Bernie Sanders’ accomplishment, whether he wins the most actual delegates, despite the rigged system, or not, and whether that garners him the nomination or not, has not been to persuade Hillary Clinton to pretend to support progressive policies. And it has not been to persuade the DNC to let progressive people have some say in drafting its 2016 platform. Sanders’ accomplishment has been persuading millions of people to vote for whom they choose in defiance of the corporate media’s dictates. The U.S. public’s growing ability to tell the corporate media to go to hell is going to mean a lot more to our future than the outcome of any election.
If you look through the 2008 and 2012 Democratic Party Platforms, the idea that the next one could be improved upon appears obvious. The idea that it matters appears less so. In 2008, the Democratic Party was going to “defeat al Qaeda,” and “win” a war on Afghanistan by escalating it, make America loved again while expanding its military presence all over the globe, eliminate nuclear weapons from the earth, handle climate change, enact the Employee Free Choice Act, etc., etc. It’s not that times changed. It’s not that the evil Republicans got in the way. The Democrats never attempted these things — well, except for the one in Afghanistan that they’re still attempting, and the hate-generating military expansion.
This is not necessarily a drawback in platform writing. If you fail to do something in four years, you get to stick it into the next platform four years later — perhaps with even worse writing after some additional group-editing is applied. After the 2006 congressional victories, Rahm Emanuel told the Washington Post that the Democrats would actually not end the war on Iraq, because they preferred to run “against” it again in 2008. That attitude seems to be the model for how the 2012 Democratic Party Platform evolved out of the 2008 version.
Much of the committee-written muck that makes up these platforms is too vague to question. Moving partially toward clean energy by 2035 might sound admirable if the environment could survive it, but how does one grade it only four years later? Upholding basic values sounds lovely but what the hell does it mean?
The 2012 Platform still focuses on blaming George W. Bush for two wars. Now that Obama has seven wars, we can expect that to simply continue, counting on Democrats not to know anything about reality. The policy of blowing up random (and occasionally targeted) people with missiles from drones will presumably go unmentioned in the 2016 Platform, as in the 2012 Platform, even though Obama fed it to the New York Times in 2012, because the Democratic position is that flipping through a list of men, women, and children on Tuesdays and picking which ones to have murdered would be terrible if a Republican were to do it — and it’s hard to see how they’ll word that in a Platform. Likewise for the world’s leading arms trade. Will Cornel West persuade the Democrats to pretend to oppose worldwide weapon sales? I doubt it. Perhaps the militarization of police will get a hypocritical nod. The commitment to give free weapons to Israel is actually in the 2012 Platform and will presumably remain.
The 2012 Platform claims that al Qaeda “is weaker than at any point since 9/11” — clearly false then and now, so likely to remain. The 2008 and 2012 Platforms are against further enriching the rich, which has continued nonetheless. That will certainly remain. The 2012 Platform discusses the middle class 42 times, the poor 3 times, and a united working class 0 times. “Each one of us should be able to go as far as our talent and drive take us,” it says, without proposing any policies that would even remotely make that possible. No such policies have been attempted. “The American people have never failed and there is nothing that together we cannot accomplish,” the 2012 Platform lies ridiculously. Really? How’d the last few dozen wars work out? Is sprawl succeeding? Is it good to be trailing so many nations in sustainability, life expectancy, health, infant mortality, economic insecurity, education, etc.? A 2016 Platform is unlikely to acknowledge this reality, and therefore unlikely to address it. “We see an America that out-educates, out-builds, and out-innovates the rest of the world,” says the 2012 Platform without, oddly, mentioning prisons or weapons.
The 2012 Platform is mostly a bad document to begin with. The Democrats want to “cut out programs we can’t afford” while “asking the wealthiest to again contribute their fair share.” That first part has rolled ahead. The second bit has been ignored. But together they make a rhetorical pair that will last for many more platforms, as it explains to other Democrats that right wingers cannot criticize them (they’re acting like right wingers) while also explaining to other Democrats that they are on the left, at least in their imaginations. Of course the ever increasing military budgets never come up, and the main thing the government does (wars) is relegated to the final pages, following dozens of pages of platitudes that manage to both mean nothing and to be recognizably repeated in every possible variation.
The 2012 Platform was for “lower health care costs” and “affordable student loans.” Thus, health and education are not rights. We cannot cut off the medicine profiteers or the weapons profiteers or the plutocratic freeloaders and allow everyone to have healthcare and schooling. We can’t expect much at all, and the 2012 Platform claims in the next sentence that Obama has already solved everything by ending two wars and making America loved again. Of course, he’s actually added five wars to those two, and a Gallup poll in December 2013 found the United States overwhelmingly leading in world opinion as “the greatest threat to peace in the world.”
Has the Democratic Party since 2012 taken “whatever steps we can to avoid more foreclosures”? Of course not, but it’s a vague enough phrase that someone might imagine as much. The 2012 Platform is opposed to cutting Social Security but not in favor of doing anything positive, not even lifting the cap so that Social Security is fairly funded by all. So, have the Democrats “upheld” Social Security? What about the all-of-the-above energy and education platforms, favoring charter schools, nuclear, oil, “clean” coal, and “natural” gas? There you have promises kept, but in conflict with much of the nice rhetoric filling out other paragraphs of the Platform.
The same goes for other nasty promises in the 2012 document, like cutting corporate taxes or attempting to ram through corporate trade agreements like the TPP. How does that fit with the middle-class platform from the middle out for the middling middlehood of the middlest middle class? The 2012 Platform also backed unconstitutional government funding for religious groups.
“We will raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation,” declared the 2012 Platform, since which time the minimum wage has fallen in 1996 dollars from a value of $4.97 to $4.80, down from $7.21 in 1968 according to the so-called Department of Labor, and unadjusted for productivity. The Democrats have not worked to raise or index anything other than “campaign contributions.”
Even as of 2012, the Platform was laughably repeating the promise to be the “most open … accountable government in history.” It also committed to reversing Citizens United and pursuing comprehensive immigration reform. We’re waiting. Obama’s moves on these topics have all been in the opposite direction. The 2012 Platform opposes the looting of Puerto Rico now underway. It insists on voting rights in a manner that would have many who’ve tried to participate in the 2016 Democratic Primaries rolling on the floor in bitter laughter. It advocates representation in Congress for the people of Washington, D.C., unlike anything the Democratic Party has advocated in the past four years.
You’ll be delighted to learn that, according to the 2012 Democratic Platform “the tide of war is now receding. . . . We have responsibly ended the war in Iraq . . . . Al Qaeda [is] on the path to defeat . . . . And we have reversed the momentum of the Taliban.” All these falsehoods, grown more false with time, mean that “we can focus on nation-building here at home” — as if engaging with the world through aid, diplomacy, cooperation, and the rule of law are not options, the only options being wars we’ll pretend are over or spending money at home on what have turned out to be “programs we can’t afford.”
While writing the above paragraph, I got a phone call from a media outlet wanting an interview about the breaking news that Ash Carter said the U.S. military would stay in Afghanistan for many years. I replied that it could not be news, because the White House and Pentagon have consistently said that year after year. Yet people ignore it over and over again. The difficult thing for people to understand in 2017 will be how in the world the new president inherited a war directly from Bush despite the 8-year gap.
The next president will in fact inherit all the wars, disasters, and dictatorial powers developed in reality, outside of party platforms. The 2012 Democratic Platform says that Obama “banned torture” and was “reforming military commissions.” In fact, a president cannot legally grant immunity for all powerful committers of a felony like torture. Nor can a president “ban” anything, much less something that was already long since banned by actual law. In fact, Obama has normalized lawless imprisonment, not “reformed” it. His actions and this rhetoric have turned crimes into policy options.
Here’s the problem for Democrats drafting a 2016 Platform: How do you propose the complete reversal of the disastrous policies of the past eight years while pretending that Barack Obama agrees with you?
Here’s the much harder problem for the rest of us. If there are good bits in the resulting document, how do we compel anyone in power to act on them?
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