clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bernie Sanders just won a string of concessions from the Democratic Party

Bernie Sanders at an event in Manhattan earlier this week (no, not on Wall Street).
Bernie Sanders at an event in Manhattan earlier this week (no, not on Wall Street).
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders has refused to endorse Hillary Clinton — though he’s already said he’d vote for her — unless the Democratic Party does more to reflect his positions on a range of policy issues.

It’s looking like that hard-line negotiating tactic is being rewarded.

On Friday afternoon, a draft of the Democratic National Committee's platform was published by multiple news outlets. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent points out, it shows Sanders winning on at least six signature issues that reflect long-held goals of his movement.

The platform just outlines the key "ideas and beliefs" of the party — it doesn’t bind any of its members to particular actions — but it’s supposed to represent a sort of blueprint for where the party is headed.

Sanders wants those goals to be as closely aligned to his as possible before throwing his full support behind Clinton’s presidential bid. From what we’ve seen so far, Clinton and the DNC have been largely willing to grant many, though not all, of his requests — perhaps because there’s no enforcement mechanism behind them, or perhaps because they remain concerned that some Sanders supporters won’t show up for Clinton in November.

Many commentators have slammed Sanders for not endorsing Clinton yet. But the shifting of the party’s platform at least suggests he’s winning policy fights via his obstinance.

What new platform concessions has Sanders won?

Sanders’s policy director Warren Gunnels told the Washington Post that the platform is off to an "excellent start" and that "the process itself has been very good."

The Post identified six key victories for Sanders that were later confirmed by the DNC’s draft:

  • Federal reserve reform: The new platform says the party will fight against allowing bank executives from sitting on Federal Reserve boards.
  • Closing the revolving door: The party will also move to "ban golden parachutes for those taking government jobs" and seek to bar bank regulators from taking any action related to their former employers, according to the draft of the platform.
  • Wall Street reform: The party would also seek to crack down on Wall Street by severing banks’ ability to choose the credit agency that rates their products.
  • Postal Service banking services: "Democrats believe that we need to give Americans affordable banking options, including by empowering the United States Postal Service to facilitate the delivery of basic banking services," the draft of the platform states. (Vox’s Matt Yglesias explains that idea here.)
  • Loopholes for estates and hedge funds: The draft also has strong, Sanders-like language on the need to "immediately close egregious loopholes like those enjoyed by hedge fund managers, restore fair taxation on multimillion dollar estates, and ensure millionaires can no longer pay a lower rate than their secretaries."
  • Use closing loopholes to create jobs: The Post also notes that Sanders’s aide cheered the commitment to put the revenue from closing loopholes toward rebuilding infrastructure and creating jobs.

This is on top of victories Sanders has already won over the platform

These new positions come on top of platform victories for Sanders that emerged from meetings last weekend on the party’s platform committee in Orlando. The party’s platform had already agreed to move leftward on several issues:

  • Death penalty: The party’s platform also has new language calling for the eradication of the death penalty.

    "We will abolish the death penalty, which has proven to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment," the platform states. "It has no place in the United States of America."

    That's a win for Sanders, who had called for absolutist opposition to the death penalty. (Clinton has backed its use in limited circumstances.)
  • Earned income tax credit: The 2016 platform’s draft language will call on a specific expansion of the EITC to "low wage workers who don’t have children and to workers age 21 and older," according to the party’s news release.

    (The 2012 platform only praised President Obama for expanding the EITC in general, according to the Washington Post’s David Weigel.)
  • Criminal justice reform: Another part of the draft platform calls for an end to "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."

    This is a big change from 2012 — when the party’s platform had the narrower aim of wanting to "understand the disproportionate effects of crime, violence, and incarceration on communities of color" and expressed a commitment to "working with those communities to find solutions."
  • Fighting for a $15-an-hour minimum wage: This was a quasi-win for Sanders’s forces: The party’s platform draft does say that "Americans should earn at least $15 an hour," and it calls for the minimum wage to be increased. But Sanders complained that his delegates didn’t get quite what he wanted: a commitment from the party to raise the federal minimum wage to the $15 figure.

Where fights remain

But while the platform incorporates much of the leftward pull Sanders represents, he also maintains that it doesn’t go nearly far enough on a slew of critical issues.

"We’re still disappointed we lost as many as we did," said James Zogby, a Sanders appointee to the committee, in an interview earlier this week. (Sanders similarly said "there is no question that much more work remains to be done" ahead of the DNC convention in July.)

Here are some of the policies on which Sanders’s forces will want to pull the party further (some pro-Sanders media outlets said the draft of the platform was "betraying progressives"):

  • Opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal: The DNC’s draft platform does call on the party to oppose trade deals that don’t uphold environmental standards and workers’ rights.

    But Sanders’s delegates wanted language committing the party to oppose the controversial TPP deal — a proposal that was shot down by the other delegates on the committee. This is partly understandable — it’d be awkward for the Democratic Party to oppose a deal brokered and supported by President Obama — but it’s also odd given that Hillary Clinton herself also opposes the trade proposal, at least as a matter of record.
  • Rejecting two key environmental proposals: Two environmental proposals from Sanders’s delegates — a carbon tax and a ban on fracking — were also shot down by the rest of the platform committee, according to Sanders’s statement.

    The document released on Friday doesn’t mention either fracking or a carbon tax.
  • Stance on Israeli settlements: Earlier in negotiations, the party rejected an amendment from Zogby that would have called on an end to Israel’s "occupation and illegal settlements" in Palestine, according to the Associated Press. That fight symbolizes a clear divide between Sanders and Clinton, who is generally viewed as much more pro-Israel.

    Here’s the language in the party in the platform released on Friday, which suggests Clinton’s delegates and the DNC won out: "We will always support Israel’s right to defend itself, including by retaining its qualitative military edge, and oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement."

Does this really matter?

Commentators downplaying the platform’s significance note that it has no actual enforcement mechanism, and that there’s no guarantee a President Hillary Clinton wouldn’t jettison most — or all — of its main provisions.

And that’s true. But while the platform itself isn’t binding, it does represent the stated objectives of the Democratic Party. What it says is the clearest expression of what the party stands for and is, more broadly, one of the best ways to gauge the party's overall direction.

Given that it’s moving Sanders’s way on several key issues, it’s a good sign that even if Sanders lost the nomination to Clinton, his candidacy will have a lasting legacy on the party.

And that really could change the party’s members: Ryan Enos, a professor at Harvard University, told me in May that just by being aired, these ideas can gain currency and support among lawmakers.

"We know that voters in the public get pulled in the direction of the people with the microphone," Enos says. "If someone gets up there and tries pulling some issue to the left, the party can move in that direction."

Bernie Sanders' statement on staying in the race in June