Running on Empty: Sanders’s Influence on the Democratic Party Platform

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That was the message from the Democratic Party to its liberal wing after a hard fought platform battle. The conflict between platform committee appointees by primary opponents Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton ended with nearly every policy position supported by the former defeated by acolytes of the second.

This shouldn’t be surprising to any rational observer- the Democratic Party has never been anything more than America’s slightly less right wing party. But for many Sanders supporters, who still have hope in the party’s liberalism, it’s a rude awakening.

That’s a good thing. Hope in the Democratic Party is a non-starter of a position.

Bill McKibben, an environmental activist and the founder of 350.org, wrote an article for Politico recently detailing some of his frustrations with the platform fight. McKibben said that:

We all agreed that America should be operating on 100 percent clean energy by 2050, but then I proposed, in one amendment after another, a series of ways we might actually get there. A carbon tax? Voted down 7-6 (one of the DNC delegates voted with each side). A ban on fracking? Voted down 7-6. An effort to keep fossils in the ground, at least on federal land? Voted down 7-6. A measure to mandate that federal agencies weigh the climate impact of their decisions? Voted down 7-6. Even a plan to keep fossil fuel companies from taking private land by eminent domain, voted down 7-6. (We did, however, reach unanimous consent on more bike paths!)

(If you ever need a quick reminder in how neutered 350.org is, that last celebration of a non-binding agreement on more bike paths… is all you need)

So, no substantive movement on climate change. But what about domestic policy? Would there be any movement on those issues?

Not really.

As Ben Norton reported in Salon, Clinton platform appointees resisted definitive platform changes on domestic issues despite asserting their agreement on general policy.

The representatives appointed by Hillary Clinton to the Democratic Party’s platform drafting committee voted against a $15 minimum wage amendment on Friday……

Paul Booth, an official in the AFSCME labor union who was appointed by Clinton, insisted “the language that we already have is exactly what we need.”

Booth, who was wearing a Hillary Clinton pin in the hearing, claimed that vague language written in the platform just before Ellison’s proposed amendment was already sufficient.

Ellison, however, wanted clearer language that explicitly states that the Democratic Party supports a $15 minimum wage….

The five members of the committee appointed by Sanders — Ellison, Parker, James Zogby, Bill McKibben and Cornel West — joined Rep. Barbara Lee in voting in support of the amendment.

The six members of the committee appointed by Clinton — Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden, Illinois Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, former EPA administrator Carol Browner, former Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Ohio State Rep. Alicia Reece and Paul Booth — joined former California Rep. Howard Berman and Claire’s CEO Bonnie Schaefer in voting against the $15 minimum wage amendment.

The Democratic position was most clearly summed up in their reaction to a request that the platform reflect both candidates’ stated opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership:

Overall, Clinton’s surrogates frequently claimed to be on the same side of Sanders’, but opposed the addition of specific policy measures. Paul Booth insisted he prefers “general, in-principle language” that is not binding.

They’ll say whatever you want them to. They just won’t commit to it.

Yet whatever complaints Sanders supporters, and the candidate himself, may have, those complaints are empty and meaningless. Sanders has promised to vote for Clinton in November. His endorsement of his primary rival is coming soon. Clinton represents the “lesser evil.”

I asked Green Party 2016 presidential candidate Jill Stein about that inevitable endorsement and lesser evilism.

“On issue after issue, lesser evilism is hype,” Stein said. “The lesser evil helps fan the flames of the greater evil- in many ways Trump is the product of Clintonism!”

She’s not wrong- Clintonian economic policies have devastated the middle class and driven many to the arms of right wing populism. One hopes Stein can gain the support of Sanders’ supporters, because the Senator from Vermont has lost all semblance of spine.

Take what Sanders said last week to MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace:

Nicole Wallace: “Are you going to vote for Hillary Clinton in November?”

Sen. Bernie Sanders: “Yes. Yeah, I think the issue right here is, I’m going to do everything I can to defeat Donald Trump. … What my job right now is, is to fight for the strongest possible platform in the Democratic convention.”

“The strongest possible platform in the Democratic convention.”

What’s sadder- that this was his fight, or that this was probably the strongest possible platform in the Democratic convention?

There was never any realistic chance of independence from Sanders. Let’s hope his supporters reject the duopoly and walk away from the Democrats.

It’s all we can hope for at this point.

 Eoin Higgins is a journalist in New England.