New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and a who’s who of lefty leaders unveiled an economic policy platform Tuesday that they hope will become the new to-do list of the Democratic Party heading into the 2016 presidential election.
“Today, the economic moment – and the political momentum – have converged. It’s time for an economy that rewards work and not just wealth,” de Blasio said outside the U.S. Capitol, before introducing speakers for two-minute mini-speeches.
The 13-point agenda doesn’t break much new ground. Its policy goals – like raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and enacting paid family leave – are familiar. Many have even already been endorsed by national party leaders like President Obama and HIllary Clinton, with the notable exception of the agenda’s opposition to free trade treaties, like the one Obama is pushing now.Instead of innovative, the agenda attempts to be authoritative – a common distillation of what progressives want today, at least on economic issues. As it’s concise name (The Progressive Agenda) implies, the goal is to get everyone on the left on the same page and outside the official party apparatus.
By trotting out a seemingly endless parade of labor leaders, members of Congress, think tank heads, advocates, and others, de Blasio and his allies wanted to show the progressive movement was united around the agenda – and the man who brought everyone together.
At home in New York City, de Blasio has taken heat for focusing on national issues, though he said they were all important to his city.
Still, there were some notable absences, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who earlier in the day appeared at an event with de Blasio downtown. She did not appear for the press conference in the afternoon, nor did she send a statement, nor join the ranks of the nearly 100 leaders who signed onto the pledge. During the event, Warren met with Joseph Stiglitz, the Roosevelt Institute’s top economist, a source familiar with the matter told msnbc.
Also absent was Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate who 25 years ago co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which was heavily involved in organizing Tuesday’s event. “I think those guys have a 13 point-plan and Sanders released a 12-point plan last year. So I think they are coming around to where Sanders already is,” Sanders’ spokesperson Vincent Morris said in an email. Asked if Sanders was invited to participate, Morris did not respond.
The effort was clearly aimed at pushing whoever ends up as the Democratic nominee – most likely Hillary Clinton – to the left on certain issues, but her name was never mentioned. Nonetheless, the message of a united progressive movement came through.
If the conservative movement is, as Ronald Reagan described it, a three-legged stool, made up of social, pro-business, and national security conservatives, then the progressive movement has often resembled a multi-legged insect whose limbs don’t always move in the same direction. Sometimes dismissed as a coalition of disparate interest groups with narrow (and sometimes conflicting) goals, the progressive movement has worked in recent years to better exert political power to shape the Democratic Party. “Something is happening here that is fundamentally different from before,” de Blasio said of organizing efforts.
The movement started to better organize itself during the Bush years, beginning with opposition to the Iraq War and spreading to other issues. Now, having proven that it can elect Democrats all the way to the White House, it’s trying to figure how to keep Democrats it elects in line with the movement’s priorities. That problem is especially clear now, as liberals wage open war with the White House over trade policy.
But trying to keep Democrats pointed in the right direction first requires the movement agreeing where to point them. That’s what de Blasio’s agenda hopes to accomplish, a note hammered by many speakers who described the agenda as a coalescing.
That meant the platform was hardly comprehensive. “It’s not everything,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said, noting that public education was not listed on the big board of goals to left. Many core progressives issues, as several speakers noted, were left out. Some will likely be added soon, de Blasio said, including criminal justice reform, a priority of civil rights groups, Social Security expansion, a favorite of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and debt-free college, pushed by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Other issues may not have consensus to make into The Progressive Agenda.