Posted by on September 04, 2012 in Blog

Tuesday Speaker Preview

The opening night of Democratic National Convention speakers is already causing a stir of speculation and excitement, and with good reason. The lineup of speakers tonight seems aimed to electrify attendees and viewers right off the bat, as well as to address a wide range of issues.

The earlier speakers in tonight’s lineup seem to be selected to hammer Romney on a variety of policy points. Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has been an effective surrogate for the president in Ohio as well as a vocal critic of Romney and Ryan’s Medicare plan. Deval Patrick, Massachusetts’ first African-American governor, has been responsible for implementing Romney’s healthcare plan and has criticized Romney’s attempts to distance himself from the law. The lineup also includes Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland, who is widely regarded as a potential 2016 presidential contender. O’Malley, himself a catholic, has been a staunch defender of Obama against attacks from Catholic and other religious groups that the mandate on contraceptive coverage infringes on religious liberty. The early portion of the evening is rounded out by Chicago Mayor and former Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, whose firebrand style is likely to send many quotable barbs at the Republicans.

The early speakers however, will almost certainly be dwarfed by the two main speeches of the first night of the convention. The keynote address will be delivered by Julian Castro, Mayor of San Antonio. Mayor Castro is little known, but is the first ever Latino to keynote a party convention and is rumored to be an inspiring speaker. Already, parallels are being drawn between Castro and Barack Obama in 2004. GOP rising stars posed a threat to Romney as they had the potential to overshadow him, but Obama does not share this risk with Castro because Castro’s biography and quick rise to national prominence mirror his own. Michelle Obama will deliver the final speech of the night. The first lady is immensely popular, but will need to match or outdo the much-hyped speech from Ann Romney and her appeal to women. Ms. Obama will likely spend a good portion of her speech touting her husband’s accomplishments on women’s issues.

DNC and RNC Platform Comparison

Much has been made of how far the Republican Party platform has moved to the right, and of the substantial differences that exist between the platforms of the two major political. Platforms however, are not road maps laying out how each party will govern. Rather, they reflect the relative strength of the different interest groups that make up today's Republican and Democratic parties. They also mirror the source and scope of the pressures that would come to bear if attempts were made to actually transform the positions they set forth into policy.

For example, the Tea Party, the religious right, and libertarians compete for influence in the Republican Party; hence their party's platform includes very conservative positions on some social issues, while attempting to maintain a Constitution-based respect for individual liberty. On the Democratic side, groups representing women, liberals, and civil rights groups hold sway, as does the influence of pro-Israel organizations. Given the efforts of these sometimes competing pressure groups, platforms are rarely coherent political manifestos. They are more like shopping lists designed to keep constituent groups happy. As such, candidates sometimes distance themselves from parts of their party's platforms.

There are often contradictions within the parties' platforms, between the language used and the policies that are in fact being pursued. For example, the 2012 Democratic Party platform retains much the same language on civil liberties found in the 2008 document, including the pledge that the Party is "committed to ending racial, ethnic, and religious profiling and requiring federal, state, and local enforcement agencies to take steps to eliminate the practice."

Such language, however, is a far cry from the policies of the past four years, with the Obama administration apparently seeking to avoid a collision with law enforcement on counterterrorism efforts. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the US government's main criminal investigative and counterintelligence agency, still operates under the Bush Administration guidelines that opened the door for the practice of religious and ethnic profiling. Obama administration officials have also expressed support for one of the most egregious recent examples of ethnic and religious profiling - the New York Police Department's surveillance program against Arabs and Muslims.

The issue of detainees is another area where the language of Democratic platform differs from actual policy. The Obama administration ran into congressional resistance in their efforts to fulfill their 2008 commitment to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, but they now appear to have abandoned the effort, even seeking to limit the legal rights of detainees and allowing passage of a defense-spending bill that provides for indefinite detention of American citizens. The 2012 platform acknowledges these difficulties and scales back on some commitments, now saying for example that the Guantanamo facility should "eventually close."

There are other areas in the Democrats' platform that are more in line with policies actually pursued, including the planks on Al Qaeda and the Arab Spring. The portion of the Democratic platform on Al Qaeda is among the most detailed sections in the document, highlighting specific counterterrorism successes. The policies laid out in the platform largely mirror President Obama's, focusing on "precision strikes" against "identifiable" groups or individuals. Candidate Obama said he would go into Pakistan if necessary to get Al Qaeda and he has done just that.

The language on the Arab Spring also echoes the administration's policies. It begins with an acknowledgement of and an expression of support for Arabs seeking "universal rights." It pledges to support this transformation by providing Arabs with the assistance they will require to build capacity to meet new needs. The platform language is supportive, but low key, and unlike the Republican document does not call for projecting "American values" or using American power.

The language in both the Republican and Democratic Party platforms on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are somewhat toned down from previous years and from the positions taken by candidates and elected officials in both parties. The section on Israel-Palestine in the Democratic Party platform seems aimed at shielding Obama from Romney's attacks that the president "threw Israel under the bus". The focus of this section is on how much the administration has done to bolster defense cooperation with Israel. But while past Democratic platforms have been filled with endorsements of specific solutions to aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on everything from Jerusalem to refugees, this year's version talks about the conflict only in the vaguest possible terms and makes no mention of Jerusalem.

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