Bernie vows a divisive platform fight at Philly confab
Even if he lacks the delegates to win the nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders promises to got to the mat in Philly over a $15 minimum wage, mass incarceration and health care for all.
In a meeting with Daily News and Inquirer editors and reporters this week (listen here), Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders vowed to stage a potentially divisive fight over the Democratic platform at July's party convention in Philadelphia -- a move that could put his rival Hillary Clinton on the spot over key issues such as a $15 minimum wage and expanding federal health insurance.
Near the end of Wednesday's 45-minute session at our 8th and Market offices, I had a chance to ask the presidential contender about his plans for the Philly confab, where he faces long odds of defeating frontrunner Clinton but he's certain to arrive with an army of 2,000 or more delegates who back his leftward politics of "democratic socialism."
In particular, I wanted to know if Sanders and his pledged delegates would be willing to fight -- all the way to the convention floor, if necessary -- for a more liberal party platform, particularly on some of the issues where the Vermont senator has run to the left of Clinton.
Just like the chaos of contested convention in Cleveland that looks increasingly likely on the GOP side, the idea of a convention floor fight over issues might seem archaic to voters born into the modern era of boring, infomercial-style party gatherings. But in the mid-20th Century, such squabbles -- the Democrats on ending the Vietnam War in 1968, the GOP over Cold War "detente" policies and abortion in 1976 -- were proxy fights for candidates and for the soul of their party.
Sanders' response was clear. "The answer to your question is yes, we will engage in a platform fight," he told me, adding: "I don't know if it's quite gotten going yet, obviously, we've reached out to people."
He'd prefaced that answer by reminding the room how far he'd come from his initial May 2015 announcement, when he was dismissed as a "protest candidate."
"We started this campaign at 3 percent in the polls...60 or 70 points down," he said. "As of today's poll, nationally we are 2 points up. We have come a very, very long way. …There was a silly article in the New York Times the other day, all the things we should have done. I think we've run a pretty damn good campaign, to tell the truth."
The implication seemed obvious: That win or lose the nomination in July, Sanders's so-called "political revolution" has earned the right to place its stamp on the Democratic Party. He made it clear what issues he'd want to fight over.
"The issues that we are concerned about are campaign finance reform and overturning Citizens United and moving for public funding of elections," he said. "Certainly a $15 an hour minimum wage -- Secretary Clinton has, I think…I was impressed by her chutzpah standing next to the governor of New York to sign a $15 an hour minimum wage when she has supported a $12 an hour minimum wage.
"And criminal justice is very important – it is beyond comprehension the number of people in jail in this country that are primarily African American, Latino and Native Americans. Those are the issues we will fight for."
Then he thought of one more. "I've been impressed as I go around the country that people believe, as I believe, that the Affordable Care Act has done a lot of good for us," noting his own role in boosting the 2010 measure. But he said that he's also hearing "that people want more I think you have a majority of Democrats that would support that."
Sanders has proposed expanding Medicare to cover all Americans -- an initiative that has been largely dismissed by Clinton as politically unrealistic compared to supporting, and in places strengthening, the current program, known as Obamacare. Indeed, it would be interesting to see if the Clinton forces would even want to do battle over ideas that are popular on the Democratic left at the convention -- or concede the platform to the Sanders forces.
The platform is just one of the battles -- will Sanders get to address the convention, for example -- that will be wrangled after the last primary votes are cast in June. Even if the odds heavily favor Clinton's nomination, what happens in Philadelphia will go a long way toward determining the future trajectory of the political revolution that Sanders and his legion of supporters have demanded.