This Is A Test: What Kind Of Democracy Do We Have In The United States?

The insurgent candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump -- one uplifting and the other disturbing -- together with the Brexit vote, have brought forth an unusual outpouring of discussion on the weaknesses of democratic governance in the high-income countries. There seems to be considerable agreement that all three of these unanticipated political earthquakes of 2016 are driven by discontent with a "democratic deficit." In the next few days and weeks, we will have a rare opportunity to see, close-up and raw, a historic effort to reduce that deficit.

The venue is the Democratic Party platform committee and the main event is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). If that sounds like inside baseball, it could easily become the World Series of this year's presidential race. And if Hillary Clinton is smart, she will reconsider her bet.

The TPP, a commercial agreement among 12 countries with 40 percent of the world's GDP, is strongly disliked by the base of the Democratic Party, as well as by a sizable majority of Democratic voters and the general public. There's an awful lot not to like about this thing. Drafted mostly by corporations, negotiated in secret, with restricted access even for members of Congress, the deal would grant corporations the right to sue governments for all kinds of decisions, laws, or regulations that infringe on their profits or potential profits. The lawsuits would be decided by a panel of private lawyers and their decisions could overrule our Congress and Supreme Court -- hence the overlapping issues of national sovereignty and democracy are once again brought to the fore. Patent-boosting rules favored by pharmaceutical companies would increase the price of prescription drugs. And the economic gains, even as estimated by pro-TPP economists, are tiny: by their estimates the agreement would make the US as rich on January 1, 2030 as it would otherwise be by mid-March of the same year.

Sanders campaigned against the TPP, and Hillary Clinton -- who had previously praised it as "the gold standard in trade agreements" -- has also come out against it. On June 24, at a meeting in St. Louis that produced a draft platform for the Democratic Party, Congressman Keith Ellison introduced language opposing the TPP. But it was defeated by a vote of 10-5, with only the five Sanders representatives supporting it.

Everyone familiar with this process knows that Hillary Clinton has enormous influence over her delegates and representatives on the platform committee. So, if the Democratic Party is unable to oppose the TPP, it will be because of her decision to keep it from doing so.

This op-ed was originally published by The Hill on July 7, 2016. Read the rest here.

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and the president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of the new book "Failed: What the 'Experts' Got Wrong About the Global Economy" (2015, Oxford University Press). You can subscribe to his columns here.

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