Last week, Hillary Clinton made history by winning the most contentious Iowa Democratic caucus ever – 49.9 percent over Bernie Sanders’ 49.6. Seeing just how close the caucus came made me as proud as ever to be a member of the Democratic Party.
As Clinton stated during her late night, but not-yet-a-victory speech, “It is rare that we have the opportunity we do now, to have a real contest of ideas. To really think hard about what the Democratic Party stands for and what we want the future our country to look like if we do our party to build it.”
The Iowa caucuses are less about delegate count and more about momentum. Sanders’ near tie gives him the energy that may propel him over the finish lien in New Hampshire tomorrow. The way in which Sanders has energized a new part of the Democratic base to climb a near 42 points there, according to FiveThirtyEight, is both impressive and incredibly inspiring to Clinton and Sanders supporters alike. It is part of the enthusiasm and visionary rigor that defines us as a party, and that I believe will win us the White House.
What has been less impressive, and truly disheartening to me, however is the increasing condescending of Clinton and her supporters as “not progressive enough” – emerging from Bernie Sanders recent remark that she is only a progressive on “some days,” and anointing himself as the only “true” progressive candidate.
This gets to the very heart of what the definition of “progressive” truly is, a question that has shaped debate and differentiated the two Democratic candidates these past few days leading up to New Hampshire.
It’s come down, quite simply, to a question of “evolution” versus “revolution” and each candidate is proud of where they stand. Both, and all their followers, agree that we have the responsibility to challenge systems that leave certain members of society fundamentally disadvantaged; Hillary portraying herself as someone who can bring this change from within the system as a hardened reformer, whilst Bernie argues that isn’t good enough.
The perfect analogy, for me, is the difference in between Hillary and Bernie in how they plan to achieve universal healthcare coverage. While Bernie has proposed a new single-payer system (that would raise taxes on the middle class, although he projects long-term savings), which would throw our nation into another contentious, healthcare debate, Hillary hopes to build on the legacy of the Affordable Care Act.
“We’re at 90 percent coverage,” Clinton said at the CNN Wednesday night Town Hall. “I’m going to fix what needs to be fixed. We’re going to move 90 to 100, which is a lot easier to do than 0 to 100.”
Is that not the very definition of progress? A progressive means just that: someone who makes progress, and pushes us towards that “100”.
Perhaps it comes down to two different theories of change. If you aren’t voting for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, if you don’t think she goes far enough, that is your prerogative.
But don’t say she’s not a progressive.
I find it very paradoxical that a grassroots movement would impose a top-down definition of who can qualify as a “progressive”. Don’t support Hillary because of the Defense Of Marriage Act and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families welfare reform of the 1990s? Okay, but let’s remember which Clinton that was. Concerned about her support of the Trans Pacific Partnership? That’s up to you, however both Hillary and President Obama support it because it allows us to compete and trade in the 21st century global economy on our terms, while raising labor standards in developing countries.
But let us also remember that it was Senator Sanders who voted against the Brady Bill five times, as well as against Ted Kennedy’s 2007 Immigration Reform bill.
All in all, it is incredibly dismissive of Clinton’s progressive record. “Cherry picking a quote here or there doesn’t change my record of having fought for racial justice, having fought for kids rights, having fought the kind of inequities that fueled my interest in service in the first place going back to my days in the Children’s Defense Fund.”
Somehow, the woman who led the negotiations of international climate change accords, spearheaded talks that led to the Iran nuclear deal, made women’s rights central to her State Department strategy, worked to raise the minimum wage as New York’s U.S. Senator, the list goes on, keeps being asked to prove herself.
Hillary Clinton would be a great progressive president. She’s been attacked from day one because she’s always been on the front lines. Her passion is a passion of perseverance. Progress and change doesn’t happen overnight, but it is something she has been fighting for her entire life, and will continue to do.
Let’s move away from this label debate and celebrate that we have two great candidates, both united by the vision of building a greater American future, and instead talk about how we can get there. That’s what makes us proud Americans, Democrats, and yes, all progressives.