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Bernie Sanders Is Rarely Disloyal to Democrats

At the Democratic Town Hall in Nevada, Hillary Clinton appealed to voters’ partisan loyalties when she questioned Bernie Sanders’ authenticity as a Democrat. As part of her non sequitur response to a question about whether she should be held accountable for the policies of her husband’s administration, Clinton also criticized Sanders’ supposed opposition to President Barack Obama’s policies and positions.

Sanders, an independent senator and self-proclaimed socialist from Vermont, chose to run for president as a Democrat last year and pledged to support whoever won the party’s nomination instead of running as a third-party candidate.

Questioning why Sanders has criticized President Obama and her husband, Bill Clinton, she said, “Maybe it’s that Senator Sanders wasn’t really a Democrat until he decided to run for president. He doesn’t even know what the, you know, last two Democratic presidents did.”

Soon after Clinton’s comments were made, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest appeared to defend Sanders, telling reporters:

Y’know, Senator Sanders, stood not too far away from where I’m standing. [points] You can just peek out the window and sort of see the spot where he was standing. . . where he spoke to all of you after having spent an hour with the President of the United States in the Oval office, where he talked to all of you about how proud he was of the progress our country has made under President Obama’s leadership. And I think that’s a strong statement about how supportive and proud Senator Sanders of President Obama’s legacy.

Indeed, Sanders may not technically be a Democrat, but he votes with the party overwhelmingly, and even voted the same way as Clinton when she was a senator 93% of the time. On a few occasions in recent years, those votes have proven critical to helping the Obama administration secure important political victories at the public’s expense.

Sanders’ political style as an independent-cum-democrat is perhaps best encapsulated by actions he has taken on the issues he champions the most: health care and financial reform.

It is well known that Sanders supports a single-payer health care model and has championed access to affordable health care as a human right as a major part of his campaign. But when Sanders had the opportunity to force an up-or-down vote on the public option, which many believed had the votes to pass and would expand the reach of the Affordable Care Act by diminishing the profits and influence of the private insurance industry, he acted as a vehicle for extinguishing grassroots momentum for change.

The public option was not a trivial element of the Affordable Care Act. The provision would have created a government-sponsored health insurance plan to compete with those offered by the private health insurance industry. This would have seriously lowered insurance premiums and was a major part of President Obama’s original pitch for healthcare reform.

The public option was the countervailing force to what is known as the individual mandate, which required Americans to purchase health insurance or face penalties from the IRS. Without it, Americans would be forced to buy insurance from private companies only, who would not have to compete against a cheaper government plan. But President Obama infamously negotiated away the public option well before the legislative battle even began and left the individual mandate intact.

Grassroots organizations worked themselves to the bone to reinstate the public option throughout the health care reform effort, as the White House backed away from supporting its own proposal.

In the 11th hour, Senator Sanders made widely-publicized pledges to stand up to the private insurance lobby and its stooges in Congress by forcing an up-or-down vote on the public option. Sanders indicated he would introduce the public option back into the bill as an amendment, which he claimed had the votes to pass, and even if it failed, at least the American people would know where their elected representatives stood on the issue.

But Sanders ultimately backed down and did not introduce the public option amendment. The Affordable Care Act passed with an individual mandate to purchase private insurance.

A few months after President Obama signed health care reform, Sanders did it again.

Aside from his positions on health care, many voters find Sanders appealing for his positions on financial reform and accountability for crimes and behavior that led to the collapse of the housing market.

In early 2010, Representatives Alan Grayson and Ron Paul were about to accomplish what many plutocrats feared and many pundits thought impossible: pull together the votes for an audit of the Federal Reserve—the first in history, meant to expose the base fraud and misconduct at the center of the 2007 financial collapse.

The Obama administration vigorously opposed the amendment.

(Note: Obama’s Treasury Secretary at the time was Timothy Geithner, a former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Vice Chair and a permanent member of the Open Markets Committee, which is responsible for much of the country’s monetary policy.)

The Federal Reserve’s Open Markets Committee was one of the audit’s main targets, and Geithner started there in 2003. He used these positions to staff the New York Federal Reserve with leaders of the very Wall Street institutions he would later bailout after the economic collapse.

Grayson and Paul found enough votes to audit the Federal Reserve, but Senator Sanders would prove to be the weak link. The White House pressured Sanders to limit the audit to after 2007—excluding crucial details about the committee’s work in the years leading up to the crash.

Once again, Sanders flipped at the last minute, this time siding with Senator Chris Dodd to gut the amendment and severely limit the audit. The audit ultimately shed light on the amount of fraud that took place after 2007 but not who was involved or how fraud occurred.

In other words, there is no reasonable basis for Clinton to attack Sanders as if he is some kind of a phony Democrat.

Sanders’ real life determination for political revolution must therefore be weighed against his actual record as an unfortunate wet blanket and steward of Establishment Democratic Party positions on some of the most pressing issues of the past decade.  That is not a criticism of the substance of the revolution for which he is advocating but rather his will to actually make it a reality.

Or, as captured by POLITICO:

Sanders’ record of compromising with Democrats doesn’t make him a flip-flopper. It shows him as a pragmatist who, like most of his colleagues, compromises to pass legislation even when it may not achieve all the things he would have liked.

“Part of Sanders’ longevity is that he is part of the team and he helps Democrats win policy victories and helps us maintain the party’s unity,” says a senior Democratic Senate staffer.

What is most important for his supporters to understand is that while Bernie Sanders may be better than most, he is still a politician. He may be building a progressive movement, but he has, time and again, seized upon such movements, generated by months and years of incredibly hard grassroots organizing, only to severely compromise on positions for which there should be none, oftentimes siding with Democratic Party elites and the surly characters with whom they cavort.

So if we have a President Sanders next year, it will be up to the incredible grassroots network that has developed behind him to either morph into an unprecedented watchdog organization, unafraid to criticize and hold Sanders accountable for his campaign promises, or else they may suffer the same fate as Obama for America and find their network completely neutered by Democratic Party operatives.

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Brian Sonenstein

Brian Sonenstein

Publishing Editor at Shadowproof and columnist at Prison Protest.