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What Happened: Sanders Fostered A Movement While Clinton Dwelled On Her Grievances

Senator Bernie Sanders and his supporters successfully convinced sixteen Senate Democrats to sign on to a national single-payer healthcare bill. They include Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, who are seen as prospective Democratic presidential candidates for 2020. Sanders is unveiling his bill, as Medicare For All has remarkably become a litmus test for Democrats.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton makes the rounds in media, promoting her new book, “What Happened,” in which she lists off all the grievances she has toward everyone and everything that thwarted her campaign. Clinton and her supporters remain stiff-necked toward Sanders Democrats for ever daring to resent the person who could have been the First Woman President of the United States.

The single-payer bill and Clinton’s book crystallize the deep ideological differences within the base and establishment of the Democratic Party.

One faction rallies around concrete initiatives with the potential to counterbalance the toxic nature of Donald Trump’s presidential administration. Such initiatives include: free college tuition, raising and indexing the federal minimum wage, equal access for abortion coverage in health insurance, and a tax on Wall Street.

The Clinton faction rallies around a personality and weaponize her memoir to demand the world show her more respect. Supporters demand acknowledgment of how they are feeling. They place a premium on attitude and decorum and seem to believe resolving issues in the United States depends on having the right person in the White House. They embrace essentialism, reducing discourse down to abstract discussion over identity that may seem provocative on an Ivy League university campus but overlooks material conditions important to the working class. They see society in groups that each have “their issues;” not out of malice but because that is how consultants and fundraisers formulate political campaigns.

Sanders supporters, on the other hand, embrace an intersectionality that appeals to the lowest common denominator across gender, race, ethnicity, and class. For example, this is how Native Americans, one of the more oppressed groups in the United States, have become a focus of the agenda for a “political revolution.”

This faction in the Democratic base also makes demands of institutions and politicians in power. They possess some awareness—at least when it comes to domestic policies—of the systems that create oppression. They aspire to tear down at least parts of these systems to rebuild them in ways that would benefit all people.

That is not how Clinton supporters approach society’s most pressing problems. Agitators on the left are cast as nuisances that need to fall in line or recognize their aspirations for change are unrealistic. They aim to bully Sanders supporters into embracing pragmatism, an empty calculating doctrine of splitting the difference between the agendas of two polar opposite wings in politics. It appeals to the managerial class that populates the ranks of Clinton supporters. The reason why they are so quick to abandon those they regard as “far-left” and “far-right” is because they have no tolerance for those who have lost faith in institutions.

This ideology espoused by Clinton Democrats used to hold the most influence over the Democratic Party. Its influence, however, faces vigorous competition and is waning. That is evidenced by the aggressive and pernicious maneuvers the party undertook to prevent Rep. Keith Ellison from becoming the head of the Democratic National Committee and to ensure Sanders did not succeed in upsetting Clinton for the presidential nomination.

What Clinton and her followers are struggling with on a daily basis is their growing political irrelevance, the fact that they have little to offer those committed to challenging the Trump administration. They see the backlash against them as the result of pervasive “sexism,” “misogyny,” or incivility, but they lack interest in directing their attention to corporations that dominate political agendas and stifle reform efforts. This is what stirs much of the resentment toward them.

For Clinton Democrats, voting is the highest form of democratic expression. It is the one and only chance to ensure a course is set that is not damaging to society. Citizens really only get such an opportunity to influence what happens in this country every four years and wasting it on pipe dream candidacies is improper. In contrast, Sanders Democrats recognize several avenues for making their voices heard in addition to voting on candidates, including demonstrations and marches, sit-ins and protests at congressional offices, overloading senators or representatives’ offices with phone calls, etc.

Clinton Democrats still deal with a crisis of raw emotion because they think what matters is who is sitting in office. On the other hand, Sanders Democrats moved on to advancing causes of social, racial, economic, and environmental justice because they are aware what matters most is who is sitting in, who is creating the necessary trouble that politicians must grapple with if they have any hope of restoring business as usual.


Hillary Clinton was asked in an interview for Vox about the single-payer healthcare bill that Sanders introduced.

“Democrats are going to face a question like this very soon. Bernie Sanders is proposing his single-payer bill this week,” Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein asked. “And a lot of Senate Democrats are expected to sign on to the bill. This bill would be quite sweeping; it would upend every private insurance arrangement in America. Do you think that the Democratic Party should sign on, even aspirationally, to a bill that is that radical in its vision?”

Clinton does not do radical politics, as in reform efforts that go to the root causes of a societal problem. Naturally, and because of how Klein setup the question, Clinton initially threw shade at this growing effort to ensure all Americans have quality affordable health care.

“I don’t know what the particulars are,” Clinton replied. “As you might remember, during the campaign he introduced a single-payer bill every year he was in Congress — and when somebody finally read it, he couldn’t explain it and couldn’t really tell people how much it was going to cost.”

Contending people will not want to give up policies they have through their employer, she added, “When I was working on health care back in in ’93 and ’94, I said if we could’ve waved the magic wand and started all over, maybe we would start with something resembling single-payer plus other payers, like other countries that have universal coverage and are much better at controlling costs than we do, primarily in Europe. But we were facing the reality of not just strong, powerful forces but people’s own fears as well as their appreciation for what they already had.”

Those “strong, powerful forces” are health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations. Notice Clinton is not saying single-payer does not work. In fact, she is conceding it would be better than what Americans have now. However, Clinton is holding fast to her position because she and others who share her political view do not have the appetite for struggle that is required to bring equality and justice to health care in the United States.

Asked to comment on Clinton’s latest attacks on his presidential campaign and his supporters, Sanders replied on “The Late Show” with Stephen Colbert, “Secretary Clinton ran against the most unpopular candidate in the history of this country and she lost and she was upset about it and I understand that. But our job is really not to go backwards. It is to go forwards.”

“It’s a little bit silly to keep talking about 2016,” Sanders added, given that the country faces so many stark problems.

“The progressive movement today and grassroots activism is stronger than it has been in many, many years,” Sanders continued. “As a result of our campaign, millions of young people began to vote for the first time, became engaged in the political process. We’re seeing young people all over this country, working class people, running for office, from school board to Congress.”

The movement Sanders alluded to is currently more influential than Hillary Clinton. It is shifting politics in ways no one imagined one or two years ago. It is making an oft-imagined future, which Clinton Democrats have spent the past two decades saying progressives cannot have, a possibility that is within reach. And that gives Clinton Democrats shell shock.

Not because two men stole Clinton’s thunder. Do not buy into that nonsense. There are plenty of women leading the “political revolution” and these women will be around long after Sanders has gone and left this world. No, Clinton Democrats are in shock because their moment of glory and fame is over and society has no use for them anymore.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."