Bernie Sanders Moved Democrats to the Left. The Platform is Proof.


Written by Jeff Stein

Hillary Clinton may have won the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, but Bernie Sanders has still left an outsize mark on its future.

Back in July, Sanders won a string of concessions on the Democratic Party platform, pulling the party to the left on the minimum wage, environmental regulation, marijuana legalization, and the war on drugs.

“I think if you read the platform right now, you will understand that the political revolution is alive and kicking,” Sanders’s policy director, Warren Gunnels, told NBC News at the time, adding that campaign got “at least 80 percent” of what it wanted.

The Sanders camp said it would not push for any more platform concessions. They were true to their word: On Monday night, the delegates at the Democratic National Convention approved the party’s platform, leaving the compromises between Sanders and Clinton intact.


Now, the platform just outlines the key “ideas and beliefs” of the party, and it doesn’t bind any of its members to particular actions. But political science research says it’s one of the best guides for what the party will fight for, and as such Sanders will use it to tell his supporters that the Democratic Party is worth supporting.

How did Bernie change the platform?

The platform approved in Philadelphia may not go far enough for some of the party’s most left-wing members, but Democratic officials were quick to hail it as “the most progressive” in the party’s history.

It’s a characterization that’s hard to dispute. While it’s impossible to disentangle exactly why the party moved to the left, here are some places Sanders’s allies are celebrating what they characterize as important policy victories for their candidate:

  • $15-an-hour minimum wage: In 2012, the Democratic Party platform called for the party to push for a higher minimum wage and to tie it to inflation.

That was it. At meetings earlier this summer, members of the platform writing committee only agreed to write that “Americans should earn at least $15 an hour” — not that the party would push for a federal $15-an-hour minimum wage.

However, Democrats took a big step forward and embraced a push for a $15 minimum wage. (Vox’s Matt Yglesias weighs whether that’s a good or bad idea here.) It seems like Sanders’s most complete victory.

  • Stronger language on criminal justice: The platform also calls on the Department of Justice “to investigate all questionable or suspicious police-involved shooting.” That’s a major step up from the 2012 platform, which merely said the party should “fight inequalities in our criminal justice system.”

(The leftward move on criminal justice certainly can’t be chalked up to Sanders alone: Last week, Clinton announced that, if elected, she’d launch a $1 billion new effort to improve race relations in policing.)

  • Marijuana legalization: The platform also called for a “reasoned pathway to future legalization” of marijuana. (The 2012 platform calls for a reduction in racial disparities in drug sentencing but does not mention marijuana.)

Delegates from Clinton’s campaign largely opposed the marijuana legalization language.

  • Federal reserve reform: The new platform says the party will fight against allowing bank executives to sit on Federal Reserve boards.
  • Closing the revolving door: The party will also move to “ban golden parachutes for those taking government jobs” and seek to bar bank regulators from taking any action related to their former employers.
  • Wall Street reform: The party also seeks to crack down on Wall Street by severing banks’ ability to choose the credit agency that rates their products.
  • Postal Service banking services: “Democrats believe that we need to give Americans affordable banking options, including by empowering the United States Postal Service to facilitate the delivery of basic banking services,” the new platform says. (Vox’s Matt Yglesias explains that idea here.)
  • Death penalty: The party’s platform also has new language calling for the eradication of the death penalty. “We will abolish the death penalty, which has proven to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment,” the platform states. “It has no place in the United States of America.”

That’s a win for Sanders, who had called for absolutist opposition to the death penalty. (Clinton has backed its use in limited circumstances.)

  • Earned income tax credit: The 2016 platform calls on a specific expansion of the EITC to “low wage workers who don’t have children and to workers age 21 and older.” (The 2012 platform only praised President Obama for expanding the EITC in general, according to the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel.)

Where did Sanders lose?

The biggest losses for Sanders on the platform came on trade, where he and his allies failed to push the party toward more explicit skepticism of international free trade deals backed by President Obama.

  • Opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal: The platform does acknowledge that there are Democrats who dislike the TPP deal brokered by the Obama administration, but Sanders’s aides failed to pass an amendment committing the party to opposing the trade pact.”It’s clear the corporate wing of the Democratic Party wants the window dressing of populist language — Bernie Sanders language — but are not serious about it,” Cornel West, a Sanders appointee to the platform writing committee, told the Wall Street Journal after their effort failed back in early July.This is partly understandable — it’d be awkward for the Democratic Party to oppose a deal brokered and supported by President Obama — but it’s also odd given that Hillary Clinton herself also opposes the trade proposal, at least as a matter of record.
  • Stance on Israeli settlements: Sanders’s backers also failed to get critical language of Israel onto the party platform, an effort torpedoed largely by the Clinton delegates.According to the Forward, Sanders’s allies wanted to pass an amendment “aimed at criticizing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, demanding ‘an end to illegal settlements’ and supporting the re-building of the Gaza Strip.” That won’t happen.
  • Fracking: Though they celebrated the new language around carbon pricing, Sanders’s aides failed to push through an amendment that would have called for an end to hydraulic fracturing, according to Weigel. (That fight, too, reflects an important fissure from the primary.)

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