Let’s Open Up the Democratic Party to Public Participation

Sometime between now and the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia, there will almost certainly be a deal between the Sanders forces and the Clinton forces. The $64,000 question is: What are the forces of progress going to get out of the deal?

Here’s what I hope will be in the deal: a set of agreements to make the Democratic Party more democratic — in particular, to make the party more transparent and accountable to the public.

As should be obvious to everyone by now, there’s a set of parallel questions for the Republican Party, and the two influence each other: the anti-democratic attributes of the one are invoked as an excuse for the anti-democratic features of the other, and efforts to overturn the anti-democratic features of the one embolden efforts to overturn the anti-democratic features of the other. We now live, for better and for worse, in a two-party system, a legally mandated duopoly, in which a person who wants to fully participate in US democracy has to choose one of the two parties to participate in; and that means that each of the two parties has a quasi-governmental character, and therefore that the public has the right to expect that the two parties will not be allowed to function like private clubs.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, “Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016.”

A good place to start would be to make the DNC more transparent and accountable, as if it were a quasi-governmental body, which it is. Instead of being an Academy Awards ceremony, it would be a venue where real democracy publicly takes place. The proposed party platform would be published in advance, and proposed amendments to the platform would be published in advance, to give the public the opportunity to agitate around them, as one would agitate around a proposed law in Congress. And that would, of course, include efforts to make the party platform more binding, which is completely feasible.

The reader is surely aware that there are a number of petition platforms now sponsored by Democratic Party constituency organizations, which in particular allow petitioners to easily target Congress. Between now and the convention, these could be adapted to allow petitioners to easily target delegates to the DNC. “Public whip lists” — as before the vote on the 2013 Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against the Government of Syria — could be established, to enable the public to see which DNC delegates have committed to supporting which reforms, as a baseline for further agitation.

Here are four proposed reforms which could benefit from a public and recorded vote at the DNC. Add your own suggestions in the comments.

Superdelegates should be abolished or curtailed. The simplest reform would be to abolish them completely. But if this reform is not possible, more modest reforms could be considered: reducing their number, such as by eliminating superdelegates who are not currently serving elected officials, or otherwise reducing their weight, such as by giving them fractional votes instead of whole votes; and by requiring that they remain publicly uncommitted until all voters have voted.

Super-closed primaries, like New York’s, should be eliminated. It will no doubt be claimed by some that this is a state matter in which the national party has no say. This, of course, is hogwash. When state parties tried to make their primaries earlier without national permission, they were sanctioned by the national party until they cried uncle. Similarly, states that maintain “super-closed primaries” can be sanctioned. The simplest reform would be to make all primaries “open”: If it’s right to say that you should be able to register to vote on election day — and it is — then you should be able to register to vote as a Democrat on election day. But if this reform is not possible, then at least there should be national limits on how onerous the requirements can be. You should not have to apply six months in advance to register to vote in a Democratic primary.

Opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) should be part of the Democratic Party platform, and this provision should be binding. In particular, the DNC should oppose a vote on the TPP in a “lame duck” session of Congress after the election. How do you make such a provision binding? It’s easy – with sanctions. For example, any Congressional Democrat who votes for the TPP in a lame duck session of Congress could be barred from accessing DNC resources or holding a position in the DNC — including delegate to the DNC.

Jerusalem should be the shared capital of two states. Notoriously, in the 2012 Democratic convention, a resolution asserting permanent Israeli sovereignty over Palestinian East Jerusalem was rammed through by the convention chair over the opposition of the majority of delegates. To avoid this problem in the future, a shared-Jerusalem resolution can be published in advance, and the majority of delegates can commit to vote for it in advance. This should thwart any anti-democratic shenanigans by the convention chair.