Democrats Kick Off 2016 Convention as a Far More Progressive Party

Democrats move left as the country becomes younger, more diverse, less religious, and more liberal.

The Political Fight of Hillary Clinton's Life

Democrats flooding into Philadelphia this week for their 2016 convention will be ratifying a series of leftward policy shifts adopted by presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton amid prodding from democratic-socialist Senator Bernie Sanders, making them a more progressive party than they've been in generations.

The party, which had shifted to the center during the 1990s, is reinventing itself once again as it seeks to hold on to the presidency in a country that's becoming younger, more ethnically diverse, less religious and more liberal on a variety of issues.

Clinton, running as the natural heir to President Barack Obama, is campaigning on a promise to fortify and expand upon his accomplishments, which include the most sweeping overhaul of health care and financial regulatory laws in generations, a global climate-change initiative, and new diplomatic relations with Cuba and Iran.

"The country has shifted to the left over the last seven years and many of the long pent-up progressive priorities which dominated the conversation in 2008 were accomplished by President Obama," Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser in the Obama White House, said in an e-mail.

Political polarization also contributed to the strategy.

"Over the past few cycles, presidential campaigns have become more about base mobilization—with a focus on turning out sporadic voters likely to support you—more so than reaching the sliver of the electorate that is persuadable," said Ben LaBolt, who was a spokesman for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.

Tacking Left

"As president," Clinton writes on her website, "I will carry forward the Democratic record of achievement. I’ll defend President Obama’s accomplishments and build upon them." Indeed, she is tacking left of the president on issues such as workers' rights, financial regulation, immigration, trade, and expanding Social Security.

On pocketbook issues, Clinton proposes to raise the federal minimum wage to as high as $15 per hour, guarantee workers as many as 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, limit child care costs to 10 percent of family income, and make in-state tuition at public colleges free for families making $125,000 per year or less.

Clinton vows to crack down on Wall Street with stricter penalties for financial crimes, a tax on high-frequency trading, and a tougher Volcker Rule to limit speculative trades, and by enhancing executive power to break up banks deemed too big to fail.

Unlike Obama, who was mostly silent on gun control until the December 2012 massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, Clinton is campaigning on an aggressive platform of proposals, including mandatory background checks for firearms purchases, reviving the ban on military-style assault rifles and and keeping guns away from domestic abusers and those who are severely mentally ill.

Clinton opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership in its current form, a major break with Obama, who has made the Asia trade pact a priority, and a shift from her support for the accord in 2012 as secretary of state. Her stance came after months of silence and intense pressure from Sanders and liberal activists to reject the deal.

When it comes to picking Supreme Court justices, Clinton has made the unusual move of naming a policy test: she'll pick judges who intend to overturn Citizens United, the 2010 ruling that lifted restrictions on political spending by independent groups.

On immigration, she wants to go beyond Obama's executive actions—currently blocked by the courts—that would lift the threat of deportation and allow work permits for more than 4 million undocumented parents of American citizens. In a move that the Obama White House deemed a step too far in its legality, Clinton has called for expanding the relief to cover the parents of some 1.5 million young, undocumented people protected or eligible under a separate 2012 program established by Obama.

'Most Progressive Platform'

Sanders has celebrated the new document outlining the party's values, calling it "the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party," something he plans to emphasize during his prime-time speech Monday at the Wells Fargo Center, according to a senior adviser. It is a platform Sanders had a major role in crafting, and it echoes his campaign rhetoric declaring the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour as a "starvation wage" and assailing "the greed and recklessness of Wall Street."

"The differences between Bernie and Hillary are mostly ones of rhetoric and temperament," Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio progressive who was considered for vice president, told Bloomberg Politics. "There's not that big a gulf on issues."

The adoption of his priorities in the party platform and in parts of Clinton's message laid the groundwork for Sanders to enthusiastically endorse her during a joint appearance on July 12 in New Hampshire. Millennial voters, who have overtaken Baby Boomers as America's largest generation, lean Democrat and voted for Sanders by wide margins in the Democratic nominating contests.

Republicans, who capped their convention in Cleveland on Thursday by nominating real-estate developer and TV personality Donald Trump for president, argue that Clinton's platform is too far left for the U.S.

"In order to pander to growing number of the Democrat coalition that is on the extreme left," said Sean Spicer, chief strategist for the Republican National Committee, "Hillary Clinton has pursued out-of-the mainstream policies."

Trump is campaigning on a platform of law and order, tax cuts, and American retrenchment in the world to gird against what he sees as threats from economic competitors and stateless terrorists. He vows to reject trade deals like the TPP, build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, reduce immigration levels, and deport an estimated 11 million people in the country illegally.

Lis Smith, a former adviser to Democrat Martin O'Malley's 2016 campaign, called the party platform a "purely symbolic document," but significant as a harbinger in years to come.

"We are clearly seeing Democrats embrace more progressive and inclusive policies," Smith said, "and that is where the future of our party lies."

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE