American presidential elections are the world’s most public display of the democratic process. The global media follow the American elections with a fervor that is easily understood — what happens in an American presidential election matters all over the world. Our presidential campaigns are political pageants and electoral dynamos. But, as any honest thoughtful observer will understand, our elections are also great worldview exercises. We reveal our worldview by our vote.
This is particularly true of the 2012 election. The presidential nominees of the two major parties represent two very different worldviews and visions. President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney have adopted policy positions that place them in direct conflict, and the platforms of their respective parties reveal two radically different renderings of reality.
Years ago, Governor George Wallace of Alabama remarked with disdain that there is not “a dime’s worth of difference” between the Democrats and the Republicans. In a sense, he was at least partly right. A look back at the platforms of the two parties in the 1950s and 1960s reveals little division over many of the issues that now frame our national debate. Some of today’s issues were simply missing, of course, given the fact that they were not even part of the national conversation. But on issues of the economy, foreign policy, the function of government, and a host of other issues, the parties held positions that were far closer than is the case today. Divisive issues such as the war in Vietnam would be addressed with different policy proposals, but the platforms of the two parties reflected a shared moral and political framework — a truth that would shock many Americans today.
All that changed with the social and political divisions that came with the 1968 and 1972 elections, when the Democratic Party experienced its great transformation concerning a host of social issues. The 1980 election saw the Republicans experience their own transformation, with social issues such as abortion rising to major attention in the party platform.
Fast forward to 2012, and the distance between the two parties is breathtaking. The nation’s political polarization is clearly evident in the radical distinctions between the Republican and Democratic platforms. But this polarization is not merely political. It is fundamentally moral and ideological. These two platforms present two contradictory understandings of realities as basic as human life, liberty, and the institution of marriage. Though the two parties have taken opposing positions on many of these issues for years, the radical nature of this current polarization is new.
The parties differ about matters such as health care and the environment, the power of public employee unions, Medicare, and foreign policy. But those differences, real and consequential, pale in contrast with the positions taken by the parties concerning the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.
In 2012, the Democratic Party becomes the first major political party in the United States to call for the legalization of same-sex marriage. “We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under the law for same-sex couples,” states the platform. This follows President Obama’s announcement earlier this year that his “evolving” position on same-sex marriage now reached the point that he would openly call for same-sex couples to be given the legal right to marry.
The velocity of the Democratic Party’s shift concerning same-sex marriage was on full display on the stage of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, when former President Bill Clinton nominated President Obama for re-election. In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law after a massive bi-partisan majority in Congress approved the legislation. That act established that the United States government would recognize only the union of a man and a woman as marriage, and that no state would be required to recognize a same-sex union performed in any other state.
Just 16 years later, the Democratic president who signed that act into law nominated a Democratic president who is working for its repeal. President Obama has ordered his Attorney General not to defend DOMA in the Federal courts. He and his party now openly call for what that federal statute — still bearing the full force of law — prohibits.
The Republican platform stated: “We affirm our support for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” Thus, the Republican platform calls for nothing less than a Constitutional amendment to prevent what the Democratic platform demands the law to affirm. That Constitutional amendment, Republicans argue, is made necessary by the very fact that the Democratic President will not defend DOMA. (To Be Continued in Next Week’s Newsletter)