July 29, 2004

Platform Q&A With Andrei Cherny

Andrei Cherny is currently a senior advisor to the DNC, and has worked as a special advisor on the Kerry campaign and as a speechwriter for Al Gore. He also served as the Platform Director in 2000, and I got a chance to ask him some questions about the 2004 platform document (pdf). Segments from platform in italics, below. (Read the 2000 platform here)

We will ensure that our watch lists are accessible when and where they are needed.

Cherny said these FBI watch lists need to be accessible to law enforcement officials. He noted that three or four of the 9-11 hijackers had been stopped for various reasons before the attack, and that if they'd been on a list available to police it might have presented a chance to stop it.

Cherny pointed out that the Kerry plan included civil liberties checks, and that information maintained on watch lists would only be shared as needed.

John Kerry, John Edwards and the Democratic Party will send a clear message to every man and woman in our armed forces: We guarantee that you will always be the best-led, best-eequipped and most respected fighting force in the world. You will be armed with the right weapons, schooled in the right skills, and fully prepared to win on the battlefield.

I asked Cherny how it was that with so many military veterans in the party ranks and running for office that the Democrats could be painted as soft on defense. He said there were three main reasons, and went on to discuss them.

First, Cherny says, the party has been stuck with a bad historical rap from the 60's and 70's when it allowed itself to be perceived as having been taken over by anti-war protestors. Second, he says the Republicans have been very effective in marketing and pushing that story even when it has no basis, even through the agressive military actions of the Clinton administration. Third, he says that the press will "pick up and run with [Republican stories] unless we as Democrats put out another storyline."

Cherny said that with Iraq, "a lot of people in the party voted for it just to get it off the table." He said Democrats learned a lesson that they needed a proactive message, and needed to avoid going along with positions that former President Clinton described as 'strong and right.'

We still have work to do as long as millions of Americanswork full-time, fulfill their responsibilities, and continue to live in poverty. We will offerthese Americans a ladder to the middle class. That means raising the minimum wage to $7.00....

When asked how this issue would be sold past the inevitable Republican claims that raising the minimum wage will hurt businesses and put people out of work, Cherny said that "Democrats can't be afraid of it" and should just make their case.

Cherny said that over the last few years, Democrats have won both the political and substantive fight in battles where they've been able to raise the minimum wage over the same objections. He says that along with studies showing that it helps rather than hurts, "[Republicans] have raised the specter so many times, and it's failed to be true so many times, they've lost their credibility." He said that if they wanted to fight against people earning a wage that can support a family, or argue that $7 an hour was too much to pay someone, Democrats would welcome that fight.

Ending Corporate Welfare Many American corporationstoday pay less than ever in taxes because of tax loopholessecured by powerful lobbyists. We will end corporate welfare as we know it. We will eliminate the indefensible loopholes in our tax code - from tax deals that have no purpose but avoiding taxes to the very shelters that Enron used to drive so many lives toward financial ruin. And we will eliminate the corporate subsidies that waste taxpayer dollars and undermine fair competition.

The phrase 'corporate welfare' doesn't appear in the 2000 platform, but then, no one thought there would be Enron perp walks during the Bush administration. Cherny says that John Kerry has been talking about the subject throughout the campaign, and has jointly sponsored a bill with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) what would set up an individual commission to evaluate each example of corporate welfare and special tax breaks. After evaluation, each item would be put to an up or down vote, no amendments allowed. He says that the "Bush administration has fought it, [Kerry] and McCain have fought for it."

Cherny said that it's easy to see this administration playing favorites with the tax code, and has given lobbyists too much influence and access. He says the importance of the subject has grown exponentially.

...That is how we will ensure that God's gifts of nature bless all of God's children for generations to come. ...We honor the central place of faith in the lives of our people.

Brian Montopoli of Campaign Desk, who was alternating asking his own set of questions, asked whether the faith based language used in the speeches of both Democrats and Republicans was intended as some kind of code. Cherny responded that each audience, according to their interests, uses certain phrases that have more meaning to them than they might to other people. He said that goes for those interested in stem cell research and the defense community just as much as for people of faith. He said that though talking about it that way could sound odd, it was just another way to get the message to people.

I asked Cherny whether or not it seemed that the language of faith was a larger presence in the current platform than it had been in 2000. He said that the language of faith, scripture, and hymn was part of the vernacular in America, and that it was among the most elevated language that many Americans are exposed to.

We should set taxes for families making more than $200,000 a year at the same level as in the lat 1990s, a period of great prosperity when the wealthiest Americans thrived without special treatment.

I asked Cherny if this language and the surrounding passage didn't perhaps focus too much on federal income taxes, and not enough on the other taxes that people pay. He said that John Kerry has talked throughout the campaign about how Bush's tax cuts have raised state and local taxes, as well as college fees. His budget plan is to protect middle class tax cuts as they are, and as the platform document (much of which was taken from Kerry policy positions) says, to raise the upper tax brackets to 1990's levels.

Cherny says that Kerry also plans to help bail the states out of the "worst fiscal crisis since WWII."

Finally, just because I feel like it, I wanted to share this reminder of what might have been with a clip from the 2000 Democratic platform:

For the 12 years before Bill Clinton and Al Gore took office, Republicans talked about fiscal discipline while they quadrupled the national debt. They ran up monstrous yearly deficits and nearly ran the American economy into the ground. In 1992, Democrats promised to cut the deficit in half in four years. They did - and went even further. It took Al Gore's tie-breaking vote in the Senate to overcome unanimous Republican opposition to deficit reduction. Today, America has gone from the biggest deficits in history to the biggest surpluses in history. Fiscal discipline keeps interest rates low and investment rates high - and it has helped fuel America's remarkable prosperity.

We must not go back. That's why Democrats now vow to balance the budget every year, barring a national emergency. But even this is not enough. In the 160 years since the very first Democratic Platform, America has always struggled under a national debt. Today's Democrats believe we should pay down the debt every year until we can give our children the independence, self-sufficiency, and prosperity that will come from an America that is debt-free. In 12 years of rule, Republicans quadrupled the national debt. In the next 12 years, Democrats vow to wipe out the publicly-held national debt.

If wishes were horses...

Posted by nat in boston at July 29, 2004 05:02 PM | Elections | TrackBack(3) | Technorati links |
Comments

I met and got to know Andrei a few years back in Los Angeles, when he worked for an Assemblymember and I worked for a Los Angeles City Councilmember. He's a good guy who has a very bright future. Thanks for his take on the platform.

Posted by: Ken Camp at July 29, 2004 07:03 PM

A lot of the things said in the platform are hollow promises.

Increasing the minimum wage has a very low chance of happening, and has a yet lower chance of happening because of the Democrats. Plus, it just won't rise to $7 per hour - at least not during Kerry's first term.

Debt elimination in 12 years is an impossibility. In 2000 the projected timeframe was 10 years, but several things have changed since then:
1. The debt has grown.
2. The tech bubble burst, so even without any change in taxation and spending, the deficit would have still returned.
3. Bush passed a tax cut, which Kerry wants to repeal only in part.

The guarantee to the armed forces is as mythical as debt elimination in 12 years. First, American military equipment is built for comfort, not functionality - hence, an American tank is about a meter higher than a Russian tank and has one more person inside. The reasons behind this are cultural, and Kerry just won't change them. Second, just look at random footage of Afghan militias - because they're irregular, they all carry different kinds of weapons that are generally heavier than what regular armies carry. And third, good army leadership and equipment means shit when dealing with a terrorist threat. Good equipment and preparation only matters when it comes to quick raids and perhaps defense against ill-equipped terrorists, but this is irrelevant to anyone outside units like Delta Force.

The part about ending corporate welfare is either a lie or self-delusion. If Kucinich had said the same thing, I'd have at least believed in his sincerity, although he'd probably have been unable to do that, too. But whereas Kucinich refused corporate donations, Kerry did not and does not.

About, "That is how we will ensure that God's gifts of nature bless all of God's children for generations to come... We honor the central place of faith in the lives of our people," I think that this should be enough to get every atheist in the country to vote for neither Kerry nor Bush. The Democrats call themselves the Party of Jefferson, but Jefferson was a deist and a staunch supporter of secularism in government and separation of church and state...


The only thing quote in your post that has a reasonable chance of happening is a tax increase on families making over 200k a year - this is something the Democrats have done in the past and are likely to do in the future.

Posted by: Joe Taylor at July 30, 2004 07:31 AM

Yep, John Kerry has accepted $140K in PAC money, which proves that he is a slave to corporate interests.

Posted by: Kenneth Quinnell at August 1, 2004 06:12 AM

Joe - Did you miss the part about the debt elimination in 12 years section being from the 2000 platform, accompanied by the rhetorical equivalent of wistful sighing? I guess you must have.

Regarding corporate welfare, I spoke to a Senator (whose name escapes me at the moment) who'd proposed examining every case of corporate welfare and putting it to an up or down vote without amendments. There is at the very least some sentiment for doing it, and some recognition when it comes to things like agriculture supports, that it's wasteful. The point isn't that they'll get it done right away, but that they recognize the problem and will work towards correcting it. It's an improvement.

You sound like someone who wants everything today or you'll take your ball and go home. Be that way. Half the eligible voters in this country have done that, and look at all the sodding good it's done. Un-f*ing-believable.

Posted by: natasha at August 3, 2004 09:30 PM

Joe - Did you miss the part about the debt elimination in 12 years section being from the 2000 platform, accompanied by the rhetorical equivalent of wistful sighing? I guess you must have.

Yes - I mentioned that on OSP, but not here.

The point isn't that they'll get it done right away, but that they recognize the problem and will work towards correcting it. It's an improvement.

Kerry's track record suggests otherwise.

You sound like someone who wants everything today or you'll take your ball and go home. Be that way. Half the eligible voters in this country have done that, and look at all the sodding good it's done. Un-f*ing-believable.

No, I'm someone who wants smoething sometime or I'll take my ball and go home. And as for half the country not voting, you don't know what would happen if they started voting, so don't rush to say that it produces bad results. If politicians don't give me good reasosn to vote for them, why should I?

Posted by: Joe Taylor at August 3, 2004 11:40 PM