A tale of two conventions

September 17, 2020

Held after a gap of a week from each other in August, the Democratic and Republican conventions articulated their formal party positions on a range of issues and offered visions to take the country...

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Held after a gap of a week from each other in August, the Democratic and Republican conventions articulated their formal party positions on a range of issues and offered visions to take the country forward.

Given the background of the corona pandemic, the manner of their conduct represented a wide difference in the parties’ respective approaches to treating the lethal challenge of Covid-19.

While Democrats opted for a virtual gathering and carefully chose the optics to send across a clear message to the voters, the Grand Old Party (GOP) was less circumspect and held an in-person meeting though at a limited scale that reinforced the Trump administration’s policy to treat the pandemic as a ‘new normal’.

As if the battering President Trump received in public opinion polls and surveys due to his poor pandemic leadership was not enough, the revelation made by Bob Woodward in his recent book ‘Rage’ that the president willfully played down the lethality of Covid-19 against the advice of his staff has renewed questions about his suitability to lead American people during the second term.

Democrats know that they have found an Achilles’ heel to target the incumbent of the White House, and thus carefully planned events as part of the Democratic National Convention to present a Democratic leadership that they argue is capable of guiding Americans in times of a crisis such as the present one.

The importance of the conventions lies less in the nomination of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, for their names become a certainty in the primaries, and more in inspiring voters by adopting platforms and through the speeches of the prominent party leaders.

The party platforms or manifestoes, as they are generally known elsewhere, represent formal party positions, policies and principles. They not only offer a critique of the manner their political rivals conduct themselves in office but also show the way forward by actually spelling out the steps and mechanisms to change things for the better.

These platforms are unique arrangements, in that they represent a party’s intellectual capacity to generate ideas to cope with the challenges and offer solutions to the electorate in the form of workable plans. How the parties fare in stating their positions clearly and categorically provides the subject for the intense and heated media debates.

In what experts and analysts of American politics described as Trump’s complete takeover of GOP, the Republican Party decided to do away with the requirement of adopting the platform and only issued a one-page resolution that detailed the reasons behind rescinding the need for a platform. It rather announced that the party “has and will continue to enthusiastically support the president’s America-first agenda.”

On the other hand, the Republican Party decided to adopt the 2016 platform for 2020. It thus showed an unwillingness and at best laziness to undertake an exercise in soul-searching, which kind of became essential after four years in office.

The 2016 platform was more of a criticism on the then-President Obama in the Oval Office, detailing how the GOP will right the Democratic ‘wrongs’. The absence of a new platform means that the Republic Party is risking its shot at power by betting exclusively on President Trump and his message of Trumpism. Only time will tell whether such a strategy pays off or not.

Rationally speaking, four years in office is a long time that has triggered changes domestically as well as positioned the United States in a role that was a far cry from its traditional global profile.

Trump’s slogan of ‘making America great again’, which, for all practical purposes will be the broad election manifesto for the Republicans, has transformed the US in significant ways. A Biden presidency, if elected, will be at pains to reverse the sweeping changes and restore it to a place it occupied during the tenure of President Obama.

In order to make up for the policy vacuum, the Trump campaign team presented his second-term agenda in bullet-form that promised a return to normal 2020 (a reference to the corona challenge), emphasis on American exceptionalism, more money for law enforcement, and missions to eradicate terrorism that threatens the US, and permitting 100 percent deductions for industries that decide to bring their manufacturing back to the US, etc.

The question, however, remains whether a hurriedly drafted agenda by a campaign team, vague and broad as it is, can be an alternative to the party platform that has diverse viewpoints put together as a cogent response to existing political and economic challenges.

Contrary to the haphazard approach adopted by the GOP, Democrats came up with a 91-page document under the title, ‘Healing the Soul of America and Restoring and Strengthening Our Democracy’, headings that were carefully chosen to offer a contrast in its priorities and outline an alternative vision to stem what they consider as America’s fast descent into chaos both at home and abroad.

However, the Democratic platform is high on articulating values and general principles and low on specifics, a fact dictated by the sharp divisions within the party between its progressive and moderate wings. The platform is an attempt at combining the positions embraced by Joe Biden and rival Bernie Sanders in the primaries. The bipartisan committee of the party that worked on the platform was helped by six unity task forces composed of supporters of Biden and Sanders.

The platform identified the coronavirus as constituting the biggest health challenge and promised to commit greater resources and commitment to fight the scourge. Democrats’ proposals on the pandemic are consistent with their stated position on the pandemic such as increased funding for state and local governments vis-a-vis coronavirus. While the platform aims to bring down the health costs and expand its quality and coverage, it falls short of promising what Bernie Sanders has campaigned for: Medicare for all.

On the much-debated question of climate change, the platform has failed to come up to the progressives’ expectations of a Green New Deal, though it has set ambitious goals of cutting down on the carbon pollution from power plants and gas emissions to zero by 2035 and 2050 respectively.

On the educational front too, the divide between the moderate and progressive sections of the party is clearly distinct. The platform has promised to impart free college and university education to students with less than $125,000 family income. Contrarily, Sanders has made a strong case for a tuition-free education for all.

In the area of foreign policy, a Democratic presidency has vowed to work for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine with Jerusalem being the Israeli capital. This position has not pleased the supporters of Bernie Sanders who have criticized Israeli occupation of Palestine. Bernie remains a staunch critic of the Israeli government.

The platform also seeks to restore America’s global position by offering to work with the partners and allies in a globalized world, an approach to foreign policy that was discarded by Trump during his four-year in office.

With national conventions held and party positions clearly outlined, the American electorate has sufficient information to decide which party has the ability and vision to lead them out of these tumultuous times.

The writer, a Chevening scholar, studied International Journalism at the University of Sussex.

Email: amanatchpkgmail.com

Twitter: Amanat222

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