A Reading Party

Placing your Well-Read Vote

Reading Party

Being well read isn’t only about consuming the classics and masterpieces from Ancient Greeks and European philosophers. It also means partaking of serious, important content from this present age. For the upcoming presidential election, there are things you can read that will keep you from being an advertising-directed mindless voting machine. Two documents in particular—the Democratic and Republican party platforms—are important if uninspiring primary sources.

Polls that ask “If the election were held today…” typically show large swings in the months leading up to an election. If the two parties present very different solutions on a wide range of important issues—and they do—why would someone vacillate between two unrelated choices? Either undecided voters don’t really know what they want or expect from their leaders, or they don’t know what the leaders and parties have to offer. The apathy of the first option is perhaps unsolvable. But the second issue can be resolved, by reading.

Each political party publishes a platform document that lays out their vision for the upcoming four years. I’ve never read a political party platform before this election season, and chances are you haven’t, either. But this year I decided to try them out. Here are links to the Democratic and Republican platforms, in HTML and PDF format.

  1. Democratic Platform
  2. Republican Platform

I’ve only read parts of each document so far, but differences already stand out. The Democratic platform, true to the image of the party, is more demonstrative and emotional, invoking feelings of party and American unity around the current president and his vision for the nation. Nearly every paragraph recalls the things done over the past four years, a natural method since their candidate occupied the Oval Office.

Likewise, the Republican platform plays to its expected aspirations. With more numbers and more PowerPoint-style action items, the document has a more business-like feel to it. Surprisingly, it mentions President Obama by name just once, in a discussion about military spending. (Romney only appears in the introduction.) “Obamacare” makes half-a-dozen appearances, always in a negative light. The term is nonexistent in the Democratic statement.

I always heard about “party planks,” and I expected these platform documents to be simple lists of positions on various important topics. The topics are all in there, but covered up with wordsmithing and non-specific promises. Despite this, it is possible to see differences in philosophy and policy positions between the texts. For instance, here is what the Republicans had to say about Medicare.

We will save Medicare by modernizing it, by empowering its participants, and by putting it on a secure financial footing…. The first step is to move [Medicare and Medicaid] away from their current unsustainable defined-benefit entitlement model to a fiscally sound defined-contribution model. This is the only way to limit costs and restore consumer choice for patients and introduce competition; for in healthcare, as in any other sector of the economy, genuine competition is the best guarantee of better care at lower cost. It is also the best guard against the fraud and abuse that have plagued Medicare in its isolation from free market forces, which in turn costs the taxpayers billions of dollars every year. We can do this without making any changes for those 55 and older. While retaining the option of traditional Medicare in competition with private plans, we call for a transition to a premium-support model for Medicare, with an income-adjusted contribution toward a health plan of the enrollee’s choice. This model will include private health insurance plans that provide catastrophic protection, to ensure the continuation of doctor-patient relationships. Without disadvantaging retirees or those nearing retirement, the age eligibility for Medicare must be made more realistic in terms of today’s longer life span.

While far from specific, it does lay out some generic-sounding steps the party plans to take if or when they assume power. The Democratic equivalent is less forthcoming about future plans, likely because the passage of the president’s healthcare initiative early in his term already established the party’s intentions. The Democratic document also includes more contrasts between party visions than does the Republican text.

Democrats adamantly oppose any efforts to privatize or voucherize Medicare; unlike our opponents we will not ask seniors to pay thousands of dollars more every year while they watch the value of their Medicare benefits evaporate. Democrats believe that Medicare is a sacred compact with our seniors. Nearly 50 million older Americans and Americans with disabilities rely on Medicare each year, and the new health care law makes Medicare stronger by adding new benefits, fighting fraud, and improving care for patients. And, over 10 years, the law will save the average Medicare beneficiary $4,200. President Obama is already leading the most successful crackdown on health care fraud ever, having already recovered $10 billion from health care scams. We will build on those reforms, not eliminate Medicare’s guarantees. The health care law is closing the gap in prescription drug coverage known as the “doughnut hole.” More than five million seniors have already saved money – an average of $600 last year – and the doughnut hole will be closed for good by 2020.

The two documents aren’t short; each one is several dozen pages in length. And they aren’t exciting; even Moby-Dick was a better read. But in this important election cycle, they are the clear means to being well read and informed.

[Image Credits: Library of Congress]


  1. I read several pages of your blog in Shanghai whilst I was on a Disney tour of China with my wife and daughter, having been introduced to it by your friend Leslie Yap who was on the tour.
    Very enjoyable blog. I look forward to reading about how these classics impact your life over the coming year (s). Of particular interest to me are any insights you have gained on the topics (1) How to lead an authentic life (2) How to be a better parent. (3) How to be better in relationships. I know there are an abundance of self-help books on these topics. But since they are timeless topics, perhaps further insights can be gained from the classics you have read?


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