Cheer up, Bernie supporters. Our candidate may have had to concede the nomination to his rival, Hillary Clinton – whom he has officially endorsed, but all is not lost. Sanders’ historic campaign has accomplished what those of us on the left could only dream about a year ago – a truly Progressive platform for the Democratic Party.
In short, Bernie Sanders has succeeded in doing what many in progressive media had hoped for By actively speaking out on the issues of income inequality and growing poverty in the wealthiest nation on earth, he has indeed forced the Democratic Party in a more progressive direction. But what exactly does that mean for the country?
Major Planks in the Democratic Platform
One might have thought that the new Democratic platform had been written by Sanders himself because it includes virtually every major issue for which he stands. At the top of the list is “Moving America Forward.”
On the surface, this seems vague, but it is actually a neat summary of what needs to happen in America. Starting out by highlighting the dismal failures of “trickle-down” economics and Republican policy for the past generation, it outlines the party’s vision of what our nation could be – a “we” society and a system that works for everyone, not just those at the top of the economic food chain. It also points out, quite realistically, that the task of rebuilding the middle class and creating a more just and equal society is a long-term proposition. Pointing out the progress that has been made since President Obama took office almost eight years ago, it acknowledges that it will take years and multiple administrations to repair the damage that took decades to create.
From there, the platform presents the details. Plank Number 2 is titled, “Rebuilding Middle Class Security.” It’s all about building on what has already been accomplished by focusing on further investments in education, health care, research and technology, and infrastructure. It’s no secret that thirty years of Ayn Rand-influenced, neo-liberal economics has resulted in the wholesale off-shoring of American industry as U.S. jobs have moved to low-wage countries like Mexico, China, and Indonesia. Again, this involves building on and expanding policies that have already been enacted, such as the American Jobs Act and the “Bridge to Work” programs that help the long-term unemployed to re-enter the workforce. It means honoring the social contract that has been largely discarded since the Reagan Administration, enacting tax cuts for the middle class, expanding and strengthening health care reform, stabilizing the housing market, strengthening Social Security and Medicare, and ensuring that every American has access to a first-rate education.
Plank Number 3 is where the proverbial rubber hits the road. It addresses the rot at the core that has eroded our society since the 1980s: corruption, secrecy, a lack of accountability, and rules tilted in favor of Wall Street. The third plank in the Democratic Platform calls for extensive reforms of Wall Street as well as the practice of lobbying and the way campaigns are financed. It also calls for greater transparency and accountability in government.
Plank Number 4 acknowledges that America needs to be a “we society” rather than a “me society” (to quote Thom Hartmann). This means real immigration reform that “intelligently prioritizes our country’s security and economic needs.” It means economic policies that truly support family values and communities, both urban and rural. It means supporting the men and women who wore a uniform and went into harm’s way and making certain their needs are met when they return home, wounded in body and spirit. It even includes support for the arts – something that happens in almost every other industrialized country (and was actually done back in the 1930s under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration). Above all, it means protecting the rights and freedoms of every American, including the right to vote, the right to marry, the right of a woman to choose – and even the right to bear arms under stronger regulations.
What is significant about the new Democratic platform is that most of it is about the domestic issues that affect all of us here at home, every day. In the past, Bernie Sanders has drawn criticism over his perceived lack of attention to foreign affairs and national security. However, these issues are addressed in the fifth and final plank of the Democratic Platform. Unfortunately, this plank comes up short for Progressives. It insists that the U.S. “must continue to have the strongest military in the world,” keeping intact the largest military budget in the world that eats up .54¢ out of every tax dollar. There is some lip-service given to ending waste in the military and auditing the Pentagon. Unfortunately, corporate and military interests continue to dominate policy in this regard – particularly defense industries and weapons manufacturers who provide jobs to the constituents of Congressional districts in which they are located. Despite a statement in the platform claiming that “war is the last resort,” it appears that militaristic policies will remain for the foreseeable future.
That brings us to Progressive issues that have not been addressed in the platform. One of these is the infamous Trans-Pacific Partnership. Sanders has spoken out against this so-called “trade deal,” which threatens to hand our national sovereignty over to global corporations. It has been the focus of massive protests for over a year. Hillary Clinton herself has “flip-flopped” on the issue, initially supporting the deal, then turning against it when the political winds started blowing in that direction. It’s likely she will change her mind again if elected.
Disappointingly, the platform also does not address drug policy, or the failed “War on Drugs.” Even marijuana, which has been legalized for recreational use in four states and approved for medical purposes in several others, is not mentioned once. A draft of the Democratic Party Platform initially called for a “reasoned pathway to future legalization” of cannabis and cannabis products. However, that that language was vague, and somehow, all mention of such policy has disappeared from the official platform as published at the Democratic Party website.
It’s Still a Victory – But The Job is Not Done
The Democratic Party Platform is not all the progressive movement had hoped for – but it represents a major step forward. It demonstrates the power of We the People to move our leaders in the direction we demand. As a few pundits have pointed out, when the people lead, the politicians will follow. The fact that Bernie Sanders came as far as he did and that he was able to turn the conversation to the real, bread-and-butter issues affecting average Americans every day, and steer the party in a more progressive direction is clear proof of the power we hold.
The continuation of support for ill-advised trade deals, military policy, and the failure to address the issue of drugs demonstrate that our work is far from finished. In fact, it’s only just begun.