Democrats’ new ‘Better Deal’ comes up short for people of color


Democrats just unveiled a new platform they call “The Better Deal.” The name itself begs two questions: Better than what? And better for whom?

The platform makes a step toward economic populism with a broad commitment to enacting anti-trust measures to protect average people from abuses of concentrated corporate wealth and political power. The hope, presumably, is that the new platform will ramp up voter enthusiasm for the Democratic Party, whose months of anti-Trump messages have not increased Democratic voter enthusiasm. The platform closely resembles Hillary Clinton’s policy plan from her 2016 presidential campaign. But is it a better deal for people of color and does it specifically articulate their commitment to a politics of racial justice?

{mosads}Unfortunately, the platform fails people of color in many ways. The platform doesn’t address racism and its role in limiting economic opportunity for people of color who make up 46 percent of the Democratic Party’s base. It fails to address the structural racism that has historically kept people of color at bottom socio-economically (e.g. a typical white household has 16 times the wealth of a black one).

It also fails to clarify the party’s commitment to protect the interests and safety of people of color such as Muslims who face racist violence, and black victims of police violence in cities across America. By not addressing in their new platform the violence and injustice that many people of color face, the party is undermining its own electoral success.

Last June, after Bernie Sanders fell short of winning the Democratic Party nomination, the party offered his supporters a seat at the platform-drafting table. It was a concession that the Democrats gave Sanders after his campaign energized millions with a message that appealed to the “99 percent” against the corporate elite. For nearly 30 years, the drafting committee was a body that generated little controversy and itself was a pro forma exercise, but in 2016 Sanders wanted the Democrats to go on record committing themselves to a progressive populism. He and his supporters wanted the document to shift markedly away from the neoliberal agenda previously set by moderate Democrats.

The resulting platform in 2016 was touted on the party’s own website as the “most progressive platform in our party’s history and a declaration of how we plan to move America forward.” Nevertheless, this “progressive platform” stopped short of addressing racism and the concerns of black voters in substantive ways.

The last time progressives challenged the party’s national agenda was back in 1988 when presidential candidate Jesse Jackson submitted amendments on healthcare, militarism, and education. He also added rules to diversify the party. In 1992, then-nominee Bill Clinton and his “third way” platform halted the progressive momentum of Jackson’s proposals with a conservative push towards “personal responsibility,” an expansion of the criminal justice system, and advocacy of business-friendly economic policies.  

Recently, Nina Turner, the president of the progressive organization Our Revolution, and #AllofUs, called out the new platform for its lack of racial justice policies. Turner’s groups were among those that released the People’s Platform, a suite of congressional bills that address a range of issues including Medicare for all, criminal justice, immigrant rights, and taxing Wall Street. In addition, they delivered 100,000 signatures of support for the People’s Platform to the Democratic National Committee.

The People’s Platform speaks directly to the needs of the base of the party.  By articulating policies that congressional Democrats should enact if they win a House majority in 2018, the People’s Platform creates a positive, inclusive, and practical vision for the future. This initiative reveals what is possible for the party. Democrats need to answer the question of how race and identity fit into their platform if they want to bring voters of color back to the fold for next year’s elections.

From weakening environmental protections like the Paris Accord to the Senate threatening to leave millions without healthcare coverage, every day we feel the impact of the 2016 electoral losses. And it seems Democrats have not learned a key lesson from those losses: The strategy of trying to win back Trump voters doesn’t win elections. New data points to a near 7 point drop in black voters from 2012 to 2016. And in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the black voters who voted in 2012 and stayed home in 2016 could have closed Hillary Clinton’s margin of loss.

In the Georgia-06 congressional special election in June 2017, Democrat Jon Ossoff cast himself as a consensus-minded moderate and did not vigorously make a public vow to protect ObamaCare, stepping over a key message important to black voters. His campaign did not sway Republicans, and it failed to motivate the black vote. Black voters, who comprise 13 percent of the electorate in GA-06, were only 9.3 percent of those who actually cast a ballot.

In fact, African Americans were the only bloc of voters of color that didn’t increase their share of the electorate from the 2017 April primary to the June elections (9.4 percent in April compared to 9.3 percent in June), according to the New York Times. In other words, despite the $24 million spent by Ossoff’s campaign, his message didn’t motivate enough of the voters he needed to win.

A platform addressing racial injustice, coupled with an active plan to inspire and mobilize voters of color, can take back the House and win gubernatorial races. Inspiring Democratic candidates of color like Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, Florida’s Andrew Gillum, Arizona’s David Garcia, and Maryland’s Ben Jealous carry messages of economic and racial justice. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote: “The inseparable twin of racial injustice was economic injustice.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) echoed Dr. King’s call in her 2015 speech at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate:

“Economic justice is not — and has never been — sufficient to ensure racial justice. Owning a home won’t stop someone from burning a cross on the front lawn.”

As a baseline message, Democrats must pair their economic progressive goals with racial justice in order to persuade black voters, among other people of color, that the Democratic Party recognizes that racism is a serious problem in this country and that economic reform policies alone will not translate into racial equity and justice.

Some will say that the Democrats’ platform as it stands is a move in a positive direction in clarifying the party’s commitments to working people but although the content of the new platform is necessary, it is not sufficient. With this platform, the Democrats do not speak directly to black voters, especially black women who, in recent years, have the highest vote turnout of any race or gender.

There is still an opportunity for the Democratic Party to write guiding principles that speak to everyone. The ability to address race in public policy — something that neither Clinton nor Sanders sufficiently achieved — is crucial at this juncture of American politics. The Democrats can win in 2018 if their leaders, message, policies and strategies activate the party’s true base. The party platform finally, and fully, needs to address race.

Aimee Allison is president of Democracy in Color, an organization focused on race, politics and the new American majority, and host of the Democracy in Color podcast. She is author of the forthcoming book on women of color and politics, “She the People.” Follow Allison on Twitter @aimeeallison.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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