Pell Center

The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina is a multidisciplinary research center focused at the intersection of politics, policies and ideas.

The Democrats’ “Radical Agenda”

Like a lot of Americans, I’ve been watching the Democratic convention this week.  On the first night, I was flipping between the three major cable networks just to take stock of how each was covering the proceedings.  When I got to Fox News, I learned that the Democrats were in the midst of unveiling their “radical agenda” to “change America.”  And my first reaction was, “holy cow, did I dose off and sleep through that part?”  I mean, you’d think there would have been more red flags—maybe even literally. 

Undeterred, I went and downloaded the Democratic party’s 2020 platform. This isn’t some secret plan.  There is no hidden agenda.  This is a public document that anyone can take the time to read.  If you’re really undecided, I’d encourage you to do that and to read the Republican platform when it’s released next week, too.  But I thought it might be worthwhile to review the so-called “radical” agenda Democrats have offered.

The Democratic platform calls for an economy that works for all Americans, including working families and small businesses, regardless of your race, your gender, or your zip code.  It aspires to create an economy where whether you are a man or a woman, you should be paid fairly for your work.  Democrats argue that if you want to form a union with your fellow workers to negotiate for better wages or working conditions with management, you should be able to do that.  If a family member gets sick, you should be able to get paid-time off from work to care for them.  Democrats talk about policies aimed at ending homelessness in America.  (Yes, I looked.  I saw no mention of Soviet-style apartment blocks—not even in the footnotes.)

Based on the history of the debate since 1992, perhaps the most “radical” language in the platform is the belief that healthcare is a right that should be accessible to all, not a privilege reserved for the few.  Americans shouldn’t go bankrupt because they get sick or are victims of an accident.  And if you are on a fixed income, you shouldn’t have to pick and choose the prescriptions you fill each month because you can’t afford all of them.  The interesting thing to me is that these are not new ideas.  Hell, they’re not even particularly innovative.  Thomas Paine called for publicly provided healthcare in at our nation’s founding.  Richard Nixon proposed requiring employers to provide health insurance in 1974.  But for the last 28 years we have wrapped ourselves around the axle even when a Democratic president stole the healthcare model of a successful Republican governor.  The truth is Obamacare is Romneycare.

According to their platform, Democrats believe all Americans should be able to vote freely.  The will of the people should matter more than corporate money and so-called “dark-money” in American politics.  Public service should be elevated and celebrated as service to the American people and in support of our Constitution—which it is.

There are things that Democrats oppose: specifically, discrimination in all of its forms and climate change. They think we should provide a world-class education to all of God’s children.  They think we should rebuild America’s alliances and stand-up to the growing specter of authoritarianism around the world.

I also looked, purposefully, for really, radical proposals—like adopting socialism or “defunding the police.”  I found no discussion of public ownership of the means of production—which is literally the definition of socialism.  There is a long discussion of the need for police reform and societal investments so that police officers don’t have to be the last guardians in a system that criminalizes poverty and mental illness.  But no where did I find a proposal to “defund the police.”

I’m not here to convince anyone that these are the right solutions for America.  People can make their own judgments.  But I am here to plead with folks to move beyond the talking points and not simply dismiss any candidate or idea—whether Democratic or Republican—based on the cartoonish portrayals of partisans.  They are trying to high-jack the debate and when we let them, or when we help them, we cheapen our politics.

It may very well be that a majority of Americans don’t like all the details of the plan advanced by the Democrats—or the Republicans.  But to limit the debate to an exchange of epithets serves no one and reinforces the canard that politics is only about winning when—at its best—it’s about solving society’s great problems.

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