The Convention: What Was Missing

democratic partyj 2One key element was not included in the remarkably successful 2016 Democratic Convention: the Democratic Party.

The convention fully engaged the important cultural war between “Individualism or Communitarianism?” Many of the speeches and presentations were remarkably powerful. I lost track of how many times I cried. At the end, I was relieved and reassured that Clinton will win in November.

But none of the speakers called for rebuilding the Party into a unified, activist organization that fights year-round for its platform, In fact, both the Party and the platform were barely mentioned. Following are the number of times the major speakers mentioned “Democratic Party” or “platform.”

Democratic Party Platform
Hillary Clinton 0 1
Tim Kaine 1 0
Barack Obama 1 0
Joe Biden 0 0
Bill Clinton 0 0
Bernie Sanders 2 3

Hillary’s reference to the platform was included in her appeal to Bernie’s supporters: “That’s the only way we can turn our progressive platform into real change for America.  We wrote it together – now let’s go out there and make it happen together.”

But she said little about how to do that.

Sanders fought successfully to make the platform more progressive and he concluded his remarks by talking about that effort. And he declared, “We have begun a political revolution to transform America, and that revolution, our revolution, continues!”

But the only thing he said about how to achieve that goal was, “Our job now is to see that strong Democratic platform implemented by a Democratic-controlled Senate, a Democratic House, and a Hillary Clinton presidency!”

He did not, for example, in order to transform the Party into an activist organization that fights for its platform throughout the year, urge his supporters to elect like-minded people to local Democratic Party county committees and other bodies that elect the state committees that elect the National Committee.

Instead, as Jane Sanders told Rolling Stone Wednesday, she and Bernie plan to:

“Hold their feet to the fire.” …If the Democratic Party starts backing away from the platform, ever, we will fight like crazy to support the work that all of these millions of people did….

Starting yesterday, we have two new organizations: the Sanders Institute, which will convey the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve traveled this country and met with so many people. [And Our Revolution, which will help craft policies and elect new leadership.]

So Bernie is not urging his supporters to transform the Democratic Party. He is not giving the Democratic Party his lists of donors and volunteers, which reinforces the underlying fragmentation. Presumably he will decide when to mobilize his supporters. His plan does not envision helping to build a powerful, democratic, inclusive, multi-issue, nonviolent, national coalition that can quickly mobilize massive popular pressure on Washington in a timely manner. 

I still believe the Democratic Party could become that kind of coalition. But that scenario will not be realized and fragmentation will prevail so long as people like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders focus so heavily on elections and decline to use their office as organizing tools to transform the Democratic Party into a real organization.

The Party will continue to be an empty shell of an organization that is superseded by the campaign organizations of candidates who win primary campaigns. Weeks ago, a highly accomplished retired administrative assistant offered to volunteer in a highly disorganized Democratic Party county office in a swing state. Elsewhere, another experienced activist in a blue state asked the local Democratic Party office for a list of voters in his precinct so he could recruit Democrats to engage voters in swing states. Neither offer so far has been accepted. Another Democratic Party activist who’s been registering voters in public locations was told that the Clinton campaign and the local Party would be dividing up public outreach and phone banking. Those instances of disarray and fragmentation are par for the course.

Ideally, some day the Democratic Party will reverse the decline of political parties, as was described so well in “How American Politics Went Insane.” If not, perhaps existing activist organizations will eventually overcome their ego trips and unify. Or maybe somehow a new national coalition will emerge.

Otherwise, we’ll have to continue to rely on haphazard spontaneity. And we see how far that has got us.


3 Responses to The Convention: What Was Missing

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