Author Gideon Israel has examined the Democratic platform to pinpoint when and how the party’s values changed so drastically.
By David Isaac, World Israel News
It’s not a simple matter to quantify changes in values over time in a political party. Yet Gideon Israel has done just that in his excellent new book, Broken Values: How the Democratic Party Betrays its Followers and America.
His brainstorm: Analyzing the party platform and how it has evolved over the years.
In the U.S., few pay much attention to a party’s platform. If it’s thought of at all, it’s as a document to be dusted off every four years for election season. Israel convincingly shows, in fact, that the document is an important barometer of change, one in which the party invests much effort.
As he notes, the Democratic National Committee, when formulating its 2008 platform, said “more than 1,600 ‘listening sessions’ took place in communities across the country, with nearly 30,000 Americans participating in the crafting of the platform.”
In the case of the Democratic party, Israel documents how the party has abandoned basic American values, adopting a dark view of America, a country built on stolen lands and mired in systemic racism.
Israel heads the Jerusalem-Washington center, a group that develops initiatives to help strengthen ties between Israel and the U.S. He recently spoke with World Israel News.
Q: You say that the values in the Democratic party are broken across the board on most major issues. To what do you attribute these changes?
“It’s really a few things. It’s a new generation….
“Also, people say that during the Obama administration there was an influx of money to many NGOs [non-government organizations], and that gave them the ability during the Obama years to really push their agenda forward… I have a friend who’s the head of a reputable conservative NGO with a budget of $25-$30 million a year, and he told me that during the Obama administration he was seeing that all these left-wing NGOs suddenly moving from one floor of offices to like five floors.
“It’s also something you see in Israel. The right-wing is always complaining that they don’t have the resources that the left-wing has to advance their agenda.”
Q: Your chapters are each dedicated to a value – personal responsibility, religion, family, race relations and so on. What in your view is the most profound value change reflected in the Democratic platform over the last 10-20 years?
“Personal responsibility was a big one. That was a hallmark of the platform in 1992 and 1996 and 2000 and then it begins to fade. That was something that permeated so many things. Do you say to people, act responsibly, don’t get pregnant as teens? Do you say to parents – you need to be responsible for your children’s upbringing? You’re their first teachers…
“And now in the platforms they don’t even mention that. Personal responsibility – it touches on immigration. If you’re a new immigrant you need to learn the language. It’s what we demand of citizens – become part of the American melting pot. Already in 2016, it was like people are coming to America illegally and they shouldn’t but what can we do – our laws are broken…
“You could also connect it to the criminal justice system. If you were a criminal, you were going to be held responsible. Whereas in the 2016 and certainly in the 2020 platform, it’s been such a radical change that the spotlight is on police and how bad they are.
“I also point out in my book, it’s not a proof in and of itself, but the word access. As a government, we’re going to give you access to something… It just basically means the government is going to provide for you. In the 2016 platform it appears around 50 or 60 times, and in the 2020 platform around 122 times. Whereas in the platform in the ’90s it appeared 15-25 times. And there, the government and the citizen were like a partnership. The government will provide certain things but the citizen has to do his part. There’s a responsibility.
“It’s just remarkable, the difference. It’s not like the platform repudiates personal responsibility and says ‘no, we’re against that.’ But by not talking about it and by just talking about what the government’s going to do… it’s like systemic racism, the minute you say there’s systemic racism you basically say there’s no responsibility for racism. It’s just so imbued in the government, so entrenched that the citizen is absolved of his responsibility.”
Q: When you started this book, did you know you wanted to look at the party platform?
“I didn’t. I started by thinking if I want to document what’s been going on in the Democratic party I couldn’t say ‘such-and-such congressman made a statement here’ and ‘so-and-so made legislation there.’ When it came to where I could find an authoritative display of how the party has changed, I got to the party platform because that’s the one document that the national party puts out every four years, and the purpose of the document is not just to say, ‘This is what we think.’ The party wants to address its constituencies that it thinks are important to the party and to show it represents them. So that’s how I got to the platform.”
Q: Your book’s argument is that the party platform is an important indicator of what the party stands for, but the Republican National Committee dispensed with producing a new platform this year. There’s “a set of core priorities” but no mention of abortion or the Second Amendment. That would seem to contradict your hypothesis that the platform is key.
“I think it’s too bad that they didn’t go with a platform because I think there are many things that President Trump has shown leadership on, especially the China issue. There was really no one who took on the Chinese as intensely and as seriously as he has done. And I think what he’s done with Israel not only in terms of moving the Embassy but in making clear to the whole Middle East that, I’m paraphrasing, ‘You’re not going to say that Israel isn’t legitimate or doesn’t have a right to exist. We’re just not going to stand for that, and therefore, yes, we are going to do all these things you object to because it’s the right thing to do.’”
Q: Some critics have said the fact that there’s no Republican platform this year shows it’s in the throes of a Trump cult of personality.
“When Obama was in the White House was it any different? Just look at the Iran deal. There was one senator who was willing to go up against Obama and say this is wrong and this is not good for foreign policy. And that was Bob Menendez from New Jersey. It’s almost a profile in courage and some would say based on the indictments that happened after he suffered from that because he lost his position as ranking member, temporarily, of the committee on foreign relations in the senate.”
Q: Let’s accept your premise that the party platform is a critical indicator of a party’s values. Is it a lagging indicator, would you say, reflecting a long process before those changes reach the platform?
“It’s lagging but only since the last election. It’s not lagging in decades. It’s not a predictor necessarily of what will be but it shows you the trends that are happening in the party. I didn’t touch on this in the book but in the last three platforms suddenly the Native Americans have a huge space in the platforms. Why have they suddenly come to prominence? Maybe the Democrats think it’s an untapped potential.
“I think on the Israel issue – they’ve only started talking about conditioning, or leveraging aid to Israel, that only has become a discussion in the last eight or nine months among the Democratic party so it’s not going to make it into this platform, but it may very well make it into the next platform.”
Q: You start off your first chapter with that famous voice vote at the 2012 Democratic National Convention – a vote to reinsert language into the Democratic party platform that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel and to reinsert “God,” which was purged from the platform. In what way was that a significant moment?
“I think it showed that there was a disconnect between the base of the party and the leadership. They would never have put that up for a vote if they thought that would have been the result. It’s like if you don’t put up legislation in Congress unless you know it’s going to pass. In court, you don’t ask a question you don’t know the answer to.
“I think it was a shocker for many people in so many ways – not only the disconnect between the leadership and the base but also on the Israel issue itself. At least in 2008 it seemed that the Democrats were, in general, supportive of Israel. Suddenly to see that even such a thing as Jerusalem was being booed, never mind settlements. I think it also shocked people that God would be booed. You might not want God in the platform, but to be booed?”
Q: Platforms are an important barometer of the party but here’s a case where the platform clearly didn’t reflect the party members’ thinking. The platform kept Jerusalem and God in despite the fiasco.
“I don’t think you could read any platform and totally know what’s on peoples’ minds. You could have some articles in the platform that passed by a small majority. So you don’t necessarily always know what they’re thinking… But this is what they’re willing to show the public… The second thing is that one of the things that I tried to do was to show that the language of the party platform is not always clear. If you just glazed over the language you’d say ‘that sounds good.’ It’s crafted to look one way to one constituency and another way to another.
“For instance, someone on Facebook was going over the positives and negatives of the Israel [part of the] platform and they said they’re going to protect First Amendment rights. Well, he said, ‘I like protecting First Amendment rights. That sounds good.’ But he had no idea what the meaning of that was, that there would be no anti-BDS legislation.”
Q: In your chapter on Israel, you say that in 2012 the words “ally” and “special relationship” disappeared from the Democratic party platform in referring to U.S.-Israel ties. Why do you think that happened then?
“That’s a good example. It still says in that platform the bond between Israel and the U.S. is unbreakable, so the average person who reads that says ‘unbreakable, that’s good.’ But then you say, ‘Wait, a second, special relationship and ally were there for like 30 years.’ … I think what happened is that the 2012 platform was lagging behind the first four years of the Obama administration. As [former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.] Michael Oren called it, there were ‘tectonic shifts’ in the relationship. Here was a president taking a very different approach to Israel.”
Q: You say it became worse in 2020 with no mention of the U.S.-Israel relationship having a strategic value. Although not yet in the party platform, now the question of continued support for U.S. military aid to Israel is being questioned. It would seem Democrats are moving away from Israel. Do you agree and what in your view is the reason for this?
“Of course they’re moving away from Israel. You’ve seen it from 2008, a little change, 2012, more changes, 2016-20, you really see it progressively changing. By the way , a major thing, beginning in the 2016 and continuing in the 2020 platform, the Palestinians are on even ground… In the 2020 platform the Palestinians have a right to an independent state equal to Israel’s rights. There’s a sentence that says it condemns terror and incitement, which is understood to say terror and incitement on both sides. Since when has Israel – sure, here and there you might have something where some Israeli has done something to Palestinians – but it’s not a widespread thing and it’s dealt with harshly.
“The reason for the change is that organizations critical of Israel have gained strength in the Democratic party. They’re much better organized and much more of a presence, so it’s not like AIPAC is the only game in town in terms of Israel or the strongest organization. J Street, they call themselves pro-Israel, so people who want to be critical of Israel can say OK, we’re with J Street. That’s our way of being pro-Israel.
“The point is there are many more anti-Israel organizations, and at the same time the pro-Israel organizations within the Democratic party are weakened because many Jews are going to vote Democrat anyway…. It makes their say in the party less [worthy]. It’s not the same generation as 20-to-40 years ago in terms of their Israel support.
Q: Do you think the Democrats’ new values are detached from general American values, and as a result, could this lead to a reversal of these trends as the Democrats realize they have to get more in line with what Americans believe?
“It could happen… The Democrats were clobbered in three straight elections, and there was a realization that the party needed to be pulled back to the middle because the Democrats weren’t where the Americans were. … So the Democrats did kind of return to the center, or close to the center, in the ‘90s. And that could happen again.
“But on the other hand, the politics are much more polarized today. There’s such a polarization the amount of switchover potential from Republicans to Democrats and vice versa – I don’t know how big it is.”