“We don’t have red lines—we have values.”
So said veteran lawmaker Steny Hoyer recently in a CNN interview, echoing the sentiments of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on whether $600 weekly payments to supplement unemployment insurance should be extended. Evidently, the Democrats are willing to negotiate—or capitulate, depending on your viewpoint—on the final figure.
This position of Democratic leadership comes amid gridlock in the Senate regarding an extension of federal unemployment benefits. Whereas House Democrats passed a bill in May that would have guaranteed the extension of $600 per week, Senate Republican leadership has balked at that figure, offering a counter-proposal of $200/wk. while states come up with a plan to satisfy their constituents’ needs with a mix of their own funds and federal dollars.
That Hoyer and other Dems have left the door open to compromise with the GOP is vaguely troubling, especially since Hoyer in that same interview parroted Republican talking points by expressing concern that people who receive a more robust stimulus check might not want to go back to work. It also renders Hoyer’s statement gobbledygook. “We don’t have red lines—we have values.” Right, but when “red lines” can be used to communicate one’s values, what is that even supposed to mean? It’s an illogical and unnecessary potshot at the Left.
In a similar vein, the recent reveal of the Democratic Party platform for the Democratic National Convention casts doubt on the party’s principles leading inexorably toward November. Upon its unveiling, the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee co-chair Denis McDonough referred to the Democratic 2020 party platform as the “boldest Democratic platform in American history.”
Progressives would beg to differ, meanwhile. John Nichols, national affairs correspondent for The Nation, underscores how without Medicare for All, McDonough’s assertion neither matches the substance of the platform as drafted nor matches this moment in history.
As an untold number of advertisements will tell you, we live in “extraordinary” or “challenging” times. It’s their way of saying we’re living in a global pandemic and people all over the world are getting sick and dying, but in a PR-speak kind of way where the actual problem isn’t mentioned as if refusing to utter the name of the disease either saps it of its power or prevents it from rearing its ugly head.
This is the moment in history to which I’m referring, and with it has come significant job loss and thus access to “affordable” health care. At a time when a safety net is needed (or three or four), being forced to worry about being plunged into medical debt is brutal, if not unconscionable.
As such, from a purely moral standpoint, the hour calls for single-payer healthcare. Beyond this, though, as Nichols explains, it’s not good political strategy to bar it from the party platform. For one, COVID-19 (gasp, he said it!) is disproportionately killing people of color, a reality about which patent refusal to entertain the mere possibility of M4A sends a bad message to a key portion of the Democrats’ base.
In addition, Medicare for All is popular with Democrats and non-Democrats alike. People, you know, generally like having healthcare and being able to afford it without having to mortgage property or sacrifice an internal organ. As Winnie Wong, former senior adviser to Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, is cited in Nichols’ piece, the Dems are “making a fatal mistake by turning their backs on Medicare for All.”
To this effect, some 700 delegates have signed a pledge refusing to back the party platform without M4A on it. At the very least, this show of opposition is a bad look for a Democratic Party touting its supposed party unity and counting on turnout from progressives to help push Joe Biden over the top in the presidential election.
We would be remiss if we were to say that the entire platform as drafted is without merit, a notion Nichols explicitly highlights. There are a number of elements within the party platform which might appeal to progressive voters and almost certainly reflect the input of progressive activists, notably a call for a $15 minimum wage and clear goals for climate change remediation. That said, historically speaking, these tenets do not in them of themselves make the platform the boldest on record and certainly are not to be lauded as uniquely courageous.
In short, the Democratic party platform as it is presently constructed is a mixed bag. What seems significant, however, is that not only are some of its recommendations rather tepid, but other provisions appear to be specifically designed to alienate progressives. The party voted against including marijuana legalization in the platform, for one.
There’s also nothing about ending qualified immunity for police officers, nothing about expressly condemning Israeli expansion/occupation in the West Bank, and no commitment to a climate change plan as comprehensive as the Green New Deal. In a game of party platform Bingo, progressives are struggling to fill one row or column, let alone the entire board.
By now, the Democrats’ agenda in advance of the general election is no surprise. As is their custom, they’re playing it safe and trying not to offend any big donors or moneyed interests in the process. The unique set of circumstances at work in 2020 might yet be enough to propel Joe Biden to victory in spite of, well, Joe Biden.
Possible short-term electoral success and fundraising goals achieved notwithstanding, encouraging antipathy from the party’s burgeoning leftist wing is quite a price to pay in service of these objectives. It’s one thing to enjoy winning or to be able to breathe a sigh of relief in avoiding four more years of President Donald Trump. It’s another to poke progressives in the eye and expect them to show their loyalty while you do it.
As it should be emphasized, for progressives critical of the 2020 party platform, while Medicare of All is a glaring omission, there is ample room for commentary. Patrisse Cullors, activist and Black Lives Matter co-founder, reportedly proposed about 10 amendments on various issues primarily impacting the black community and other communities of color which were rejected without a vote. If Cullors feels like less of an ally or a member of a party with principles, can you blame her? We’ve seen ordinary people protesting en masse IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC to bring attention to and demand change to combat systemic racism in our society. How can this platform possibly be construed to meet this historic moment?
Another criticism of the platform is that it underestimates both the durability and magnitude of COVID-19’s impact. In a separate article for The Nation by Emma Galbraith and James K. Galbraith, the authors outline how the Democratic party platform falls short in several areas related to coronavirus.
In addition to, as mentioned, not embracing single-payer healthcare at a time when this pandemic has exacerbated a healthcare crisis, the platform insufficiently addresses our oil surplus, it undersells the blow dealt to the services and construction industries (among others), it offers minimal relief to renters and others facing homelessness, and it doesn’t fully comprehend the lack of trust America’s disastrous response to COVID-19 has engendered in its inhabitants. After all, faith in our political institutions was relatively low even before we started seeing cases in the States. Now? Memes about guillotines are on the rise, and while we’re yet on the level of dark humor, I feel like today’s politicians and others more removed from the struggles of everyday Americans shouldn’t push it.
I’ve heard it said that the DNC has effectively taken a victory lap with its elaboration of the party platform, an analogy I consider to be apt in how it reflects the dynamic between centrist establishment forces and progressives trying to reform the Democratic Party from the inside. What’s especially on the nose about this comparison, meanwhile, is that it resembles the attitude Democratic supporters had in 2016, which we all know was an ill-fated confidence. 2020 is already different in any number of ways and at this writing, things look good for Joe Biden. Very good. Just the same, the Dems would be well served not to press their luck. If anyone knows about losing winnable elections, it’s them.
Not everything is bad about the Democratic Party’s platform this election cycle. That said, it could be dramatically better, and furthermore, even if Biden wins, the U.S. will face huge structural issues that the policy positions enumerated within the platform won’t begin to fully address. Progressives will be holding Biden’s feet to the fire in that case. Democratic leadership better be ready for it.