Words not spoken by Democrats
The New York Times said the following in an editorial:
Not many people know it, but the Democratic Party supports a ban on assault weapons. It’s a position that, if enacted, could save many lives by reducing the lethality of mass shootings, but you have to flip more than halfway through the party’s new 26,500-word platform to find it.
President Barack Obama purportedly agrees with that position, but he never talks about it on the campaign trail and has done nothing to make it happen. In light of the many murders committed by gunmen who never paused to reload, renewing the ban is something that speakers at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., should pound the lectern to support. But don’t hold your breath. Most of the time on Tuesday was spent bashing Mitt Romney.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but to persuade a nation of skeptics, the party needs to do more than explain what it is against. As a statement of party principles, the Democratic platform contains much to applaud, so why aren’t Democrats applauding it louder?
Party leaders have chosen a series of popular programs to run on, often avoiding topics that make pollsters nervous. At the convention on Tuesday, Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, N.J., a co-chairman of the platform committee, spoke of Democratic ideals and common sense, like deficit reduction where “everyone from elected officials to the wealthy and the superwealthy pay their fair share.” (The platform also seeks dramatic reductions in domestic spending, which is unnecessary and unfortunate.)
Booker talked about the need to help people retire with dignity, to become the world’s “No. 1 educator,” to cut taxes for small businesses and to prevent predatory lending. “When your country is in a costly war with our soldiers sacrificing abroad and our nation is facing a debt crisis at home,” he said, “being asked to pay your fair share isn’t class warfare. It’s patriotism.”
All good, and it duplicates what Obama has been saying on the stump. But why not also talk about the section of the platform that issues a call to “make ending poverty a national priority”? Granted, the section is only four paragraphs and consists of mostly familiar ideas like raising the minimum wage and expanding low-income tax credits. But those are four more paragraphs than Obama has spoken about poverty lately. Michelle Obama, the first lady, spoke movingly about families struggling with a variety of hardships, but the larger subject is unlikely to come up regularly in Charlotte.
The platform, unlike the ticket, speaks at length about climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions to slow it down. (The section is a strong counterweight to Romney’s provocative charge that the Obama administration is waging a “war on coal,” though it should have dropped “clean coal” as an energy choice.) The platform talks about reducing nuclear proliferation, confronting North Korea and combating narcotics trafficking.
And it demands campaign finance reform — by constitutional amendment if necessary — to require greater disclosure of the unlimited contributions that are turning this election over to the biggest check writers. Taking a stand against the rising influence of money in politics is a sharp contrast to this year’s Republican platform, which retreated from the party’s long-standing support for disclosure. But Booker did not mention it, and no convention speaker on Tuesday made it a priority. Like the assault weapons ban, it has been relegated to a document that few will ever read.
Convention speakers have but a few minutes in the spotlight to reach listeners and cannot be expected to run through every line item in a long platform. But Democrats also have a limited amount of time left to persuade the nation to let them hold the White House and increase their position in Congress. If they don’t start talking about their fundamental principles, going beyond the easy sound bites, they will lose voters who are hoping for more.