For both parties, the 2016 presidential primary has proven unusual in more ways than one. There have been more candidates than ever before, more outsiders leading the pack, more focus on personalities than issues and, for the first time, a contest on both sides over who’s the real deal.
That’s not so unusual among Republican candidates. They’ve tangled in the past over which one is the true conservative, and they’re doing so again. But this year, Democrats are also at it: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders arguing over which one is the true progressive.
Which one is more progressive? Sanders wins that argument, hands down. He’s the most liberal member of the Senate.
But Clinton has progressive bragging rights, too. She’s supported by liberal Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), among others. True, she voted for the Iraq War in 2002, she originally supported both the Keystone oil pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and she still supports the death penalty. But she also has a long history of fighting for progressive causes, from her work with the Children’s Defense Fund to her leadership in the fight for universal healthcare.
So, in a sense, this is a meaningless debate. The truth is, to varying degrees, Sanders and Clinton are both progressives. But, at the same time, it’s an important exercise for what it says about the Democratic Party.
For years, progressives fought unsuccessfully against the defense hawks, centrists and conservative Democrats who ruled the party. Now that’s changed. Today, few argue the party has to be more ‘in the middle.’ Instead, the two Democratic candidates for president are arguing over which one is further to the left.
This bodes well for November, because the progressive agenda of combating income inequality, raising the minimum wage, delivering pay equity for women, creating jobs by rebuilding our infrastructure, cracking down on Wall Street and embracing renewable energy is supported by the vast majority of the American people — and offers a stark contrast to the ugly infighting among Republican candidates.
Progressives have won the day.