First Do No Harm. And the Democratic Platform Doesn’t

August 22, 2020 | By eric.terzuolo | Filed in: Democratic Party, Diplomacy.

“First do no harm.” Not an actual quotation from the Hippocratic Oath, but sound advice for physicians and politicians. Crafters of the newly approved platform of the Democratic Party took it to heart. And the party’s most progressive members largely bought on. My friend Hans Noel, who teaches American politics at Georgetown, underlines internal and external roles for party conventions. Manage the coalition and attract voters. They should approve platforms that contribute on both counts. Platforms should not unnecessarily turn off voters and not be too easy for the other party to attack.

Successful compromise

On all these counts, the new Democratic platform is a success. The New York Times opted to stress that the platform doesn’t “make everyone happy.” As if that were even possible. A successful compromise doesn’t make anyone too unhappy or leave anyone too completely satisfied. As I tried to explain to Italian readers, in a newsletter for leading Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the Democratic platform was indeed a successful compromise. The minoritarian “progressives” got quite a bit on economic and social justice priorities. But not too much. A number of progressive delegates took a stand over the platform’s failure to include “Medicare for All.” But it was a purely symbolic gesture. Totally eliminating employer-provided health care with a stroke of the pen would be political suicide.

Good sense on foreign policy

“First do no harm” is clearly reflected in the foreign policy section of the platform. There is a lot of tried and true wisdom about foreign policy. Stuff that served our country well for decades, before Trump decided to toss it all into the garbage. Moderates and progressives did not have trouble finding important common ground. An end to “forever wars” in the Middle East. Enough with regime change. Treat climate change as a genuine national security threat. Make the defense budget more sensible. Stop helping the Saudis in Yemen. 

Doing no harm is how I would classify party leaders’ overwhelming decision to deny the progressives a platform reference to Israeli “occupation” of Palestinian territory. The clear rejection of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement was also the correct choice for a political party actually interested in winning.

Republicans will misrepresent it

Republicans no doubt will dramatically misrepresent the Democratic platform. But in the never-ending fact checking that is a feature of today’s politics, at least the Democrats have a reasonable and fundamentally pragmatic platform, easily accessible to all, a sensible compromise between the two main currents of the party. Keep a copy of the platform close at hand, is my advice.


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