Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Good Start; Or At Least, A Start

Ask RoseAnn DeMoro, head of National Nurses United, which actively supported Bernie Sanders, about the draft Democratic Party Platform, and she will describe it as a failure.   "It's a shame," she tweeted, "to see the Democrats betray their values and vote against policies that help Americans." She lists rejected policy proposals, including for a $15 minimum wage, ;pension protection, a carbon tax, fracking single-payer health care, Syria.

The host committee for the Democratic National Convention has put out a summary of the draft. As expected, it put the most positive spin on the product, writing, for example

Acknowledging that the current minimum wage is a starvation wage, the platform draft already included language declaring that Americans should earn at least $15 an hour, that the minimum wage should be raised and indexed, and that all workers have the right to form and join a union.  It also includes a call to end sub-minimum wage for tipped workers and people with disabilities.

You would hardly guess, let alone know, that the proposal by Sanders' representatives for a $15/hour federal minimum wage was defeated.

The draft does, however, call for an end to capital punishment, which the federal government cannot order the states to effect. Currently, there are 62 individuals on death row in federal prisons, most of whom, it is likely, actually murdered  at least one individual with premeditation. The last person executed by the federal government met his demise in 2003 and there were 28 executions in the entire nation last year. Count me impressed by this world-changing recommendation.

Nonetheless, there seems to have been significant progress on criminal justice, while the process moves to Orlando and ultimately to the convention in Philadelphia. The Platform Drafting Committee recommended

ending the era of mass incarceration, shutting down private prisons, ending racial profiling, reforming the grand jury process, investing in re-entry programs, banning the box to help give people a second chance and prioritizing treatment over incarceration for individuals suffering addiction.

"Ending the era of mass incarceration" and "ending racial profiling," as cliches, are necessarily vague, and there may be little the federal government can do to get sates to prioritize treatment over incarceration., especially in those states which now prefer incarceration.  However, "shutting down private prisons" is meaningful given both that many suspected immigration violators are housed by the federal government in private prisons and that curbing privatization of government functions should be a dominant issue for the Party.

Additionally, "reforming the grand jury process" might be an important reform, though here even more than in most cases, God is in the details.  The first step in incarcerating an individual begins with indicting him or her, as easy as indicting a ham sandwich or getting a grand jury to agree with the prosecutor when the other side is barred from presenting its case. The grand jury system has been remarkably underrated as a factor in mass incarceration.

Some planks, such as urging the end to the Hyde Amendment and reportedly rejecting all efforts to cut Social Security, are very significant, as is the failure to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Still, the status of the platform process may have been best explained by Sanders appointee Bill McKibben, who notes

No one wants Trump to win. But many of us look at the Brexit vote and see that unenthusiastic centrism has a hard time beating zealous craziness. We need unions and working people and environmentalists fully engaged this time around, backing the Democrats with passion and energy. Above all we need young people, who voted for Bernie by a 7-to-1 proportion.

Which is why we need not platitudes but a platform. Not aspirations but commitments. Not happy talk, but the fully adult conversation that Sanders engaged the country in for the past year.

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