Although some are heralding the draft platform to come out of the Democratic policy committee in Orlando, Florida, as a landmark document that has made the party more progressive than ever before, with a number of historic first-time policies making the cut, progressives are also disappointed that the platform didn't go further.
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After U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders threw his support behind fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House, many were left wondering what happened to the so-called “political revolution” of the Sanders campaign including a ban on fracking, rejection of the Trans Pacific Partnership, single-payer health care, and other issues.
So how greatly did Sanders’ upstart run for president impact the draft Democratic platform—which won’t be absolutely final until after the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia from July 25 to 28—and how does it measure up against progressives’ expectations?
Bernie Sanders Makes Mark with Wall Street Reform
The platform takes an unprecedented stance on tackling “the greed and recklessness of Wall Street” with what Politico dubbed “sharped language” on reforming financial institutions. The policy is a clear mark of the influence of Bernie Sanders’ campaign on the platform, as well as policies long pushed by his fellow Senator Elizabeth Warren.
“Wall Street cannot be an island unto itself, gambling trillions in risky financial instruments and making huge profits, all the while thinking that taxpayers will be there to bail them out again,” reads the July 1 draft platform, which doesn’t include changes made at the Orlando meeting. It adds that both individuals and corporations must be held accountable for breaking the law.
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It continues: “Democrats will not hesitate to use and expand existing authorities as well as empower regulators to downsize or break apart financial institutions when necessary to protect the public and safeguard financial stability, including new authorities to go after risky shadow-banking activities.”
The policy could help limit the influence of Wall Street on a potential Clinton presidency, while setting her up to come under fire if she deviates from the platform.
But then again, just because it’s in the platform doesn’t mean it will translate into action. As former secretary of labor under Bill Clinton, Robert Reich, told The Atlantic, “The platform is a relatively easy way for so-called mainstream and centrist Democrats to make progressive Democrats feel included without really changing the status quo or ruffling feathers on Wall Street.”
Inching the Democratic Party Slowly Toward the Left?
At the top of the document, the Democratic platform takes a position in support of a US$15 per hour federal minimum wage and union rights for all workers, calling the current minimum wage of US$7.25 a “starvation wage.”
The platform also calls for abolishing the death penalty, which—though far from earth shattering for progressives—marks a first for the Democratic party, which took a position in the 2012 election that the death penalty “must not be arbitrary.”
In a win for Latin America, both the Clinton and Sanders camps also accepted a plank on closing the School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, a military training center for U.S. allies in Latin America that specializes in Cold War counterinsurgency training. The U.S.-backed 2009 coup in Honduras—which Clinton had a diplomatic role in helping to secure as secretary of state—was carried out by graduates of the controversial school, which critics say highlights its anti-democratic tendencies.
Riddled with Disappointments, Starting with TPP
But despite the steps forward with language on curbing the power of Wall Street and raising the federal minimum wage, among other policies, the Democratic draft platform falls short in many important ways.
Topping the list of letdowns is the fact that Clinton representatives blocked Sanders supporters’ attempts to get an outright rejection of the Trans Pacific Partnership locked in the platform. It criticizes the deal, but doesn’t go as far as to commit to a vote against it, failing to satisfy critics who argue the TPP would undermine worker rights, raise drug prices, and lock in a future of dirty energy and climate crisis.
The conflict over the policy is palpable in the July 1 draft of the platform, which does not include changes made during the most recent Orlando meeting. “On the TPP, there are a diversity of views in the party,” it reads. “Many Democrats are on record stating that the agreement does not meet the standards set out in this platform; other Democrats have expressed support for the agreement.”
The platform plank clearly betrays the disconnect between Clinton’s rhetoric and action after she did a 180-degree turn on the TPP during her campaign under pressure from Sanders to oppose the deal.
'Shameful' Refusal of Universal Health Care
The platform is also disappointing for progressives when it comes to health care, failing to adopt Sanders’ single-payer healthcare plan that Clinton has long balked at. The platform calls to bring the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion—known as Obamacare—to every state, but shies completely away from turning Medicare into a single-payer national health insurance system like in Canada, the U.K. and other countries.
RoseAnn DeMoro, president of the National Nurses United union, which endorsed Sanders for the Democratic nomination, wrote on her Twitter account that “the DNC should hang its head in shame” over the policy, saying it holds people’s health “hostage.”
Fracked Gas Gets a Free Pass
Progressives and environmental activists were also put out by the failure of the platform to adopt a complete ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a position pushed by Sanders' platform committee members such as prominent climate activist and founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben, among others.
However, the party’s policy does break from the 2012 platform on energy, which advocated an “all of the above” approach when it comes to power sources and praised fracked gas as a job-creating industry. Sanders representatives succeeded in getting the party to commit to developing clean energy sources rather than expanding fracked gas power plants. As a result, the environmental plank of the draft platform called for ensuring half of electricity comes from clean energy sources, particularly solar, within a decade.
Israel, Israel, Israel
Finally, another major—though unsurprisingly—failure to move the platform in a more progressive direction is the lack of language condemning Israeli occupation of and new settlements in Palestine.
The platform advocates a two-state solution and does not challenge long-standing friendly and uncritical U.S. foreign policy toward Israel by referring repeatedly to the country’s strength, security, and right to defend itself. Amendments proposing “an end to illegal settlements” and rebuilding the Gaza Strip after a deadly Israeli assault in 2014 were both voted down. It also includes language directly opposing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement against Israel.
Political commentator Juan Cole sharply criticized the plank. “If the Democratic Party can’t even just state that the Israeli squatter settlements are illegal, which is what the U.S. signed on to when it ratified the Geneva Conventions, then it should change its name to the Colonial Party,” he wrote.
On the campaign trail, Sanders called for an end to Israeli occupation and illegal settlements and was the only major candidate to skip the AIPAC conference in March.
Future for Sanders’ 'Political Revolution'?
The platform will now be finalized at the July 25 to 28 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where it could still see changes made.
The draft has been widely celebrated as the most progressive in the party’s history, while Bernie Sanders has garnered criticism from supporters and sympathizers such as Green Party candidate Jill Stein for endorsing Clinton despite the compromises on his policies in the platform.
But with the stamp of the Sanders campaign on the platform—along with disappointments for progressives—many Sanders supporters and activists have said that the future of the “political revolution” will be up to social movements with people power to put pressure on the political elite.