook blah-blah-blah, mu-mu-run-ru gobbledy-gook freedom blah-blah democracy gobbledy-gook.

Except, of course, I have cut out most of the gobbledy-gook. And they also suffer from another common Major Party flaw. There's a joke about the ten-step program for how to be a best-selling novelist, where the first step is "Write a best-selling novel." And both the Democrats and Republicans have plenty of that here: How do we deal with our financial troubles? Jumpstart the economy! How do we fix our war woes? Win in Afghanistan and make Iraq a peaceful democracy! And so forth. But the Democrats are more specific than the Republicans, and more specific is more informative.

Statement of Principles: Greens and Libertarians have principles; Democrats apparently have none; Republicans have values instead, which they only spring on us after they've done everything else, and whose connection to everything else is a little bit vague. The Greens still have their Ten Principles, and the Libertarians have apparently wandered into a movie or alternate reality in which they are challenging a religious cult that worships an omnipotent state.

Internet Accessibility: Greens lose, since all I could find was a draft. Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians were all pretty easy to access. Democrats and Republicans give PDF options for download. The Libertarians have the cleanest page and the Republicans the prettiest; but the Democrats, despite having a page that is way too busy for a party platform, use iPaper, which actually sort of impressed me. Everyone except the Greens is much better this time around.


* The Republicans beat everyone on the cover page this year. That's what you call a pretty cover sheet.
* The Republicans also have a dedication, which is a nice touch.
* And the Republicans organized their party platform like a magazine. I don't know if that's really a good format for a party platform, but it was an idea worth trying.
* Whoever made the logo for the Democrats this year needs to be knocked upside the head. Yes, I get it that the convention was in Denver this year, so we have a Rockies theme, and it's sort of dawn-ish looking and so symbolizes hope, but it looks awful.
* Did I mention that the Greens only got as far as putting up a draft?

So there's a definite loser this time around: the Greens. It's hard to pick a winner, though. The Democrats definitely did better this year than in 2004. The Republicans are trying to be flashy this year, with lots of bells and whistles. The Libertarians lost some of the things that made their 2004 platform so much better than the competition, but it's still nice if you like spartan. I'm inclining toward giving the Republicans the award this year: somebody put a lot of effort into presenting this year's Republican platform. Which do you think should win? And, I remind you, we are rating on things other than politics.

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