Five Bad Ideas in the Democratic Platform

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic National Committee Chair, stands at the podium with stage manager David Cove during a walkthrough of Day 1 of the DNC at Time Warner Cable Arena on Sept. 4, 2012 in Charlotte, N.C.

Photograph by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

I burnished bipartisan credentials by offering 10 smart ideas in the Republican platform, so I thought I should point to some bad ones in the Democratic platform. Since the incumbent president is a Democrat, the Democrats’ platform is much more of a backward-looking document than the GOP one so it has fewer ideas overall. Consequently, I’m just going to focus on five bad ones:

  • “[O]ffer tax breaks to companies that are investing right here in the United States of America, betting on American workers who are making American products we sell to the world that are stamped with three proud words: Made in America.” This is an allusion to the Obama administration’s plan to first reform the corporate income tax code to make it simpler, fairer, and slightly revenue-positive and then undermine that agenda with a new special tax bonus for manufacturing. Just stick with Plan A of simpler, fairer, and somewhat revenue-positive.

  • “[F]ight for collective bargaining rights for police officers, nurses, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, teachers, and other public sector workers–jobs that are a proven path to the middle class for millions of Americans.” The problem here isn’t about collective bargaining per se, but the conception of public sector employment as a jobs strategy rather than a public services strategy. We should hire all the firefighters we need to keep our towns from burning them down, and pay what it takes to get good people to do difficult and important work. But we shouldn’t hire firefighters as a way to build the middle class. That kind of thinking is how Amtrak ends up losing money on its food service operations.

  • “[A]n all-of-the-above approach to developing America’s many energy resources, including wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal, hydropower, nuclear, oil, clean coal, and natural gas.” If you don’t care about climate change, there’s really no particularly good reason to be developing all these alternative fuels. But if you do care about climate change, then you can’t be developing America’s “clean coal” resources.

  • “Democrats will strengthen the American farm safety net by renewing crop disaster relief, maintaining strong crop insurance programs, and creating a permanent disaster relief program.” People in general deserve a robust safety net against economic misfortune, but there’s no reason farmers should get special favors. Lots of people’s jobs are subject to random shocks.

  • “[T]ough spending cuts that will bring annual domestic spending to its lowest level as a share of the economy in 50 years, while still allowing us to make investments that benefit the middle class now and reduce our deficit over a decade.” This is a twofer. For starters, it’s only true if we construe “annual domestic spending” to mean “domestic spending excluding Medicare and Social Security” which is a very misleading phrase. Secondly, it’s a substantively bad idea. The domestic functions of the American government—health care, education, retirement security, and transportation infrastructure—have become more important over time.

Best forward-looking idea—“immigration reform that creates a system for allocating visas that meets our economic needs, keeps families together, and enforces the law.”

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention.