A Platform for the Timid

Article excerpt

Rosa DeLauro, the savvy Connecticut Congresswoman whom Democratic leaders and the Kerry for President campaign put in charge of drafting the party's 2004 platform, says, "It reflects John Kerry. It reinforces who John Kerry is."

Unfortunately, DeLauro is right.

Instead of a manifesto for change that might attract new support, or at least energize the base, the platform that delegates to the Democratic National Convention are expected to approve without debate is a tepid document largely defined by Senator Kerry's fear of being identified as a liberal--let alone as a progressive seeking to surf what polls suggest is a rising tide of antiwar sentiment.

Indeed, on the question of Iraq, the platform is every bit as difficult to pin down as the candidate. DeLauro, who unlike Kerry and vice presidential pick John Edwards voted against authorizing the Bush Administration's use of force against Iraq, argues that the platform rejects the Administration's approach to the world, and she can point to some strong words of condemnation. The Administration is taken to task for its willingness to "[rush] to war without exhausting diplomatic alternatives," to "bully rather than persuade" and to "[walk] away from more than a hundred years of American leadership in the world to embrace a new--and dangerously ineffective--disregard for the world." Yet, under the direction of Kerry aides and party chieftains, drafters meticulously avoided identifying the war as a mistake, refused to embrace any kind of timeline for bringing US involvement to a conclusion and failed to reject clearly the doctrine of making pre-emptive war. The draft document was so murky that Tom Hayden, the anti-Vietnam War activist and former California legislator, penned a letter warning that "the candidate and the Party establishment already are risking voter disillusionment with transparent vagaries on Iraq."

Backers of Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich's presidential bid joined antiwar activists in a last-ditch attempt to press the platform committee to improve the document in mid-July, at a final "dot the i's, cross the t's" session in Hollywood, Florida. In a measure of the commendable determination of the Kerry campaign to keep Democrats in the fold, Kucinich backers were treated respectfully--especially after they delivered petitions signed by more than 200,000 supporters of an antiwar plank. But in the end they were ceded only a few words to take back to the faithful. Added to a section on getting NATO allies to contribute more military forces to the Iraq endeavor was a line that reads, "The U.S. will be able to reduce its military presence in Iraq, and we intend to do this when appropriate so that the military support needed by a sovereign Iraqi government will no longer be seen as the direct continuation of an American military presence." It was a small victory that allowed one of the two Kucinich backers on the 186-member committee, Minnesotan John Sherman, to suggest that he could go back to "our folks"--antiwar activists--and argue for Kerry. But even that was too much for Sandy Berger, the Clinton Administration National Security Adviser who was monitoring the platform session for the Kerry campaign. "We didn't give up anything," he claimed.

Berger was wrong. He and the other guardians of platform language did give up something: the prospect that the document might actually attract new votes to the Kerry/Edwards ticket--especially the Nader voters, about whom Democrats still spend so much time worrying. …