There is a fair bit of consternation in media circles, and a fair bit of elation at the Sanders camp (and understandably at the Clinton camp as well) at the conclusion of this weekend's Democratic Platform Committee draft of the 2016 Democratic platform. An inflation-adjusted $15 minimum wage, a strong embrace of criminal justice reform, support for battling climate change, card check for labor unions, and a commitment to advance debt free college tuition for poor and middle class students are all things we can and should be proud of.
But while most of the platform news have been framed as evidence of Bernie Sanders' influence, and some of it is being framed as the party unifying after a bitter primary, few, if any, observers have noticed the obvious: the most progressive platform of the Democratic party follows the most progressive president in American history. So today, I will make an attempt to link some of the major planks of the platform getting the most attention to the progress President Obama has made and the actions he has taken. In doing so, I want to account for both the platform draft that entered into this weekend's meeting as well as the reported changes to it.
First, it is important to note that despite all the media attention over what changed and who influenced such change, the draft platform remained largely intact on the most critical issues: the $15 minimum wage, financial reform, criminal justice reform, climate change, and the commitment to make higher education debt free - all came in the original draft itself. Even the part of the plank that detractors can claim is a break with the president, an outright opposition to Social Security Cost-of-Living adjustments, made it to the plank before the meeting in Orlando. And the only item that both the Clinton and Sanders camps supported that failed to make it onto the platform was an ideological opposition to the most progressive trade deal in US history, the Transpacific Partnership, a pact negotiated by President Obama's administration.
Take the biggest trumpeted victory for "the Left", for example.
Our platform endorses a $15 minimum wage, the elimination of sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, as well as making it easier and simpler for all workers to exercise their right to bargain collectively.
Raising the minimum wage to $15 over a period of time is now law in states like California and New York, and ours is a model the platform endorses by name. But it wasn't that long ago when in the midst of a trying recovery from an economic disaster precipitated by the last administration, raising the minimum wage at all had no political traction, though it had always had the Left's backing.
After winning re-election in a landslide in 2012, President Obama began to push for the case, starting with his State of the Union address in 2013, where he called for the minimum wage to be raised to $10.10 an hour. The Republican Congress, hell bent on holding back the Obama recovery, did not act. But with the President's bully pulpit, the idea gained traction across the country, and states began to pass their own minimum wage increases. Nearly 40 states and municipalities have passed their own minimum wage increases before California and New York took the historic steps to raise statewide wages to $15.
The President led not with just words but actions. He used an executive order to force federal contractors to establish a floor wage of $10.10. And long before any presidential campaign got underway, the President brought to the White House some of the most public faces of the Fight for 15.
It is also no secret that this president's administration has been the most labor friendly since perhaps FDR. President Obama's appointees to the National Labor Relations Board have been highly praised by labor leaders and created a considerable amount of headaches for corporate over-reachers. Under President Obama, the NLRB has made it easier for fast food workers to organize, overruled mandatory arbitration clauses that harm employees, and cut nearly in half the time it takes to hold union elections.
Another plank being touted by the media as some form of late grand revelation, real college affordability by eliminating tuition for public colleges and universities for students who come from households making under $125,000, along with the expansion of Pell Grants to ensure non-tuition expenses can also be covered. Key provisions to hold colleges and universities accountable for holding down costs were also inserted.
Once again, the platform's provisions followed the Clinton plan announced last week. Allow me to say first that I remain skeptical about the ability to get Republican governors and legislatures to sign onto this plan and do their part. Nonetheless, what looks to be a big step in favor of college affordability actually got its start with none other the Obama administration.
Come to think of it, it was with the Affordable Care Act - the reform much maligned, much ideologically acidic to "progressive" gateskeepers - that gave helping students a jump start. With the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act - the addition to Obamacare that is most commonly known for expanding subsidies - the Obama White House massively expanded federal Pell Grants and used what used to be private bank subsidies for federally insured loans to reduce debt obligations of people with student loans. It also tripled the American Opportunity Tax credit for American families. Even with a witheringly obstructionist Republican Congress, the president has succeeded in lowering long term student loan interest rates, in 2013 keeping the rates from doubling.
Without a doubt, much more remains to be done on college affordability. But because of President Obama's leadership and legislation - and because of his stewardship that has rebounded the economy after the calamity left to him, we can demand bigger reforms.
On every other issue important in the platform, President Obama's time in the White House has been pivotal. From bringing China into the fold in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions to appointing exemplary Justices to the Supreme Court to calling for a Constitutional Amendment, if need be, to overturn Citizens United to sparking national conversations and actions on racial and criminal justice and gun violence, this president has laid the mammoth groundwork upon which the Democratic platform now stands.
This is a political season, and elections are, always, about the future. But futures are built on the pillars of the present. In the last eight years, this country has undergone a far bigger revolution under this president than any candidate running this year has dared imagine. Under this president's leadership, we have rebounded a moribund economy, passed health care reforms presidents have talked about for more than a half century, given the force of law to equality for LGBT Americans, nearly eliminated our dependence on foreign sources of energy.
And because of the ugly reaction of the political Right to Barack Obama's presidency, we have laid bare a society still far-too-pervaded with racism and hatred, a culture deafeningly silent about police brutality and community violence, and an outcry and realization of the need to become a better, more accepting, more diverse society. After all, the same internalized racist bias that demands a black president's birth certificate or insists on calling him weak despite the progress he has made, - that same internalized bias, when armed with the force of law and a uniform becomes a deadly institutionalized bias that is putting lives in jeopardy.
I am excited about the Hillary-Bernie unity rally early this week. I am excited about a Democratic platform rooted in a call for justice. And I am excited that we have had a president for the past eight years that has made it all possible.
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