The Platform Sideshow

The Massachusetts Democratic convention is two weeks away, and there is now a working version that will be discussed in Worcester on June 3rd. Some have applauded the new draft — including three progressive groups that contributed amendments — for being the “most progressive” Massachusetts Democratic platform in history.

Good Stuff

To its credit, the 2013 draft includes calls for

  • single-payer healthcare — although it’s not clear why it also propose a hodgepodge of other healthcare programs
  • making the Commonwealth a sanctuary state
  • public funding of elections — but will the state’s Democrats really give up their PACs?
  • paid family leave
  • free college education — well, maybe, because it also calls for “exploring” debt-free models of higher education
  • a “decent living wage” — though a specific amount is not given
  • infrastructure development, including broadband — though no mention of regulating monopolies like Comcast or ensuring net neutrality within the state
  • a “millionaire’s tax” — along with tax breaks for “job creators”
  • universal background checks for guns —”balanced” by more money for law-enforcement
  • more money for veterans — which irks me for the same reason as the Commonwealth subsidizing ICE

And, to be fair, there are many good things in the platform. But some caution.

Their hearts weren’t in it

Massachusetts Democrats have been pushed to embrace many progressive positions they would normally have rejected — and they have been translated into ambiguities and weasel-words. Some positions are just a road too far for Democrats in a state that thinks it’s much more liberal than it actually is. The hearts of those who had to draft this “progressive” platform just weren’t in it.

In a previous post I looked at what was missing in the 2013 MassDems platform — and some things have indeed been fixed in this 2017 draft. At the time I observed that “the 2013 platform isn’t bad as a statement of liberal values — and the 2017 Progressives’ changes aren’t so radical as to give Democrats much heartburn.”

I was wrong. Apparently there was heartburn.

For example, the platform committee deleted the following plank from the 2013 final version:

“We want strong diplomacy and support nonviolent conflict resolution as a first resort in our domestic and foreign relations and call for a reduced military budget that allows for investment in human needs”

Attempts by progressive delegates to insert anti-militarism and foreign policy language into the platform were flatly rejected. The word “military” only appears in the Veterans section. Thank you for your service. Here, have some state money.

What’s still missing

  • Foreign Policy and Militarism — stop supporting autocratic and undemocratic regimes — no more weaponry for Saudi Arabia — slash the military budget — end undeclared wars — insist on Congress’ right to declare wars — no more aid to Israel until they end settlements — no more aid for Egypt’s dictatorship
  • Democratization of the Democratic Party — will we ever be rid of superdelegates?
  • End the Surveillance State — enhance citizen privacy (a word that doesn’t appear even once in the document) — get rid of the Patriot Act — eliminate FISA courts — get rid of or make No Fly lists transparent — breathe life back into the 4th Amendment
  • End useless tax breaks — remove vague language guaranteeing favorable tax rates for “businesses that generate community growth and participation” — Wal*Mart? really?
  • Environment — now that EPA and Superfund money has been slashed, Massachusetts should sue for remediation (for example, Aerovox dumped PCBs in New Bedford’s harbor and then moved to Mexico) — strengthen our own MA Dept of Environmental Protection
  • Healthcare backup plan — create with other Blue States a Single-Payer Healthcare system
  • Restore Net Neutrality to the FCC
  • Create a Citizen’s Data Bill of Rights guaranteeing that your personal and online data belongs to you and not to Comcast (Europeans have had this for years)

The platform is really the side-show

While the platform appears to be the main attraction, anything ironed out like this amounts to so much word salad. Modifying the party’s charter may appear to be a side-show, but it is arguably the more important objective. It turns out the platform is really the side-show.

Though there will be thousands of delegates and guests at the convention, the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee is the body that actually makes the decisions — think of it as your friendly Politburo. It’s also a fund-raising machine, so whatever values the platform holds are completely separate from those of the candidates the Committee funds.

The MassDems State Committee is the nation’s largest, weighing in at 418 members. Of this number only 80 members are actually voted upon by town delegates. Over 120 have permanent status and cannot be unseated as long as their bodies continue to twitch. Every year the number of these functionaries grows larger.

So let there be no confusion: the platform we are voting upon in two weeks is theirs, not ours. And in the long term, it’s changing the party charter that will actually make the difference.