Parsing the Words in Party Platforms

By their very nature, the platforms of political parties are boring documents. It is as if all the budding bureaucrats, now enthusiastic campaign workers and their elder guides are working together to imbibe in everyone, stale and repetitive language that they will practice once in power. True, at some level, the platforms of two parties will be different. Republicans support continuous, but cautious engagement in Iraq and want a pro-life agenda at home. Democrats plan to withdraw from Iraq and advocate a pro-choice agenda on the home front.

Given this idle and scripted language, it is then important for journalists and pundits to parse the little details of what may be in the platform. Of course, no one votes based on the gravitas of a platform.

Much has been said about how the Democrats have used careful language in the abortion debate. They ask for a pro-choice agenda, but have also indicated that they support the “right of the woman to have a baby.”

Now, isn’t that interesting! We have to wait for a political party to approve or even support a woman’s right to have children! Each woman has to thank the party for allowing her to give birth! Is this a nod, as some have suggested, to the Independents or those perennial fence-sitters to think that all Democrats are not baby killers! Is this a veiled approval for everyone to do what needs to be done to have a baby! That would be highly permissive, don’t you think! In any case, this does not say anything, but it wants to.

While we are at it, let us note a couple of careful changes and usages of language. The website of the Democratic Party pronounced its platform as “Stronger at Home, Respected in the World.”  One would have hoped for a new agenda that asks for a new cosmopolitanism (vs. patriotism), along the lines of Barack Obama’s pronouncements of being a “citizen of the world.” But the final document comes down to earth as it is titled: “Renewing America’s Future.” If you are careful about language and believe in meaning of words, this may suggest where the promise of the campaign and the reality of governance are connected.

The 2008 platform does give significant emphasis in a section oto“foreign policy.” While it promises to “deepen ties with emerging powers,” the clear emphasis is on strengthening ties with India, which has been in development for the past decade. Despite the gap between promise and performance, we hope this is about a new reality dawning upon us.

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