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July 31, 2012 12:18 PM The Real Question About the Democratic Platform

By Jonathan Bernstein

“Our Constitution is not a nuisance. It is the foundation of our democracy.”

(2008 Democratic Platform)

There was been a fair amount of attention yesterday to reports that the Democrats will support marriage equality in their platform. Was this really news any more? I don’t expect that every single Democratic candidate around the nation will support that position, but it’s hardly surprising that the kinds of activists who become Democratic delegates would reflect the president’s position on this issue. And politically, there’s really no other way to go. If supporting same-sex marriage is going to hurt Democrats, that’s already a done deal; the only thing that would be worse would be to leave it out of the platform and wind up with all the activists on both sides of the issue upset with them.

No, the real question, it seems to me, is what the Democrats are going to do about a set of issues over which many liberal activists are unhappy with the president: detention, torture, and civil liberties issues. I haven’t seen any reporting on this one at all, but in my view it’s a much bigger deal — not because the issue is necessarily more important (not my job to say), but because it’s far more contested within the party.

The Democrats had strong platform language on those issues four years ago. Will they retain it, or will they water it down?

Here’s what the Dems had in 2008:

Reclaiming Our Constitution and Our Liberties

As we combat terrorism, we must not sacrifice the American values we are fighting to protect. In recent years, we’ve seen an Administration put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. The Democratic Party rejects this dichotomy. We will restore our constitutional traditions, and recover our nation’s founding commitment to liberty under law.
We support constitutional protections and judicial oversight on any surveillance program involving Americans. We will review the current Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. We reject illegal wiretapping of American citizens, wherever they live.
We reject the use of national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. We reject the tracking of citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. We reject torture. We reject sweeping claims of “inherent” presidential power. We will revisit the Patriot Act and overturn unconstitutional executive decisions issued during the past eight years. We will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine duly enacted law. And we will ensure that law-abiding Americans of any origin, including Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans, do not become the scapegoats of national security fears.
We believe that our Constitution, our courts, our institutions, and our traditions work.
In its operations overseas, while claiming to spread freedom throughout the world, the current Administration has tragically helped give rise to a new generation of potential adversaries who threaten to make America less secure. We will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools to hunt down and take out terrorists without undermining our Constitution, our freedom, and our privacy.
To build a freer and safer world, we will lead in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. We will not ship away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, or detain without trial or charge prisoners who can and should be brought to justice for their crimes, or maintain a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law. We will respect the time-honored principle of habeas corpus, the seven century-old right of individuals to challenge the terms of their own detention that was recently reaffirmed by our Supreme Court. We will close the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, the location of so many of the worst constitutional abuses in recent years. With these necessary changes, the attention of the world will be directed where it belongs: on what terrorists have done to us, not on how we treat suspects.
We recognize what leaders on the front lines of the struggle against terrorism have long known: to win this fight, we must maintain the moral high ground. When millions around the world see America living up to its highest ideals, we win friends and allies in this struggle for our safety and our lives, and our enemies lose ground.
For our Judiciary, we will select and confirm judges who are men and women of unquestionable talent and character, who firmly respect the rule of law, who listen to and are respectful of different points of view, and who represent the diversity of America. We support the appointment of judges who respect our system of checks and balances and the separation of power among the Executive Branch, Congress, and the Judiciary–and who understand that the Constitution protects not only the powerful, but also the disadvantaged and the powerless.
Our Constitution is not a nuisance. It is the foundation of our democracy. It makes freedom and self-governance possible, and helps to protect our security. The Democratic Party will restore our Constitution to its proper place in our government and return our Nation to our best traditions–including our commitment to government by law.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.