Democratic and Republican platforms, and there it is all laid out: the takeover of the Republican Party by the Tea Party, and a Democratic Party that at best pays lip service to Occupy principles, and at worst is screamingly hypocritical. It's not news by now that the GOP has been hijacked by the radical right -- the selection of Ayn Rand acolyte Paul Ryan was proof enough of that. But the real takeaway from the GOP convention was not its radicalism as much as its dishonesty. When it comes to sheer gall, how can any public figure in world history beat Ryan's declaration that "a Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare," and that "the truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves." But the Democratic platform, which was released on Tuesday, comes awfully close to Ryan in the dissembling department, even if it does not rise to the Olympian heights of sheer lying that he and his running mate have achieved. As can be expected, the platform gives heavy weight to the economy. If anything is going to make President Obama a one-term chief executive, it is the dismal economy, Republican obstructionism notwithstanding. It's hardly surprising that the only living one-term ex-president, Jimmy Carter, has been omitted from the list of speakers. The Democrats' job is to show that Obama, like Carter in 1980, is the least bad of the two alternatives, and that shouldn't be a difficult task. After all, the Republicans didn't even try to justify their position that somehow cutting taxes for the wealthy and slashing programs for everybody else will energize the economy. They just sort of assume that voters are dumb enough to think that way.
The Democrats, for their part, are doing more than presenting themselves as the party of Not Romney. They are wagering on collective amnesia to descend on voters by portraying themselves as fierce bank-fighters. It comes across as kind of weak, quasi-Occupy rhetoric without the actual track record to back it up. Under the header, "Stabilizing the Housing Market and Hard-Hit Communities," we have the following: "For more than a decade, irresponsible lenders tricked buyers into signing subprime loans while too many homeowners got in over their heads by buying homes they couldn't afford." So far so good. It goes on to say that President Obama "took swift action to stabilize a housing market in crisis" -- which is true enough. It would have been good for the Democratic platform-writers to end there, and not add that the Obama administration "also cracked down on fraudulent mortgage lenders and other abuses that contributed to the housing crisis." As a matter of fact, one of the most widely lamented failures of this administration had been its lackluster record in cracking down on mortgage fraud, and especially the "other abuses" part -- fraud in the sale of the exotic derivatives that became a proximate cause of the financial crisis. The Democrats fall practically into Ryan fib territory when they say that "Democrats have held the largest financial institutions accountable by requiring them to provide relief for homeowners still struggling to pay their mortgages and to change practices that took advantage of homeowners." The reality is that the federal programs that aim at helping hard-up homeowners have been a disaster. An audit, released in July, found that a whopping 90% of the funds set aside for distressed homeowners have gone unspent. Bloomberg reported that "of a $7.6 billion aid program for families in states with the largest home-price declines ... only $351 million had been spent to assist 43,580 homeowners by the end of June
of 2012." Sure, even that $351 million wouldn't have been there if the Republican Party's free market and Tea Party dogmatists had their way. But why put such a whopping distortion in the party platform? The Republicans' march to the right is scary enough without distorting the Obama administration's record. It's painful to read the Democratic platform talk about how "banks and investors were allowed to package and sell risky mortgages. Huge reckless bets were made with other people's money on the line" -- when Attorney General Eric Holder, Securities and Exchange Commission head Mary Schapiro, and line prosecutors like Preet Bharara haven't held those firms accountable.
"That behavior not only nearly destroyed the financial system, it cost our economy millions of jobs, hurt middle-class and poor families, and left taxpayers holding the bill." True. But that being the case, why hasn't the Obama administration taken a single action against the perpetrators of "that behavior" who worked for the major banks? Perhaps it doesn't matter that the word "derivatives" doesn't appear once in the platform. Perhaps the important thing is that the Republicans would try to repeal Sarbanes-Oxley and roll back, if not dismantle entirely, the Dodd-Frank reforms. The Democratic platform is correct when it says that "Mitt Romney and the Republicans would roll back financial reform," and it would have been wise to end the sentence right there. But to say that the GOP candidates would "let Wall Street write its own rules again" implies that there has been a fundamental change in the rulemaking process. And there hasn't been. Just like the Republican platform, the Democrats flick at China, whose aggressive trading tactics, such as keeping its currency at an artificially low rate of exchange, have made a mockery of the concept of free trade. "Both publicly and privately, the President has made clear to the Chinese government that it needs to take steps to appreciate its currency so that America is competing on a level playing field," the platform says. That's a whole lot feebler than Mitt Romney's strong stance on this issue, and raises the obvious question: OK, if the Chinese government doesn't stop manipulating its currency, what is the Obama administration going to do about it? The answer seems to be "not much," and that same phrase can be applied to pretty much this entire predictable document. The Democrats have titled their platform "Moving America Forward," but what they really mean is "We're Not Romney." Gary Weiss's most recent book is AYN RAND NATION: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, published by St. Martin's Press.