The 2012 party platforms offer a perfect case study in polarization. Democrats now support "the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples," while Republicans stiffened their opposition, blasting judges who have broadened marriage rights as a "serious threat to our country's constitutional order" and "an assault on the foundations of our country." Democrats stop short of endorsing the Dream Act, but they still favor a "comprehensive solution" for immigration, including rights for undocumented migrants. The Republican plank, meanwhile, talks almost exclusively about enforcement, border security, and policies to "encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily" — Mitt Romney's promised "self-deportation." Democrats want to increase the minimum wage annually, while Republicans lament that it "seriously restricted progress in the private sector."
The debate, it turns out, is no longer within the parties, but between them.
Platforms are still useful, but not the way they once were for that year's election. They tracked the evolution of the parties, identified issues that weren't being resolved by the government in Washington, and heralded the arrival of ideological insurgents. The faction that has secured the nomination is often willing to concede platform points to mollify a vanquished candidate. Nominee Richard Nixon, for instance, gave Gov. Nelson Rockefeller's eastern wing of the GOP all it wanted on the 1968 platform, and President Ford made similar moves for Ronald Reagan's supporters in 1976, even though the planks contradicted policies that Ford was currently implementing, such as détente with the Soviet Union.