Can Progressive Upstarts Change the Democratic Party?

Bernie Sanders’s campaign was a major sign of the growing differences in the Democratic party. Justice Democrats are hoping that he represents a growing number of Americans disaffected with the establishment Democrats.

Following the 2016 election cycle, in which the Republicans gained control of the presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, the Democrats found themselves out of political power despite winning the popular vote. Immediately, excuses flooded the media.

Hillary Clinton believed that James Comey, the FBI director, ruined her chances at election. Comey decided to reopen a case about Clinton’s illegal use of a private email server. Clinton stated “our analysis is that Comey’s letter raising doubts that were groundless, baseless, [and] stopped our momentum.”

Members of Clinton’s staff believed they had the election won while they were still two weeks out. One senior official said, “I truly believe she was ahead two weeks out and had a catastrophic last two weeks.”

In hindsight, staffers and political analysts saw the loss of the “Obama Coalition” as the primary cause of the Democratic loss. The Obama Coalition is the group of people that won the Democrats the presidency in 2008 and 2012: African Americans, Latinos, women, young people, professionals, and populist blue-collar whites.

Many of these people turned away from Clinton due to her connections with “big business”. It is a well -known fact that presidential nominees receive millions of dollars from corporations, but Clinton has had many scandals relating to companies. The Clinton Foundation, an international multimillion dollar charity, has been investigated multiple times for tax fraud, conflicts of interest, and collusion. HRC also received millions of dollars for speeches to massive corporations like Goldman Sachs.

These allegations against Clinton built a picture of the Democrats as well, as a party more dedicated to protecting donations to their Super PACs than acting as liberal or progressive policymakers.

This view was strengthened by Bernie Sanders, a rival candidate to HRC for the Democratic nomination. Sanders represented the progressive aspect of the Democratic party, running on a platform composed around campaign finance, universal healthcare, free college, recreational drugs, and infrastructure spending. This is a stark contrast to HRC’s platform, mostly keeping the status quo.

These two nominees and two differing platforms showed a split in the party between the establishment Democrats and the progressive Democrats. The establishment Democrats have come under fire as being lazy or stuck, continuously trying the same policies to win elections. Due to their commitment to fundraising, establishment Democrats have become known as Corporate Democrats. The progressive Democrats have branded themselves as Justice Democrats.

The title “Justice Democrats” was created by Cenk Uygur and Kyle Kulinksi, progressive talk show hosts of The Young Turks and Secular Talk, respectively. Both hosts have published hours of video content railing against the Democratic establishment as being too close to the banks, instead of representing progressive liberal Americans. Uygur and Kulinski have given up on changing the party and instead wish to replace the members of the party, becoming a group that represents “Just Us”, a play on the pronunciation of “Justice”.

Uygur and Kulinski formed a political action committee, combined with progressive leaders and staffers of the Sanders campaign. The progressive movement began with Occupy Wall Street, and has continued to evolve into multiple organizations, like WOLF PAC–dedicated to publically funding elections–and Brand New Congress, an organization dedicated to replacing corporate-backed representatives.

The Justice Democrats platform closely mirrors Bernie Sanders’ platform. This is partially because of the ex-Bernie staffers, but also because Sanders is currently the most popular politician in the US Congress, according to a FOX News/Washington post poll. Before the election, many polls and simulations saw that Sanders could beat Trump in the presidential election.

The Justice Democrats hope to re-enact the so-called “Bernie effect”, where a specific sub-set of voters–who voted Republican out of exacerbation with the Democratic party–can be pulled back to the blue side by providing a progressive candidate, not affiliated with the corporate establishment Democrats.

Major components of the Justice Democrats Platform are summarized below:

-Pass a constitutional amendment to ban Super PACs and private donations to campaigns in favor of creating a public financing system where candidates would receive money from the government to run on.

-Increased regulations on Wall Street, reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall banking act, and increase punishments for white-collar criminals.

-Change the tax system to benefit lower and middle class people by instituting a higher upper-income bracket and greater corporate taxes.

-Work against racism, sexism, xenophobia, and the discrimination of the LGBTQ community.

-Increase the minimum wage to a living wage, and then tie it to inflation so that the minimum wage supports the workers.

-Ensure universal education–working towards free college–and ensure universal healthcare, they way most other developed nations already do.

-Massive infrastructure overhaul. Currently, the US infrastructure has a grade of D from the Society of Civil Engineers–meaning our bridges, roads, and airports are barely above failing.

-Transition off of fossil fuels and invest in clean, renewable energy as a method to combat global warming and climate change.

-End bad trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and North American Free Trade Agreement that offer free trade to benefit corporations at the expense of US workers.

-End the “War on Drugs” in favor of regulation and taxation. Drug addiction should be seen as a medical problem and treated as a mental illness, not a normal crime, especially for non-violent offenders.

-Enact police training reform, end for-profit prisons, and create more stringent background checks on gun-buyers.

The bottom of the platform has a disclaimer, saying that although many of these planks appear radically progressive, they are moderate–and expected–in other developed nations. The organization’s first test comes in the 2018 mid-term elections.

Can progressives reshape a party first brought to existence in 1828?
Only time will tell.


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