The Democratic Leadership Council, a nonprofit "idea center" founded during the Reagan years that now counts most of the high-profile Democratic Party leaders among its members, has worked for decades to move the party to the center of the political spectrum, succeeding during the presidency of Bill Clinton, who ran as a populist but governed as a centrist and who sought to bolster the economy by catering to business. Judging by the results of Obama's 2008 party platform, members of the DLC seem to have had a decisive role in shaping the contours of the final draft policy positions.
In fact, the party platform is modeled on language taken from the Obama website. But for the party platform, the website language has been moved to the right, not to the left as many hoped it would be through the party platform meetings held this summer at the grasssroots level around the country. In fact, the language has been watered down into the notably conservative language voted on by delegates in Denver at the party's National Convention.
What happened? I believe the reason for this surge from left to right -- from progressive to liberal to conservative -- is obvious. The transition seems clear evidence that the DLC and its corporate cronies still control of the Democratic Party apparatus.
A brief look at the way three successive versions of the platform treat an intensely felt issue, for example, makes the case. You can see the evolution in reviewing first the California Democratic Party 2008 platform, then the Barack Obama policy positions and finally the DNC draft platform plank where they each discuss the Internet, communications, media and free speech. At the end of this post, I have included excerpts from each of the versions for those who want to see the actual language.
In California, the home of the largest state Democratic Party, we drafted and passed a communications and media plank centered on the Internet that provides a positive progressive and stance for all communications in America. This was one outcome of the California Democratic Party Labor and Progressive caucuses working together on a Net Neutrality resolution the year before and also as a result of years of lobbying the California Democratic party Platform committee to include progressive language on this issue. I am a coauthor of both the resolution and the plank. For progressives, central to this plank is maintaining the Internet as a public utility, for one, and more generally supporting diversity of media ownership and protection against related violations of the law and especially our First Amendment rights by either the government or business. What matters is to expand access to digital communications as widely as possible, preventing artificial limits on supply of hardware and services, as well as to avoid intrusions of all sorts on digital communications -- that is, to combat spying, whether for the purposes of advertising or national security. In matters of contemporary communications, these are the concerns progressives emphasize. The California platform is a progressive party platform.
Now look at the Internet and media positions espoused by Barack Obama on his website. They come from a principled liberal candidate but fall short of progressive positions. Although strong on many points, they do not mention maintaining the Internet as a public utility. Even while calling for diversity of ownership, they refrain from explicit language affirming the citizen's eminent domain over this new and vitally important communications media. They then move on to protecting children from Internet crime, a laudable but not paramount legislative goal.
And last we have the proposed media DNC platform plank, which was ratified in Denver. In the mushy feel-good language that characterizes the platform, the authors invoke the spirit of openness but notably fail to mention even in passing the distinction between public and private ownership of the Internet. They never mention diversity of media ownership and instead devote almost half of the plank to the mostly noncontroversial issue of protecting children from online crime -- which is simply not the most pressing issue regarding media in America, in which the battle for control over the means of production and distribution and the right to privacy are being waged on every front -- on a parallel patchwork of cultural, social, legal and political grounds. While extolling broadband rollout for rural America, the authors of the Party Platform fail to include the same provisions for under-served or poor non-rural Americans. The privacy language is vague and leaves out First Amendment guarantees. In sum, this plank is a microcosm of the macro platform and reveals in stark terms the "change" from left to right, from citizen concerns to corporate concerns. Alas, this is "change" that dovetails perfectly with the long-stated goals of the DLC, to work on the side of business because, as the organization's "credo" puts it "We believe that economic growth generated in the private sector is the prerequisite for opportunity, and that government's role is to promote growth...."
That in effect, turns progressive thought upside down. Progressives believe representative government should put people first in all cases and interact with business mainly to make it work for the people, not the other way round. If the Democratic party, for instance, is looking to further business goals in the communication industry as a way to expand "opportunity" for people, it will end in hobbling internet use in the long run, confining it to the structures set up by the architects of most profitable models and it will support the captains of copyright in their losing war to restrict and commodify access to all kinds of material online. It will be the champion of Microsoft and Disney and AOL Time Warner and the telecom companies that, despite clear legal prohibitions based on statutes at the heart of our national legal framework, plugged your personal computer into the government's snooping servers. Just when the public is clamoring for change they can believe in, the DLC ludicrously insists on the status quo.
Platform and Policy Proposal Excerpts
Internet, Free Speech and Communications: (from the California Democratic Party Platform 2008)
California Democrats, in order to promote vigorous free speech, a vibrant business community, and unfettered access to all information on the Internet, support policies to preserve an open, neutral and interconnected Internet. California Democrats strongly agree with recent rulings by the Federal Election Commission that political communications, including blogging, which take place independent of a political party, committee or candidate, receive a media exemption from campaign finance regulations. California Democrats further reaffirm their support of the right to free speech as expressed in the First Amendment, including the right to critique any elected official or comment on any and all public policy, whether during war or peace, without fear of reprisal.
To promote and support the Internet, Free Speech and Communications California Democrats will:
• Support protections against any degradation or blocking of access to any websites or content on the Internet to which access is legal and guaranteed by the Constitution;
• Insure that consumers have the right to free email and that any and all communications will be protected from warrantless search and seizure as guaranteed in the Constitution;
• Encourage build-out of high speed networks to all homes and businesses so that everyone, especially rural and underserved areas, can access content of their choice and upload or download what they want on the Internet as a public utility maintained by union workers;
• Establish and secure ownership limits on private sector mass media to encourage and provide more cultural diversity, while protecting the openness, accessibility and integrity of the Internet as a public media resource for all Americans, regardless of income.
Barack Obama's Plan: (from his website)
Ensure the Full and Free Exchange of Information through an Open Internet and Diverse Media Outlets
Protect the Openness of the Internet: A key reason the Internet has been such a success is because it is the most open network in history. It needs to stay that way. Barack Obama strongly supports the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet. Users must be free to access content, to use applications, and to attach personal devices. They have a right to receive accurate and honest information about service plans. But these guarantees are not enough to prevent network providers from discriminating in ways that limit the freedom of expression on the Internet. Because most Americans only have a choice of only one or two broadband carriers, carriers are tempted to impose a toll charge on content and services, discriminating against websites that are unwilling to pay for equal treatment. This could create a two-tier Internet in which websites with the best relationships with network providers can get the fastest access to consumers, while all competing websites remain in a slower lane. Such a result would threaten innovation, the open tradition and architecture of the Internet, and competition among content and backbone providers. It would also threaten the equality of speech through which the Internet has begun to transform American political and cultural discourse. Barack Obama supports the basic principle that network providers should not be allowed to charge fees to privilege the content or applications of some web sites and Internet applications over others. This principle will ensure that the new competitors, especially small or non-profit speakers, have the same opportunity as incumbents to innovate on the Internet and to reach large audiences. Obama will protect the Internet's traditional openness to innovation and creativity and ensure that it remains a platform for free speech and innovation that will benefit consumers and our democracy.
Encourage Diversity in Media Ownership: Barack Obama believes that the nation's rules ensuring diversity of media ownership are critical to the public interest. Unfortunately, over the past several years, the Federal Communications Commission has promoted the concept of consolidation over diversity. Barack Obama believes that providing opportunities for minority-owned businesses to own radio and television stations is fundamental to creating the diverse media environment that federal law requires and the country deserves and demands. As president, he will encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation's spectrum. An Obama presidency will promote greater coverage of local issues and better responsiveness by broadcasters to the communities they serve.
Protect Our Children While Preserving the First Amendment: By making information freely available from untold numbers of sources, the Internet and more traditional media outlets have a huge influence on our children.
The Democratic Party Platform Committee Platform Document
A Connected America
In the 21st century, our world is more intertwined than at any time in human history. This new connectedness presents us with untold opportunities for innovation, but also new challenges. We will protect the Internet's traditional openness to innovation and creativity and ensure that it remains a dynamic platform for free speech, innovation, and creativity. We will implement a national broadband strategy, especially in rural areas, that enables every American household, school, library and hospital to connect to a world-class communications infrastructure. We will rededicate our nation to ensuring that all Americans have access to broadband and the skills to use it effectively. In an increasingly technology-rich, knowledge-based economy, connectivity is a key part of the solution to many of our most important challenges: job creation, economic growth, energy, health care, and education. We will establish a Chief Technology Officer for the nation, to ensure we use technology to enhance the functioning, transparency, and expertise of government, including establishing a national interoperable public safety communications network to help first responders at the local, state and national level communicate with one another during a crisis.
We will toughen penalties, increase enforcement resources, and spur private sector cooperation with law enforcement to identify and prosecute those who exploit the Internet to try to harm children. We will encourage more educational content on the Web and in our media. We will give parents the tools and information they need to manage (in ways fully consistent with the First Amendment) what their children see on television and the Internet. We will strengthen privacy protections in the digital age and will harness the power of technology to hold government and business accountable for violations of personal privacy.
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