President Hillary Clinton and the Bernie Sanders Left

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton don’t see eye-to-eye on the issues, and the Vermont hot shot never says otherwise, but he is working closely with her as the Democratic Party turns its focus toward taking the Senate and slimming the Republican advantage in the House.

What Sanders does say is that the party’s platform is the most progressive ever. And at 75, he is in a position to know.

The Sanders campaign is evidence that the nation is eager for leftist change. Hillary Clinton, with the unwitting assistance of Donald Trump and his loyal voters, has made this a watershed election, testing the 1960s rights revolution. Her progressivism is unequivocal.


At the last debate, the most public forum a presidential candidate can find, Clinton’s opening statement painted this big picture: “We need a Supreme Court that will stand up on behalf of women’s rights, on behalf of the rights of the LGBT community, that will stand up and say no to Citizens… But I feel that at this point in our country’s history, it is important that we not reverse marriage equality, that we not reverse Roe v. Wade, that we stand up against Citizens United, we stand up for the rights of people in the workplace, that we stand up and basically say, the Supreme Court should represent all of us.”

This is a prescription for an activist court in the mold of that under Chief Justice Earl Warren, which began a steady trend toward endorsing rights for all.

Hillary doubled down on Roe v. Wade, abandoning the apologetic Democratic dogma that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” She made it an unambiguous feminist issue: “I will defend Planned Parenthood. I will defend Roe v. Wade, and I will defend women’s rights to make their own healthcare decisions.”

When we move away from debates over diversity and look at our “rigged economy,” we find her Wall Street allies want change; neoliberalism no longer works, even from their vantage point. They want government spending and will accept new taxes in order to stimulate the economy. Wall Street doesn’t speak for America, but the millions who abhor taxes and government spending will not be in charge with a Clinton victory.

There is room for give and take between the left and the center. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren may well be able to keep some Wall Street types out of the Cabinet. But will Clinton deliver on workers’ rights? To keep the left happy, she must wage public fights for workers even when the Republicans oppose her.

Clinton’s election may start a new era where the left and the center dominate the political debate. Since the 1990s, the mainstream media has reported policy debates in the nation largely through a Fox News framework. Republicans are conservative and Democrats – all Democrats – are on the left, from that perspective. The Sanders-Clinton primary laid that fairy tale to rest. The Clinton’s close ties to military adventures and draconian criminal justice decisions were exposed. Her personal payments from Wall Street moved perceptions of her toward the right side of the political spectrum. For months, many Clinton supporters and Sanderscrats weren’t on speaking terms.

The John Podesta emails released by Wikileaks have shown that there is no love lost between many Clinton staffers and the left, but that is only a surprise to people with little experience in politics. After the election, when Trump is safely dispatched, these tensions will revive as President Barack Obama, in his lame-duck twilight, seeks passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It will be a defining moment for the president-elect.

Hillary Clinton embraces the civil rights revolution but she runs into bumps in the road. Marriage equality has changed the social status of the LGBT community, but the Black Lives Matters movement poses more fundamental challenges that recall the early days of gay liberation. Its critique of the police and law enforcement practices are consequential in the lives of transgender Americans and many LGBT youth of color. Policing is also a looming issue for sex workers, and there progressives are often split, with demands for decriminalization and legalization at odds with a wing of feminism concerned with issues of sexual assault and rape and as well as the culture’s objectification of women.

Clinton will face other criminal justice issues, as well. The push for prison reform will not let up until the long-prevalent “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach is in the rearview mirror. And drug law reform at the state and local level will continue to present Washington with thorny questions about federal jurisdiction. Five states are voting to legalize marijuana – as in any adult may go to the store and buy it – so pot is quickly moving from the coy “let’s use it as medicine” to the dramatic “cast off your tired old laws.” Reformers will try to turn the debate into a sweeping effort to end prohibition, even as the epidemic of overdose deaths has cast a dark cloud over the failures of existing drug policy. This is a challenge for both the Clinton and Sanders wings of the Democratic Party, and early indications are that they haven’t yet grappled with the issue.

Unforeseen, often overseas events challenge any president, and large-scale military adventures would likely rupture today’s mood of unity. A recession would drive workers’ rights issue to the forefront, and Clinton, in any economy, will have to make good on the promises to fix what’s ailing Obamacare, both in the cost of care and the breadth of its coverage.

Perhaps Hillary can define a large enough vision to unite the dozens and dozens of factions that make up today’s Democratic Party. The last president who tried this, Lyndon Baines Johnson, failed when the Vietnam War ruptured his grand vision for a Great Society. In less than three months, the next president will have her say. Only then can we start truly defining her relationship to the left. The only certainty is that the left won’t be quiet.