The Democratic ticket includes as the vice presidential candidate a devout Roman Catholic who worked as a missionary and as a lawyer sued to enforce fair housing laws. The Republican presidential nominee is a three-times married philanderer who was sued for housing discrimination early in his career and settled the case by paying a penalty.
Apart from their different life stories, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald J. Trump present the starkest choice in political views and policy recommendations that the United States has seen since the Johnson-Goldwater race in 1964. And the party platforms are as different as night and day: dark and dystopian for the Republicans, bright and optimistic for the Democrats.
The GOP platform was rightly called “the most extreme” in the party’s history; the Democrats’ is accurately described as the “most progressive” in their history. Both are written in policy-speak prose, but the Democrats’ platform is as densely wonkish and detailed as a Hillary Clinton speech in contrast to the mostly negative recommendations repeal, overturn, and so forth that Republicans offer.
Supreme Court watchers will note that the Democrats applaud the same-sex marriage equality decision that Republicans vow to overturn through new appointments to the court. Democrats double down on LGBT rights by supporting efforts to interpret existing sex discrimination laws to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination as well. Democrats promise to defend abortion rights, while Republicans want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Democrats double down again by promising to work to repeal the Hyde Amendment, the federal law from the 1970s that prohibits Medicaid funding of abortions.
Democrats have targeted one example of Supreme Court activism to overturn: the 2010 decision in Citizens United that freed corporations, and unions, to spend money on federal campaigns from their own treasuries instead of through political action committees. The decision is a bête noire for the party’s progressive base, especially the Bernie supporters, but the impact of the ruling has been exaggerated and the odds for overturning it even with one or more Democratic-appointed justices are no better than 50/50.
In her acceptance speech, Clinton promised to appoint justices who “will get money out of politics,” apparently forgetting the sage wisdom of the great Democratic politico Jesse Unruh that money is “the mother’s milk of politics.” More realistically, Clinton also promised to appoint justices who want to “extend” voting rights rather than “restrict” them. The court’s future course on those issues is up for grabs, more so than its future stance on campaign finance laws.
The party platforms take opposite approaches on voting. The Republicans promise to strengthen the voter ID laws aimed at preventing the imaginary problem of polling place impersonation fraud. The Democratic platform sneers at voter ID laws and counters with a detailed laundry list of measures to combat voter suppression and enlarge the franchise.
The platform calls for restoring the Voting Rights Act—a tacit reference to overturning the Roberts Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder that eliminated preclearance, the act’s most powerful enforcement weapon. It favors universal automatic voter registration, early voting, voting by mail, and so forth. And it doubles down by calling for restoring voting rights for ex-felons. Republicans offered no positive steps to make voting easier.
The Democrats open the platform by self-identifying as “the party of inclusion.” Today’s immigrants, the platform reminds us, are tomorrow’s “teachers, doctors, lawyers, government leaders, soldiers, entrepreneurs, activists, PTA members, and pillars of our communities.” The platform vows to work for “comprehensive immigration reform” and promises “no religious test for immigrants.” No elaboration was needed to draw the explicit contrast with the anti-Muslim rhetoric of the Republicans’ standard-bearer.
Trump may be ignoring the party’s Chamber of Commerce base, but the GOP platform includes several items from the business community’s wish list. Democrats went the other way. Republicans want to abolish, the Democrats want to strengthen, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. Democrats want to strengthen the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and re-enforce its power to prevent the predatory lending practices that added to the pain of the housing crisis. Republicans want to abolish the agency.
Trump may view himself as a friend of the blue-collar worker, but the Democrats endorse union rights while the Republicans say nothing. Democrats also want to limit the use of forced arbitration to limit legal remedies for workers and consumers; again, the GOP platform is blank. And the Democrats touch on other progressive causes unfound in the GOP charter: environmental justice for one, tribal sovereignty for another.
Above all, credit the Democrats for discovering political courage that they too often have kept in the closet unless needed after an election. The platform calls for enacting sensible gun safety laws, now a popular cause, and abolishing the death penalty, not yet a politically winning issue. It is perhaps audacious to offer a progressive vision to counter the divisive rhetoric and policies that proved so useful in Trump’s rise. Voters get to decide in November.