Does anyone really read the Democrat and Republican Party Platforms? This year, the Republican Party apparently decided that it wasn’t even worth the time required to update their 2016 document for the 2020 election — they simply re-adopted it wholesale. Still, Professor Marjorie Hershey argues that they signal who has power within the party, and may accurately predict what to expect in the next four years from the successful candidate.
So where do human rights sit within the two platforms for this year’s election? Here’s a simple analysis based just on a word search for the terms “human rights.”
The Democrat Party Platform uses the term “human rights” twenty-one times. Often, the term appears in reference to foreign policy and efforts through diplomacy or trade deals to promote human rights. Here are some examples:
“We will stand up to the forces of authoritarianism, not aid and abet their rise, and we will speak and act with clarity and purpose on behalf of human rights wherever they are under threat.”
“We will negotiate strong and enforceable standards for labor, human rights, and the environment in the core text of our trade deals.”
But the Platform also includes some recognition of the need to apply human rights at home. For example:
“Far too often, the law has shielded police officers who stand accused of heinous violations of civil and human rights.”
“We will ensure that our immigration policies account for the needs of LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers, and that we use the full slate of human rights promotion and accountability tools to defend the universal rights of LGBTQ+ people.
“Democrats believe that freedom of religion and the right to believe—or not to believe—are fundamental human rights. We will never use protection of that right as a cover for discrimination.”
And the Democrat Party Platform also re-situates the United States as a participant within international human rights institutions:
“We will rejoin and reform the WHO, the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the United Nations Population Fund, because in a global public health crisis and a global democratic recession, American leadership is needed more than ever. We will work to modernize international institutions to make sure they are fit for purpose in the 21st century and responsible stewards of both public funds and the world’s trust.”
This election year, the Republican Party simply re-adopted its 2016 Platform. Not surprisingly, there are some dated references. However, looking at the Platform’s treatment of “human rights” provides a useful comparison with the Democrat’s document.
The Republicans’ Platform uses the term “human rights” ten times in the document. All of the references occur in connection to foreign policy. Here’s a typical example:that presages the recent report of Secretary Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights:
“The United States needs a radical rethinking of our human rights diplomacy. A Republican administration will adopt a ‘whole of government’ approach to protect fundamental freedoms globally, one where pressing human rights and rule of law issues are integrated at every appropriate level of our bilateral relationships and strategic decision-making.”
At the same time, the document heavily criticizes human rights institutions such as the Human Rights Council and the United Nations. Further, unlike the Democrat Platform, the Republican Platform makes no connection between human rights with any domestic issues or policies.
Of course, word search is a crude instrument for analyzing these platforms. It may be that both of the Platforms more fully address human rights using other terms for these concepts. But to the extent that “human rights” has a particular meaning and valence in the world, the numbers and examples discussed here are likely indicative of each party’s leanings. At bottom, neither of the platforms include the sort of deep human rights analysis that would be appropriate to the occasion, but the recognition that human rights norms apply domestically, as in the Democrat Platform, is worth noting and hopefully, building on.