My Response to the Platform CommitteeBy Tom Hayden
Dear Madame Chair and Members,
I write as a supporter of Senator John Kerry, a former member of the Democratic Platform Committee, a former California legislator, the author of books on inner cities and global poverty, and as a longtime activist in peace and social justice movements.
Please do not take us for granted. We progressives are not the happy campers that certain self-selected spokesmen describe in the New York Times. Our surface acceptance of the Party’s current direction arises from deference to our respected nominee and our common loathing of the Bush Administration. We are loyal to our partisan objective of defeating Bush, but loyal as well to those principles which we believe are shared by a majority of Democrats and Americans.
Political progressives HARDLY command a unified, organized bloc of voters or supporters. We live in a new political age in which there are vast millions of floating, unaffiliated independent and progressive voters. They may vote for the Democrats, for the Greens, or not at all. Their level of volunteering to make phone calls, register voters, stand frozen with billboards on freeway overpasses, etcetera, depends on whether they feel the Party is addressing what they truly care about.
The candidate and the Party establishment already are risking voter disillusionment with transparent vagaries on Iraq. I for one am glad to see the retreat from previous Democratic talk of sending more troops to stabilize that haunted country. I would prefer, of course, to see the party stand for a retreat from occupation itself. I would wish the platform to declare:
It was a mistake for President Bush to invade Iraq. One thousand Americans and countless Iraqis may have died for his mistake by this November. Americans are spending hundreds of billions to reconstruct what American bombs have destroyed when we could be hiring youth the same age as our soldiers to rebuild our neglected cities. We are imposing pro-corporate tax and privatization policies on Iraq which have never been embraced here.
The concern of all Americans should be whether the Bush Administration and its hand-picked government truly intend to allow democratic elections this next January, or defer democratic sovereignty for Iraqis until the US-led coalition prevails militarily over the insurgency. If security must be imposed by force before the balloting begins, there may be no light at the end of the tunnel. We do not require Iraqis to stop shopping or watching television before they vote, nor should we expect all them to become non-violent as a condition of going to the polls.
We cannot easily rebuild what the Bush Administration has broken. But we believe that the American occupation and the absence of democracy are the causes of the insurgency, and that delaying or suspending the democratic process will only deepen the pattern of violence. We support a broader international coalition and funding to repair and stabilize what we can in Iraq, but we are not ideological Crusaders bent on building a military outpost to protect a free-trade zone in Baghdad. Our core mission must be to complete the current partial transition to sovereignty with democratic elections followed by an American military withdrawal.
Since an anti-war approach is ruled out by the party’s pollsters, strategists, and ideologues, there is likely to be a drift towards either disillusionment or protest campaigns among large numbers of voters now on the edge. It becomes crucial, therefore, to appeal to those voters with something in which they can have a stake beyond the demise of George Bush. The excellent language on alternatives to Middle Eastern oil is an example.
But a more immediate approach should be to strengthen the platform language on fair trade. The current language is perhaps minimally acceptable, but feels like an extracted tooth. The platform can extol so-called “free trade” to our contributors’ delight, but the fact is that our free trade agreements have to be followed up immediately with fairness provisions that are enforceable. The present language may placate interested insiders but should be tested as well as rhetoric on the stump in places like Ohio, where I predict they will turn audiences looking for red meat into glazed zombies. There is no language blaming Bush, nor the corporate interests who are circumventing labor standards and environmental protection. Perhaps calling them “Benedict Arnolds” was over the top (who said that?), but even word “sweatshop” is missing from the platform. Don’t we want to accuse Republicans of being soft on sweatshops? Or would the word shock and offend those Democrats and economists who still claim that workplaces violating labor standards and paying a dollar a day are a “step up the ladder” for billions of the poor.
It is a tragedy that a party whose modern tradition was founded in the Thirties on the banning of sweatshop conditions among American workers cannot today say the word when those same miserable conditions have reappeared in our new Gilded Age.
So my second platform recommendation is this: dare to include language denouncing sweatshops and the trade rules that enshrine them.
Finally, a plea for a more balanced position on domestic “law and order”. As a result of the war on gangs and drugs, America now has 25 percent of the world’s total population of inmates, over two million on any given day. We spend more on prisons than colleges, more on punitive criminal justice systems than on prevention and rehabilitation programs. Just as the platform’s foreign policy plank says war is an option of last resort, so too should police and prisons – hopefully not like Abu Ghraib – be a last resort in juvenile justice programming. Instead the platform links terrorism and domestic gangs in the same sentence, promises to “crack down on gang violence” as if we haven’t for twenty years, and offers neither a word or a dollar on behalf of prevention or intervention. The section is embarrassing, since most Americans are far beyond the Democratic Party in supporting prevention initiatives.
So my third platform recommendation is to reconsider the deadly language about cracking down on those inner city youth. Say something like this: the Democratic Party believes in a balanced approach to combating violence and hopelessness among so many of our nation’s young people. It is not enough to dispatch more police – we must flood the inner cities with job possibilities better than dealing drugs. It is not enough for such a rich country to lock up more of its citizens than virtually any other. We must and will deter violence crime. But we must be equally tough on creating jobs and hope wherever a lethal despair has taken hold.
Thank you for your consideration. See you in Boston!