The Democratic Platform Fight Shows It’s Still Obama’s Party

Bernie Sanders supporters have pushed for progressive priorities in the platform, but the Barack Obama wing of the Democratic establishment is still in the driver’s seat.

Branko Marcetic August 4, 2020

Since former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden won the nomination at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, their wing of the Democratic establishment will sway this year's Democratic Party platform. Getty Images

Few process­es are giv­en more impor­tance, yet are as arcane and opaque, as the writ­ing of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty plat­form. Osten­si­bly the pol­i­cy agen­da of the next Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­dent (and the par­ty as a whole), the plat­form is the result of hours of intense debate and nego­ti­a­tion between some­times con­tentious fac­tions of com­pet­ing polit­i­cal inter­ests. It is also, more often than not, writ­ten by the winners. 

One study found that, from 1980 to 2004, lawmakers voted in line with their respective platforms on average 82% of the time.

This year, those win­ners aren’t only for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden and the Demo­c­ra­t­ic estab­lish­ment — but the Oba­ma wing of that establishment.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma installed his labor sec­re­tary, Tom Perez, as the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee (DNC) chair in Feb­ru­ary 2017. A close look at Perez’s nom­i­nees to the 2020 plat­form com­mit­tees sug­gests the par­ty will adhere to Obama’s incre­men­tal­ist vision of pol­i­tics, one that stands in stark con­trast to the bold push for change advo­cat­ed by run­ner-up Sen. Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.) and his supporters. 

Now, with the Sanders-Biden uni­ty task forces hav­ing wrapped up and issued their rec­om­men­da­tions, what hap­pens from here is in their hands. One Wall Street advi­so­ry firm is already declar­ing a vic­to­ry for cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca, call­ing the 110-page doc­u­ment a very suc­cess­ful effort by Biden and his team to con­trol the nar­ra­tive and pol­i­cy direc­tion, while mak­ing just enough con­ces­sions to the pro­gres­sive wing to avoid an open rift in the party.” 

Yet it’s no guar­an­tee even these half-mea­sures will make it into the plat­form. That will depend on the men and women cho­sen by Perez to shape the final document.

Who’s at the head

Many loy­al demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers may be pleased that Obama’s vision will shape the plat­form. He is, after all, the party’s most beloved polit­i­cal figure.

But Obama’s actu­al pol­i­cy agen­da was often at odds with the stat­ed val­ues and pri­or­i­ties of his own sup­port­ers. Oba­ma cham­pi­oned the cor­po­rate-backed Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship (TPP), for exam­ple, and sources involved in the draft­ing process say it was his direct appeal to Sanders that helped ensure the absence of an anti-TPP plank — which Sanders agreed to for the sake of par­ty unity.

As pres­i­dent, Oba­ma expand­ed Pres­i­dent George W. Bush’s war on ter­ror,” pushed for an all of the above” ener­gy pol­i­cy that did lit­tle to pre­vent cli­mate change, deport­ed record num­bers of peo­ple, and spent years try­ing to cut Medicare and Social Secu­ri­ty, an ambi­tion that Sanders him­self was instru­men­tal in thwart­ing. More­over, accord­ing to long­time Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty insid­er and Oba­ma tran­si­tion offi­cial Reed Hundt, it was Oba­ma and his team’s aver­sion to robust gov­ern­ment action in the ear­ly days of the 2008 reces­sion — for fear of being labeled social­ist” by the GOP — that ulti­mate­ly weak­ened the U.S. eco­nom­ic recov­ery and helped elect Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

The for­mer pres­i­dent, going back at least to his 2004 Sen­ate race, hasn’t real­ly occu­pied the left side of the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum,” the Wash­ing­ton Post’s David Swerdlick wrote of Oba­ma in 2019. To the dis­may of many on the Left, and to the con­tin­u­ing dis­be­lief of many on the Right, Oba­ma nev­er dra­mat­i­cal­ly depart­ed from the approach of pres­i­dents who came before him.”

Per DNC rules, Tom Perez, as par­ty chair, has the for­tune to appoint the co-chairs of the Rules, Cre­den­tials and Plat­form com­mit­tees. Perez’s selec­tions for the two co-chairs of the Plat­form Com­mit­tee don’t show signs of recep­tiv­i­ty to Sanders’ agen­da. Both are fel­low for­mer Oba­ma offi­cials. The one like­ly to wield the most pow­er is Denis McDo­nough, Obama’s final chief of staff.

Hav­ing cut his teeth as a for­eign pol­i­cy advis­er for for­mer Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic leader Tom Daschle — now a lob­by­ist for phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies and oth­er cor­po­rate inter­ests — McDo­nough sits safe­ly in the nar­row band of lib­er­al ortho­doxy in Wash­ing­ton, par­tic­u­lar­ly on mat­ters of nation­al secu­ri­ty. As Daschle’s aide, McDo­nough took the lead in draft­ing the war autho­riza­tion Bush used to invade Iraq. He is a Rus­sia hawk and believes law enforce­ment should be able to access a person’s encrypt­ed mes­sages, but had backed Obama’s 2008 cam­paign-era call to defy Washington’s war­mon­gers and speak with U.S. adver­saries like Iran and Cuba.

Per­haps most impor­tant is McDonough’s close rela­tion­ship with Oba­ma. The for­mer pres­i­dent has described McDo­nough, who helped set up his Sen­ate office upon his arrival in Wash­ing­ton and served as his top for­eign pol­i­cy advis­er dur­ing his 2008 cam­paign, as one of my clos­est friends.”

Denis has played a key role in every major nation­al secu­ri­ty deci­sion of my pres­i­den­cy,” Oba­ma said in 2013. Oth­er offi­cials have described McDo­nough as some­thing akin to an exten­sion of the for­mer pres­i­dent. He is the keep­er of the president’s flame,” accord­ing to Cheryl Mills, a staffer for Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton. Oba­ma trust­ed McDo­nough more than any­one else in the White House,” accord­ing to Clin­ton ally and Oba­ma tran­si­tion head John Podes­ta, in 2013.

In August 2019, McDo­nough defend­ed Oba­ma against crit­i­cism from sev­er­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates on his health­care and immi­gra­tion record, argu­ing that attack­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Obama’s record … doesn’t make any sense, polit­i­cal­ly or sub­stan­tive­ly.” Perez and McDo­nough are unlike­ly to get much push­back from the oth­er Plat­form Com­mit­tee co-chair, Julie Chávez Rodríguez, grand­daugh­ter of leg­endary activist César Chávez. Chávez Rodríguez served as Obama’s deputy direc­tor of pub­lic engage­ment, which in prac­tice meant being dis­patched to speak with dis­il­lu­sioned Lati­no and immi­grant rights activists dur­ing the 2012 elec­tion (and beyond), defend­ing Obama’s woe­ful record on immigration. 

My grand­fa­ther helped me to under­stand that change isn’t imme­di­ate,” Chávez Rodríguez said in 2014, defend­ing Obama’s glacial progress on immi­gra­tion and refusal to take exec­u­tive action on the mat­ter. It doesn’t hap­pen overnight. It does take a lot of time and sac­ri­fice. It takes con­sis­tent, sus­tained orga­niz­ing and pressure.”

Chávez Rodríguez is also a for­mer state direc­tor and senior advis­er for Sen. Kamala Har­ris (D‑Calif.). She is now work­ing for the Biden campaign.

In many ways, the appoint­ment of McDo­nough and Chávez Rodríguez caps off a mul­ti-year effort by Oba­ma to lim­it Sanders’ influ­ence over the par­ty and ensure Obama’s direc­tion for the par­ty pre­vails. As one offi­cial told Harp­ers edi­tor Andrew Cock­burn, Oba­ma recruit­ed Perez in 2017 to run for DNC chair to stop the Sanders wing of the par­ty from tak­ing over.” Perez ran against then-Rep. Kei­th Elli­son (now Min­neso­ta attor­ney gen­er­al), a Sanders ally who had received over­whelm­ing par­ty sup­port, includ­ing from Sen­ate Minor­i­ty Leader Chuck Schumer (D‑N.Y.) and oth­er con­gres­sion­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­ers. Oba­ma per­son­al­ly worked the phones to turn votes away from Elli­son and toward Perez.

Ahead of the 2020 pri­maries, Oba­ma pri­vate­ly threat­ened to step in and speak out if Sanders appeared poised to run away with the nom­i­na­tion. He also made sev­er­al well-pub­li­cized — if oblique­ly crit­i­cal—com­ments about Sanders’ can­di­da­cy and polit­i­cal vision; one even became a debate ques­tion sug­gest­ing Sanders should step aside because he was old and male. Oba­ma helped con­vince Pete Buttigieg, for­mer may­or of South Bend, Ind., to sus­pend his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign before Super Tues­day to con­sol­i­date the cen­trist vote against Sanders. Oba­ma also report­ed­ly pres­sured Sanders to sus­pend his campaign.

For a fuller pic­ture of what Obama’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty looks like, look beyond the chairs and at the four vice chairs and 25 vot­ing mem­bers of the Plat­form Com­mit­tee that Perez named Jan­u­ary 25

Thir­teen are for­mer Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion and cam­paign offi­cials. Anoth­er, for­mer Mis­souri Sec­re­tary of State Jason Kan­der, was sin­gled out by Oba­ma dur­ing his final inter­view in office as the future of the par­ty. Twelve more are Clin­ton allies (includ­ing four that over­lap the Oba­ma crowd). Many have expressed open hos­til­i­ty to Sanders. Some are con­nect­ed to or have received polit­i­cal fund­ing from inter­ests express­ly opposed to Sanders’ agen­da. Many have busi­ness and polit­i­cal fundrais­ing inter­ests that run counter to the Ver­mont Senator’s anti-cor­po­rate vision. Sev­en work or have worked for the cor­po­rate sec­tor, includ­ing Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Car­oli­na exec­u­tive Danielle Gray and ecom­merce exec­u­tive Meghan Stabler. 

The Pregame

In the Unit­ed States, par­ty plat­forms are non-bind­ing and have, at times, even been ignored by the can­di­dates them­selves, lead­ing many to won­der how much they real­ly mat­ter. And yet, as some have point­ed out, plat­form changes often pre­fig­ure impor­tant ide­o­log­i­cal shifts with­in a par­ty. One study found that, from 1980 to 2004, law­mak­ers vot­ed in line with their respec­tive plat­forms on aver­age 82% of the time.

Intense bat­tles over plat­form lan­guage in past decades sug­gest that, while the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty estab­lish­ment may view its plat­form as sym­bol­ic (and con­ve­nient to ignore), the plat­form is far from insignif­i­cant — par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en how it serves as a test of the nominee’s pow­er with­in their par­ty. Biden, for exam­ple, is cur­rent­ly resist­ing the demands of the party’s pro­gres­sive and activist base, cham­pi­oned by Sanders.

Health­care is one point of con­tention. Biden is stead­fast­ly opposed to Medicare for All, a flag­ship Sanders pol­i­cy that has soared in nation­al pop­u­lar­i­ty as mil­lions lose their jobs and insur­ance dur­ing the pandemic.

Anoth­er is cli­mate change. Biden put for­ward a $1.7 tril­lion cli­mate plan dur­ing the pri­ma­ry (to Sanders’ $16.3 tril­lion plan) and has halt­ing­ly moved clos­er to the plat­forms of green groups like the Sun­rise Move­ment but remains resis­tant to key ele­ments, includ­ing a ban on frack­ing and a rein­state­ment of the oil export ban, rescind­ed by Oba­ma in 2015 after spend­ing 40 years on the books.

The actu­al writ­ing of the par­ty plat­form is a mul­ti­stage process that con­tin­ues through the par­ty con­ven­tion. In 2016, accord­ing to those involved, much of the plat­form had been writ­ten well before the Draft­ing Sub­com­mit­tee met to vote on the details in June in St. Louis. Even as the drafters held hear­ings around the coun­try in advance of the two-day debate, staffers for the DNC were already writ­ing the platform’s first draft.

We were the Draft­ing [Sub]committee, but the draft got done by staff peo­ple who put togeth­er the rock, which we tried to chip away at,” says James Zog­by, pres­i­dent of the Arab Amer­i­can Insti­tute and one of the mem­bers of the 2016 Draft­ing Sub­com­mit­tee (and a con­trib­u­tor to In These Times in the 1980s). Zogby’s involve­ment with the DNC goes back decades; he has been involved in plat­form fights since 1988.

In 2016, Draft­ing Sub­com­mit­tee mem­bers like Zog­by were picked as part of an agree­ment between the DNC and Sanders. The DNC select­ed four of the sub­com­mit­tee mem­bers, Hillary Clin­ton six and Sanders five, all names he had per­son­al­ly cho­sen. The names were then approved by DNC Chair Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz. The only Sanders selec­tion who was vetoed was RoseAnn DeMoro, then-exec­u­tive direc­tor of Nation­al Nurs­es Unit­ed, a union that fer­vent­ly backed Sanders. DeMoro had a his­to­ry of needling Clin­ton but, offi­cial­ly, was reject­ed on the grounds that labor was already rep­re­sent­ed on the Plat­form Committee.

At the same time as the very pub­lic wran­gling over the plat­form in St. Louis, those involved say, a num­ber of changes to the draft were ham­mered out in back­room nego­ti­a­tions between the Clin­ton and Sanders cam­paigns. The two sides met and drew up a list of over­lap­ping cam­paign promis­es, such as a plan to import pre­scrip­tion drugs from Cana­da (which made it into the platform).

Oth­er changes got their hear­ing at the next stage, at the full Plat­form Committee’s July pre­con­ven­tion meet­ing in Orlan­do. The 187 vot­ing mem­bers were divid­ed up in pro­por­tion to the num­ber of del­e­gates each cam­paign won in the pri­ma­ry. Here, the Sanders wing suc­ceed­ed in insert­ing planks call­ing to legal­ize mar­i­jua­na, increase the min­i­mum wage to $15, break up the big banks and expand Social Secu­ri­ty. After the (some­times rau­cous) debate in Orlan­do, the platform’s final stop was the con­ven­tion itself — the last chance for any plat­form changes.

But the essence of the final plat­form was cre­at­ed out­side this for­mal process, by the DNC staffers who wrote the first draft and through those pri­vate talks between Sanders and Clin­ton officials.

The [first] draft … is ulti­mate­ly the doc­u­ment you work from,” Zog­by says. Once the draft is there, it’s very dif­fi­cult to make changes to that draft.”

The 2020 process will fol­low a sim­i­lar, equal­ly con­vo­lut­ed path. The uni­ty task forces, cre­at­ed by the two can­di­dates in the wake of Sanders’ cam­paign sus­pen­sion, were just one stop in this route, meant to influ­ence the even­tu­al plat­form while dou­bling as an attempt to push Biden in a more pro­gres­sive direction.

This approach has anoth­er upshot: pre­vent­ing a ran­corous bat­tle over pol­i­cy planks at the par­ty convention.

[Bat­tling] could be embar­rass­ing and they want to avoid that, so they put togeth­er these com­mit­tees out­side of the process to try and agree on a pro­gram, and they’ll all go in there and both sides will vote for it,” says George Albro, cofounder and down­state co-chair of the Sanders aligned New York Pro­gres­sive Action Net­work (NYPAN). I think Bernie real­ly wants to fos­ter uni­ty because, iron­i­cal­ly, he’s more inter­est­ed in defeat­ing Trump than the estab­lish­ment is.”

This push for uni­ty wouldn’t be out of char­ac­ter for Sanders. Accord­ing to In These Times’ sources, after anti-TPP planks brought by Sanders allies in 2016 were defeat­ed at both St. Louis and Orlan­do, Sanders had enough del­e­gates to force a vote on the issue in a much more pub­lic way at the par­ty con­ven­tion in Philadel­phia. What stopped him was a phone call from Oba­ma, who didn’t want a con­tentious floor fight at the event. 

The Uni­ty Menu

It remains to be seen whether Sanders’ 2020 cam­paign for par­ty uni­ty, even more intense than in 2016, will win him more favor­able treat­ment from the Demo­c­ra­t­ic estab­lish­ment. The Uni­ty Task Forces he set up with Biden may have allowed him to set the stage, but even there, Sanders appointees were out­num­bered on each task force, three to five.

Even the most promis­ing fell short of expec­ta­tions. The cli­mate change task force, co-chaired by Green New Deal pro­po­nent Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.), includ­ed Sun­rise Move­ment co-founder Varshi­ni Prakash and for­mer Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency admin­is­tra­tor Gina McCarthy. Yet ulti­mate­ly, it left out a frack­ing ban and made no men­tion of the Green New Deal.

The econ­o­my task force was com­pelling, too, co-chaired by Sara Nel­son, pres­i­dent of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Flight Atten­dants union. It includ­ed Stephanie Kel­ton, an advis­er on Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 cam­paigns and an expert on mod­ern mon­e­tary the­o­ry, which rejects the cur­rent eco­nom­ic ortho­doxy that dis­cour­ages deficit spend­ing. It rec­om­mend­ed that Biden explore set­ting up gov­ern­ment sav­ings accounts for chil­dren, for instance, but stopped short of a fed­er­al jobs guar­an­tee, a stick­ing point for the Biden team. The rec­om­men­da­tions instead call for jobs pro­grams like those effec­tive­ly used dur­ing the New Deal.”

Telling­ly, for­eign pol­i­cy was entire­ly left out of the purview of the task forces.

With the task forces hav­ing made their rec­om­men­da­tions, the Draft­ing Sub­com­mit­tee is now tasked with ham­mer­ing out a draft plat­form. This time around, Sanders did not offi­cial­ly get any nom­i­na­tions to the 15-per­son committee.

The line­up, announced by Perez in late June, pulled from Oba­ma loy­al­ists. Four held posts in Obama’s admin­is­tra­tion, three worked on his cam­paigns, one served as an elec­tor for his 2008 run and two received his cov­et­ed endorse­ment after he left office. Three are Sanders allies — Heather Gaut­ney, for­mer Our Rev­o­lu­tion exec­u­tive direc­tor; Josh Orton, for­mer Sanders Sen­ate senior advis­er; and Analil­ia Mejia, polit­i­cal direc­tor for the 2020 Sanders cam­paign. Orton and Mejia also worked for the 2008 Oba­ma campaign.

Obama’s cen­trist, busi­ness-friend­ly pol­i­tics are well-rep­re­sent­ed, too. Four of the mem­bers have cor­po­rate back­grounds, includ­ing Tom Vil­sack, who passed through the revolv­ing door from the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture to the U.S. Dairy Export Coun­cil, and Tony Allen, a for­mer Biden speech­writer and for­mer exec­u­tive at Delaware cred­it card com­pa­ny MBNA, a top Biden fun­der that pushed his dis­as­trous bank­rupt­cy bill in 2005.

Per­haps the most impor­tant selec­tion is the com­mit­tee chair. Perez chose Atlanta May­or Keisha Lance Bot­toms. Though she has won pro­gres­sive plau­dits for under­tak­ing bail reform and improv­ing gov­ern­ment trans­paren­cy, the busi­ness-backed Bot­toms has also been crit­i­cized for harsh treat­ment of home­less peo­ple in Atlanta and for not doing enough to stop gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. Mar­ried to a Home Depot exec­u­tive, Bot­toms also has a pen­chant for pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships. She has been one of Biden’s most loy­al back­ers, endors­ing him in 2019 a day after he took fire over his anti-bus­ing past. 

The chair has tremen­dous pow­er,” says Jay Bel­lan­ca, upstate co-chair of NYPAN, who has been on the front lines of efforts to reform the par­ty since 2016. It deter­mines who can rec­og­nize, bring things forward.”

While Sanders allies view 2016 Draft­ing Sub­com­mit­tee Chair Eli­jah Cum­mings (D‑Md.) as a fair adju­di­ca­tor, the per­son who sits in the posi­tion can make a cru­cial dif­fer­ence — for bet­ter or worse. In 1988, Chair James Blan­chard, gov­er­nor of Michi­gan, was cru­cial to insert­ing a pro­vi­sion about respect­ing the ter­ri­to­r­i­al sov­er­eign­ty of Lebanon, Zog­by recalls.

He said, I’m from Michi­gan, don’t screw with this. Give me this lan­guage on Lebanon,’ ” Zog­by says. And we got it put in.” 

Last Call

The plat­for­m’s next gaunt­let is the full Plat­form Com­mit­tee Meet­ing. In addi­tion to the 25 mem­bers select­ed by Perez, 162 del­e­gates will be added, appor­tioned by the num­ber of del­e­gates each can­di­date receives in the pri­ma­ry con­test. What­ev­er they agree on must then be rat­i­fied at the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion itself.

In 2016, Sanders’ allies were pleas­ant­ly sur­prised by their impact on the plat­form that came out of the com­mit­tee, includ­ing the $15 min­i­mum wage pro­vi­sion. All were prod­ucts of an intense, some­times testy process.

Hang­ing over this year’s nego­ti­a­tions, how­ev­er, was the ques­tion of whether Sanders would have enough del­e­gates to be appor­tioned the 46 mem­bers of the plat­form com­mit­tee that are need­ed to have lever­age. It’s like­ly that even if all of Sanders Plat­form Com­mit­tee mem­bers agree, they won’t reach the thresh­old of 46 mem­bers need­ed to bring a minor­i­ty report to a vote on the con­ven­tion floor, a poten­tial­ly embar­rass­ing chal­lenge that could force com­pro­mise from the major­i­ty in advance, in order to head it off. In 2016, Sanders cleared that thresh­old eas­i­ly, giv­ing teeth to his del­e­gates’ demands in com­mit­tee (and avoid­ing a fight at the convention).

Assum­ing Sanders is just short of the 46, his team would need sup­port from Biden plat­form com­mit­tee mem­bers to reach the thresh­old num­ber. Had Sanders active­ly stayed in the post Wis­con­sin pri­maries, even while sup­port­ing Biden, there would have been enough Sanders del­e­gates elect­ed to reach 46 plat­form com­mit­tee mem­bers required for minor­i­ty resolutions.

Because Sanders failed to do so, his move­ment will have lit­tle sway on the 2020 con­ven­tion com­mit­tees this year.

Sanders — focused on beat­ing Trump (and no doubt stung by years of spu­ri­ous accu­sa­tions that he and his sup­port­ers cost Clin­ton the 2016 elec­tion) — seems com­mit­ted to avoid­ing not just the ran­cor of the pre­vi­ous elec­tion, but the all-out chaos of the infa­mous 1972 Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty con­ven­tion. A much more con­cil­ia­to­ry approach seems like­ly, work­ing close­ly with Biden and attempt­ing to nip any hint of par­ty dis­uni­ty in the bud.

Rather than lean on the threat of a con­tentious floor fight, then, Sanders vest­ed his hopes in the Uni­ty Task Forces. With the release of the draft plat­form in late July, this approach seems to have yield­ed div­i­dends, with a num­ber of their final rec­om­men­da­tions mak­ing it into the fin­ished prod­uct. The draft plat­form incor­po­rates rec­om­men­da­tions includ­ing expand­ing Medicare to cov­er vision, den­tal, and hear­ing loss, end­ing pri­vate pris­ons, and dras­ti­cal­ly mov­ing up Biden’s cli­mate targets.

Yet even here, the wins are mut­ed. Much of the rec­om­mend­ed lan­guage that found its way into the plat­form was already part of Biden’s plat­form, includ­ing his plans for undo­ing Trump’s immi­gra­tion poli­cies, let­ting Medicare nego­ti­ate drug prices, allow­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to pay the cost of con­tin­u­ing lapsed health insur­ance under COBRA, and end­ing cash bail and manda­to­ry min­i­mums. While the draft now more direct­ly states the par­ty support[s] end­ing the use of pri­vate pris­ons,” Biden had already pledged to make elim­i­nat­ing pri­vate pris­ons a require­ment of his fed­er­al grant pro­gram for crime pre­ven­tion. Same with the pledge to low­er Medicare’s require­ment age to 60.

In oth­er areas, the Sanders camp appears to have been com­plete­ly rolled. The task forces’ less ambi­tious rec­om­men­da­tion to decrim­i­nal­ize mar­i­jua­na went into the plat­form, and a plank to legal­ize it was defeat­ed 105 – 60. Every one of the planks put for­ward by Pales­tin­ian-Amer­i­can del­e­gates, includ­ing one mere­ly call­ing for sup­port­ing an Israel that isn’t an exclu­sive­ly Jew­ish state, was left out with most of them not even con­sid­ered — though the final draft did include lan­guage defend­ing the right of Amer­i­cans to boy­cott Israel, a sig­nif­i­cant inclu­sion. Mean­while, the already whit­tled-down lan­guage on New Deal-style jobs pro­grams was entire­ly left out. 

But the most glar­ing, if unsur­pris­ing, absence sur­round­ed Sanders’ flag­ship Medicare for All pol­i­cy, which receives a scant sin­gle men­tion in the draft plat­form, with no endorse­ment. Par­ty del­e­gates also vot­ed down planks to insert such an endorse­ment into the draft, as well as those call­ing for expand­ing Medicare to chil­dren and low­er­ing the program’s eli­gi­bil­i­ty age to 55. The platform’s next stop is the August par­ty con­ven­tion, where hun­dreds of Sanders del­e­gates are defy­ing the Ver­mont senator’s push for par­ty uni­ty, and have signed a pledge to vote against the plat­form if it con­tin­ues to leave out Medicare for All, a tac­tic that will like­ly fail to change the party’s mind — but will make incon­ve­nient head­lines for Democrats. 

Should Biden ascend to the pres­i­den­cy, the next step for pro­gres­sives will be ensur­ing he fol­lows through on the platform’s many promis­es. This won’t just involve over­com­ing the pre­dictable Repub­li­can obstruc­tion, but putting enough pres­sure on Biden him­self to out­weigh the cor­po­rate and right-wing influ­ence that have his­tor­i­cal­ly cowed him into sub­mis­sion. Ulti­mate­ly, Oba­ma only moved left on issues like immi­gra­tion, mar­riage equal­i­ty and the Key­stone XL pipeline because of years of activist pres­sure. Con­cil­i­a­tion and uni­ty may be the order of the day, but there’s only so far they will go toward achiev­ing pro­gres­sive priorities.

Janea Wil­son, Indi­go Oliv­er and Camille Williams con­tributed fact-checking.

Branko Marcetic is a staff writer at Jacobin mag­a­zine and a 2019 – 2020 Leonard C. Good­man Insti­tute for Inves­tiga­tive Report­ing fel­low. He is work­ing on a forth­com­ing book about Joe Biden.
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