CONVENTION SPECIAL: Democratic Party Platform—All things to All People?

by Christopher Krohn
Friday August 22, 2008 - 11:18:00 AM

The Democratic Party’s recently released platform draft, titled “Renewing America’s Promise,” is to be ratified at the party’s Denver convention next week. It appears at first to be a long speech filled with platitudes. It is in fact a document filled with policy responses intended for the widest swath of possible voters, and in some places it offers a rather bold and progressive agenda at that.  

This agenda includes the regular Democratic stuff: winding down the war in Iraq, protecting a woman’s right to choose, pursuing alternative energy, defeating Al Qaeda, and repealing the Bush tax cuts on those earning over $250,000. But, there are some surprising Democratic Party agenda items buried inside: the call for universal healthcare, contemplation of “a world without nuclear weapons,” breaking America’s addiction to foreign oil (but NOT to oil itself), calls for doubling automobile fuel efficiency standards (but with no time frame given), affordable childcare for “every American child,” paid college “if you commit your life to teaching,” asking for premiums collected by insurers to be primarily dedicated to care “not profits,” raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation, and even support for “the revitalization of American Indian languages” as well as advocacy that our children learn a foreign language. Whew! 

There are some surprising omissions though: nothing about net neutrality, about how the “American Dream” is defined, nothing about Obama’s promise not to not just amend but rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement. And what exactly does “All Americans should have coverage they can afford” on page 6 really mean? 

“Renewing America’s Promise,” is a 56-page assortment of mini-speeches—some lines pulled right from Clinton and Obama speeches—on issues ranging from “affordable and quality” healthcare to supporting self-determination in Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and even, Washington, D.C.  

Arizona’s Governor, Janet Napolitano, Chair, herded enough Democratic cats to allow party regulars a couple of weeks to mull over this political laundry list before the convention’s start date of Aug. 24th. The entire document can be seen online. Some might call it a ‘docudrama,’ instead of a document, since the preamble section claims that:  

[The Democrats] “will provide immediate relief to working people who have lost their jobs, families who have lost their homes, and people who have lost their way.” (our italics.)  

A year ago the Democrat mantra might have been stop the war, universal healthcare now, fight global warming, and an emphasis on competence replacing “inept stewardship” on a whole range of governing issues.  

The current platform draft, with the exception of keeping the competence-will-replace-inept stewardship chant, is all about the economy: “Jumpstart the Economy and Provide Middle Class Americans Immediate Relief,” “Investing in American Competitiveness.” “Economic Stewardship” has supplanted environmental stewardship in order of importance to this year’s Democratic strategy. It is startling what a few issues like the mortgage crisis, higher gasoline prices, inflation and unemployment, have done to defang the anti-Iraq War movement, the clarion call for universal health coverage, and Al Gore’s efforts to move forward on tackling global warming.  

The platform that might have been would have looked more like a liberal social agenda, now it is geared more toward the Democratic Me—saving the jobs, housing, and gas tanks of Democratic voters of 2008.  

By early August, the economy had shed 463,000 jobs over seven straight months of job loss. Health, gas and food prices are rising dramatically. (p.3)  

So much for “the planet in peril.” The “defining moment” of this party platform draft is the economy, the economy, the economy. 

It might be perhaps even more startling to Bay Area Democrats that the words, environment, environmental, and environmentalist cannot be found anywhere in the platform’s table of contents. (“Climate Change” is found once.) In a word search of the 56 pages of Party boosterism, sermonizing and policy objectives, the words 'climate change' are, in fact, found 17 times and ‘environment(al)’ is found 13 times. And on page 42 we find out the US is not really facing a global warming or an environmental crisis, but a “national security crisis.”  

We understand that climate change is not just an economic issue or environmental concern–this is a national security crisis. (p.42)  

Furthermore, Berkeley Democrats may be chagrinned to see “Open, Accountable and Ethical Government,” “Reclaiming Our Constitution and Our Liberties” and “Voting Rights,” although discussed, relegated to the back end of the platform document draft. Also, the call for “Stronger Cyber Security” says nothing about the current free speech concern of ‘net neutrality.’  

What even seems more troubling is that a word search of the document looking for the word ‘computer’ yields zero references, while the term ‘security’ comes up 77 times in 56 pages. ‘End(ing) the war in Iraq’ has four references, ‘change’ is used 37 times, ‘affordable’ is found 28 times, ‘democracy’ is mentioned 25 times, ‘environment’ finds 12 references, ‘hope’ and ‘freedom’ each have 11 citations, ‘gas(oline)’ is used seven times, ‘compassion’ four times, ‘diversity’ and ‘abortion’ just twice each, while the terms ‘multicultural,’ ‘death penalty’ and ‘alternative energy’ cannot be found at all in the document. 

Perhaps it is the section, “Renewing the American Community,” that best sums up why it is another man from the state of Illinois has captured the conscience of this nation. After the deaths of 4,000-plus soldiers, having never been asked to commit to any personal sacrifice, only to trust in the current President and go out and shop more, Americans are yearning to do something more significant, something that reflects that they care and is collective and connects their individual lives to the larger national quilt. 

Here's how the platform expresses it: 

In local platform hearings around the country, people talked of the need for compassion, empathy, a commitment to our values and the importance of being united in order to take on the challenges and opportunities of the new century. They said that they valued Barack Obama’s message, that alongside Americans’ famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga: a belief that we are connected to each other. We could all choose to focus on our own concerns and live our lives in a way that tries to keep our individual stories separate from the larger story of America. But that is not who we are. That is not our American story. If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to us, even if it's not our child. If there's a senior citizen in Elko, Nevada who has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes our lives poorer, even if it's not our grandmother. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling only your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition. Because it is only when we join together in something larger than ourselves that we can write the next great chapter in America's story. (p. 39)