Monday, April 25, 2016

The struggle for the soul of the Democratic party

In an earlier post I suggested that "It would not be an overstatement to say that the 2016 primaries, on both right and left, are contests for the souls of the two main political parties." Nicholas Confessore at the New York Times agrees: "Bernie Sanders and Allies Aim to Shape Democrats’ Agenda After Primaries".

Even as his chances of winning the Democratic presidential nomination slip away, Senator Bernie Sanders and his allies are trying to use his popularity to expand his political influence, setting up an ideological struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party in the post-Obama era.

Aides to Mr. Sanders have been pressing party officials for a significant role in drafting the platform for the Democratic convention in July, aiming to lock in strong planks on issues like a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage, breaking up Wall Street banks and banning natural gas “fracking.”

Hillary Clinton and her allies are in a position to push back hard.

The pressure from Mr. Sanders and his allies is putting the party establishment, which is closely aligned with Hillary Clinton, in a delicate position. Democratic leaders are wary of steering the party too far left, but do not want to alienate the Sanders supporters whose votes Mrs. Clinton needs in November, or risk losing the vast new donor base Mr. Sanders has created.

The institutional bulwarks against Mr. Sanders are significant: Hundreds of the party’s “superdelegates” have endorsed Mrs. Clinton, a signal of her broad support among the party’s power brokers. The Democratic National Committee now relies on Mrs. Clinton’s fund-raising to provide a fifth of its monthly income, an arrangement the Sanders campaign has criticized.

And Mrs. Clinton is well positioned to block any proposals she would not want to defend in a general election. In January, the party chairwoman, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, appointed dozens of Clinton supporters and advisers to the three standing committees of the Democratic Party convention. Of 45 potential members submitted by Mr. Sanders, she appointed just three, according to Mr. Sanders’s campaign.

Regardless of how that plays out, Sanders will wield considerable influence at the convention.

Mr. Sanders is almost certain to win a prime-time speaking slot at the summer convention, providing one of the biggest audiences yet for his views. Some Democrats said they feared a left-wing equivalent of Pat Buchanan’s searing speech at the 1992 Republican convention, when Mr. Buchanan, who had failed to win his party’s nomination, called for a “cultural war” against “liberals and radicals.”

I doubt that Bernie will wage war. He's smarter than that. If you want to reshape the nation, you need a platform from which to operate and that means you need to reshape the Democratic party. Bernie started that process when he entered the presidential race. He's not about to trash his own legacy now.

“A boldly populist, people-oriented type of platform is massively appealing to those who have come of age during the financial meltdown and the period afterward,” said Kurt Walters, the campaign director at Rootstrikers, a group that favors limiting the influence of big donors in politics.

And Clinton needs "those who have come of age" to win the general election. So ...

Luis Miranda, a spokesman for the Democratic National Convention, said the party was “committed to an open, inclusive and representative process” to draft the platform.

“Both of our campaigns will be represented on the drafting committee,” Mr. Miranda said.

For more about the push and pushback playing out as left vs. center-left, see the NYT article.

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