As promised, here is the comparison of the 1980 and 2012 DNC platform. A while ago, a New York Times article cherry-picked a few lines from the GOP 1980 and 2012 platforms to support the narrative that modern Republicans are extremists, a lost party in which St. Ronald himself would feel uncomfortable. The tone of the article would have you believe that the Democrats have remained ‘moderate’ (read: They agree with the author) while the Republicans have drifted further and further into ever-greater depths of extremism. Particularly examined are clauses regarding gun rights and abortion. Let’s take a look at both parties’ changes on those topics since 1980.
The New York Times article focuses on a prefatory statement from the 1980 GOP platform, and the details of the 2012 platform, possibly because the actual content is not so different. Here is the text of the 1980 GOP platform on abortion:
“There can be no doubt that the question of abortion, despite the complex nature of its various issues, is ultimately concerned with equality of rights under the law. While we recognize differing views on this question among Americans in general—and in our own Party—we affirm our support of a constitutional amendment to restore protection of the right to life for unborn children. We also support the Congressional efforts to restrict the use of taxpayers’ dollars for abortion.”
So, in short, the platform supports an amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit abortion. In the mean time, Congress shouldn’t confiscate my money to help other people murder their babies. And now, the ‘extreme’ 2012 platform:
“Faithful to the “self-evident” truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion or fund organizations which perform or advocate it and will not fund or subsidize health care which includes abortion coverage. “
The 2012 platform goes on at length, talking about Republican opposition to partial-birth abortion – a practice not explicitly enshrined as a ‘right’ by Roe vs. Wade. But to summarize the content, again, support is expressed for an amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit abortion, and opposition to taxpayer funded abortion is reiterated.
Now, let’s take a look at the 1980 DNC platform’s statement on abortion:
“We fully recognize the religious and ethical concerns which many Americans have about abortion. We also recognize the belief of many Americans that a woman has a right to choose whether and when to have a child.
The Democratic Party supports the 1973 Supreme Court decision on abortion rights as the law of the land and opposes any constitutional amendment to restrict or overturn that decision.”
So this is statement opposes a constitutional amendment to prohibit abortion, and makes no mention whatsoever of public funding for abortion. Now, we fast-forward 32 years to see what today’s DNC has to say:
“The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.“
The content is essentially the same as in 1980, except that now the DNC has added a commitment to spend taxpayer dollars on abortion.
Looking at both pairs of statements, the content stays essentially the same. Judging strictly by the text of the platforms, the Democrats have moved somewhat to the left – now offering to fund abortions with taxpayer money. Both statements removed that prefatory acknowledgment that other people disagree with them in the 2012 version – that same prefatory statement that the New York Times focused so much on. Probably because the GOP was pro-life then, and is pro-life now.
The Times article focuses mostly on the 2012 Republican platform’s opposition to magazine capacity bans and support for national right-to-carry reciprocity and stand-your-ground. Here’s the text of the 1980 DNC platform on firearms:
“The Democratic Party affirms the right of sports-men to possess guns for purely hunting and target-shooting purposes. However, handguns simplify and intensify violent crime. Ways must be found to curtail the availability of these weapons. The Democratic Party supports enactment of federal legislation to strengthen the presently inadequate regulations over the manufacture, assembly, distribution, and possession of handguns and to ban ‘Saturday night specials.'”
The NYT may have a case here, actually, but it would be a small one. That prefatory statement could well encompass support for an ‘assault weapons ban’ – though the focus here is on some vague way of ‘curtailing the availability’ of handguns, and banning the cheap and ineffective ones. Fast-forward to 2012 for a shift in focus:
“We recognize that the individual right to bear arms is an important part of the American tradition, and we will preserve Americans’ Second Amendment right to own and use firearms. We believe that the right to own firearms is subject to reasonable regulation. We understand the terrible consequences of gun violence; it serves as a reminder that life is fragile, and our time here is limited and precious. We believe in an honest, open national conversation about firearms. We can focus on effective enforcement of existing laws, especially strengthening our background check system, and we can work together to enact commonsense improvements – like reinstating the assault weapons ban and closing the gun show loophole – so that guns do not fall into the hands of those irresponsible, law- breaking few. “
Here, we have almost a rhetorical reverse of the DNC’s abortion statement – with time, they decided to go with a less-confrontational preface. We also have a shift in focus, from handguns to assault weapons. I’m not sure I’d consider this a move to the left or the right, or really any move at all. Handguns were more prominent in the 80s (so-called ‘assault weapons’ could be purchased by civilians, but no one cared), whereas semiautomatic rifles that look scary are more in the spotlight today. It may well be a matter of opinion whether or not this constitutes a major shift.
Switching sides of the aisle, we go to the brief Republican statement from 1980 (why does it seem everyone was less verbose in 1980?):
“We believe the right of citizens to keep and bear arms must be preserved. Accordingly, we oppose federal registration of firearms. Mandatory sentences for commission of armed felonies are the most effective means to deter abuse of this right. We therefore support Congressional initiatives to remove those provisions of the Gun Control Act of 1968 that do not significantly impact on crime but serve rather to restrain the law-abiding citizen in his legitimate use of firearms.”
The Republicans make no mention of the Democrats’ proposed but unclear handgun restrictions, and instead call for repeals of portions of the 1968 Gun Control Act. The platform is also vague in what those portions would be. On to 2012, then:
“We support the fundamental right to self-defense wherever a law- abiding citizen has a legal right to be, and we support federal legislation that would expand the exercise of that right by allowing those with state-issued carry permits to carry firearms in any state that issues such permits to its own residents. Gun ownership is responsible citizenship, enabling Americans to defend their homes and communities. Wecondemnfrivolous lawsuits against gun manufacturers and oppose federal licensing or registration of law-abiding gun owners. We oppose legislation that is intended to restrict our Second Amendment rights by limiting the capacity of clips or magazines or otherwise restoring the ill- considered Clinton gun ban.”
In neither the 1980 platform nor in the 2012 platform did Republicans support weapons regulation. Since magazine capacity bans weren’t on the gun control agenda in 1980, no opposition to such a position need be stated. The current statement doesn’t talk about opposition to handguns because the Democrats dropped their efforts to ban them, and are now attacking a different type of firearm. The definite change has been support for right-to-carry legislation – an issue which has gained much support since the 1980s. One could make the case that the Republican platform is somewhat more in favor of gun rights now, but in substance, neither party’s stance has significantly changed. The Democrats want gun control. The Republicans do not.
While each party has dropped some conciliatory language prefacing their respective abortion stances, no significant changes have been made. Those who view the murder of a million-odd babies a year as a thing to be stopped continue to do so, and those who uphold this in utero mater familias continue to do so. Those who support the right of the citizens to keep and bear arms continue to support that right, and those who want to incrementally chip away at the Second Amendment continue to do so. Parties do change over time, but to assert that the Republicans – still supporters of economic intervention, the welfare state, and a rather progressive interventionist foreign policy – have somehow taken a radical turn to the right is just an election-year nonsense. The label ‘extremist’ scares people. End of story.