Will Sanders Appointees Shake Up the Convention?
Rania Khalek of the Electronic Intifada says that the Sanders campaign can either play a ceremonial part in the Democratic National Convention as the establishment wants, or use its five representatives on the platform committee to rock the boat
NADIA KANJI, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Nadia Kanji in Baltimore.
On Monday, Senator Bernie Sanders was given the opportunity to choose nearly as many of the Democratic party platform writing body as Hillary Clinton. Sanders used his new powers to name James Zogby a Palestinian rights activist, as well as Cornell West, Keith Ellison, and Bill McKibben to help draft platform issues. Hillary Clinton on the other hand picked representatives that have served high ranking officials in democratic institutions or that have held elected office such as Carol Browner and Wendy Sherman. Clinton appointed six members to the committee while Sanders appointed five, based on the number of votes they’ve received to date.
Joining us to discuss this is our guest Rania Khalek. Rania is an associate editor at the Electronic Intifada. Thank you so much for joining us.
RANIA KHALEK: Thanks for having me on.
KANJI: So Sanders elected 5 progressives to this committee. First off can you tell us what is the platform writing committee and how is it going to be different this year than in previous years?
KHALEK: So every 4 years the Democratic party writes its platform which is basically what the Democratic party stands for and what the president during that presidential election year is supposed to run on. The policies that the president is going to run on or the presidential candidate’s going to run on. So that is what this drafting committee is tasked with doing is writing up what the platform is. Now just to be clear, the platform is non-binding so while it is a document that is basically the vision and the policies the Democratic party says it’s going to be working to bring about, at the same time the president doesn’t necessarily have to follow it and has broken with it in the past. So it is a big deal that Bernie Sanders was allotted I believe 5, the ability to appoint five people to this drafting committee. So that’s a big deal but at the same time it’s not necessarily something that’s going to be binding say if Hillary Clinton ends up running on it.
But it is interesting because when you compare the people that Hillary Clinton appointed verses Bernie Sanders, there are going to be a lot of points of tension with this drafting committee. So it’ll be interesting to see how this turns out come the convention.
KANJI: Do you think that the people that Bernie Sanders has appointed will have some sort of impact and what kind of impact will that be?
KHALEK: So the people Bernie Sanders appointed like you mentioned are mostly activists. Particularly Cornell West is an activist on a number of issues. He’s been one of the most scathing critics of Obama’s foreign policy and in many cases, domestic agenda throughout his presidency and he’s received a lot of flak for it. He’s gone after Obama’s Drone Warfare Program and he has been one of the loudest advocates of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions Movement against Israel among academics and he’s received a lot of backlash for that. So we also know from reports in the Washington Post that Bernie Sanders does plan to elevate Palestinian rights as a U.S. priority in the Democratic party’s platform which is a really big deal going forward. So that’s a part of him appointing James Zogby, for example, and Cornell West who’s even more to the left on that issue is sort of signifying that that’s where he plans to move towards and that’s going to be a huge point of contention with the Clinton people like Neera Tanden who’s one of the people she’s appointed.
Neera Tanden is the president of the Center for American Progress and just a few months ago hosted Netanyahu during a friendly sit down and trying to be this sort of vehicle for Netanyahu, the right wing Israeli Prime Minister to break bread with U.S. progressives. So that’s going to be a huge point of contention. Then there’s also the issue of climate change. Bernie Sanders appointed Bill McKibben who is from 350.org which is this huge climate change advocacy group that Naomi Klein is involved with. So that’s going to be another issue. These are people who are not going to be settling for soft language on how to deal with income inequality, economic justice, and Israel-Palestine, and Palestine. They’re going to want some serious promises in the Democratic party’s platform to tackle these issues in a fair way but in keep with the progressive base with the Democratic party that Bernie Sanders represents.
KANJI: So let me push back a little bit because a lot of people are saying this is purely ceremonial. For example, the DNC chair Debbie Washington-Schultz who doesn’t hide her support for Hillary Clinton has appointed a Hillary supporter to be a chair of the platform writing committee as well as the rules committee, the very two committees that Bernie Sanders is hoping to reform. In the end, Sanders appointments will be in the minority, 5 out of 15. So how much of this is ceremonial in your opinion?
KHALEK: Most of this is ceremonial. At that moment the Democratic party, the establishment is trying to hang on to its control as much as possible. Right now what’s taking place is there’s that massive left insurgency going on among the progressive wing of the democratic base against the Democratic party. So, while on the one hand, you have the Democratic party engaging in very authoritarian behavior against this progressive insurgency that’s coalesced around Bernie Sanders like we saw at the Nevada convention.
On the other end of things, you also have the Democratic leadership trying to give little crumbs to the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic party and this is part of those crumbs. But I think just given the people that Bernie Sanders tried to appoint and given the issues that he plans to advocate, what he’s doing is he’s showing this is another way we’re not going to settle. He’s not planning to settle for these little crumbs. He wants some serious promises and changes in the way the Democratic party functions. Also with his rhetoric recently saying they’re not going to go down without a fight. He thinks that this should be messy because Democracy is messy.
So they’re trying to shut Bernie Sanders up and trying to shut his supporters up and appease them with really symbolic gestures that don’t at the end of the day mean anything. I mentioned the party platform is non-binding but at the same time I don’t think that that’s going to work. Appointing someone like Cornell West who again has been a huge critic in very very serious terms of Obama’s Drone Warfare Program, of Obama’s ties to Wall Street, has been a very huge proponent of Palestinian rights. I mean just to have that tension there, that’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to see that tension boil over between these 5 people that he appointed that the rest of the people on this platform committee. So going forward we should keep our eye on that because it’s going to be very interesting to see how it plays out.
And I’ll just note this one last thing. In 2012 there was a huge controversy over the DNC’s attempt to insert lines in the Democratic party’s platform during the 2012 convention that recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s unified capital, which is basically a right wing talking point that goes against international law. Part of Jerusalem is, considered under international law, occupied territory. When that happened there were massive boos on the convention floor from the delegates. And there was a voice vote and despite it not being clear whether the vote was in favor or not, they ended up passing that and making that the language of the platform and so that turned into a huge controversy. The video of that boo went viral of all these delegates booing. So I think that the issue of Israel-Palestine is going to be at the center of some controversy during this convention in terms of how these two sides decided to draft and then negotiate the party’s platform going forward.
KANJI: Alright I guess we’ll have to see how these contentious issues play out at the convention. Thank you so much for your analysis Rania.
KHALEK: Great to be on with you.
KANJI: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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