If history is any predictor, then the 2000 Democratic Party platform to be released next week wont say much. It will gloat about the unprecedented prosperity enjoyed by some without seriously addressing the ever-widening gulf between rich and poor. It will take safe positions on broad topics, while failing entirely to address some of the most pressing issues of the day: from public funding of campaigns to meaningful gun control to abolishing the death penalty to a trade policy that puts people first.
It made us think: If we were in charge, what would the Democratic platform say? And so we solicited some of the countrys most interesting thinkers, people with the intellectual rigor and moral authority to suggest a better future. What follows is the platform theyve suggested.
(ideas suggested by Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Blood Rites and The Snarling Citizen):
There was a time when the Democratic platform meant something. It wasnt a lot of advertising copy: It was a plan, a to-do list. Planks were fought over as bitterly and passionately as the choice of candidates. This is not to glorify the old party, which had a long history of accommodation to Southern racism. But at its best, the Democratic Party was an arena where important discussions could take place, where civil rights advocates and Dixiecrats could duke it out, where hawks went head-to-head with doves, and labor and environmentalists did battle. The platform was a record of those struggles. It had blood on it.
Now neither party is comfortable with conflict, nor consequently with working things out. The discussions have been pushed off to the sidelines, to focus groups and caucuses. Controversy is avoided. No one really expects the platforms to play any role.
If the Democratic Party were returned to its rightful owners, its platform would make clear that this is the party of the underdog, of the workers as opposed to the owners, of racial minorities and women and excluded people of all types. It would stand openly and proudly for equality, not a word we hear much anymore. It would look to the long term, to the world we want to leave our grandchildren, not just to the short-term concerns of our corporate leaders, who dont look beyond next quarters profits, or our politicians, who dont look much further than the next election. We need to think about the Earth, about peace and disarmament, about long-term prosperity for all. We need a vision.
The Big Picture (ideas suggested by Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect and the author of Everything for Sale and The Life of the Party):
The notion that our first economic priority should be to pay off the debt is in its essence Republican. Instead, the surplus should be spent on important projects like universal health care or full prescription-drug coverage. Modest deficits are fine, too, so long as the debt isnt growing faster than the economy. That would free up a couple of hundred billion dollars each year the difference between a public program that really accomplishes something and one that doesnt. Al Gores proposal to enable people to augment their Social Security by setting aside additional money that the government will match up to a ratio of 3-to-1 for the poor (and not just for retirement but for education, too) is a good start, but even relatively poor people cant afford to set aside very much money. We would favor the government providing an out-and-out grant to the poor which they can use to invest to supplement Social Security, or giving it to all children as their birthright, which can grow into a fund for their use when theyre older.
Living Wage (ideas suggested by Jackie Goldberg, Los Angeles city council member and author of the citys living-wage ordinance):
We support a living wage for all federal, state and local employees in contracted government work; taxpayers dollars should not be spent on poverty-level wages. State and federal minimum wages for all workers, in the private as well as the public sector, should be set at the level of a living wage as well. In this current climate of affluence, theres no reason in the world why the bottom shouldnt rise as well as the top. We know from a number of studies that raising wages creates a more stable work force and gives people the incentive to perform at a higher level in their jobs. It also raises the school achievement of their children. The only clear correlation between home life and school performance is that performance rises with family income. Living-wage statutes should always include a family medical plan, even if it covers only preventive medicine and basic doctoring. As to the level of a national living wage, we do need more data, but we cant imagine anyone anywhere in the U.S. living on less than $8.50 an hour. We also need to index the minimum wage to increases in the cost of living.