Tuesday’s release of Hillary Clinton’s campaign memoir, “What Happened,” has already set off a new round of sniping and score-settling, providing grist for the media’s addiction to covering political intrigue at the expense of serious policy issues. In telling her side of the story, Clinton takes jabs at Sen. Bernie Sanders, former FBI director James Comey, and even former vice president Joe Biden.
That’s her right.
And her critics are likewise entitled to take issue with her portrayal of certain events. But rather than reopening old wounds and refighting past battles, maybe it would be healthier to reflect on how far Democrats have come since the beginning of 2016 and how the progressive wing is now ascendant in the party at the grass roots and to consider the contributions that Sanders’ campaign made toward building a more progressive party.
Wednesday, Sanders will formally introduce legislation to provide “Medicare for All,” a policy that was central to his insurgent presidential campaign. Although Sanders has sponsored single-payer healthcare plans for years, this will be the first time that he does so with meaningful support from prominent Democrats. Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Cory Booker of New Jersey — rising party leaders and potential 2020 contenders — will be co-sponsoring the bill. Meanwhile, top Democrats including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, whose staff has reportedly worked with Sanders on the legislation, have also expressed support for the idea of Medicare for All.
“This is what an emerging party consensus looks like,” writes Vox’s Dylan Matthews. “Over time, some issues become so widely accepted within a party as to be a de facto requirement for anyone aspiring to lead it. … And the way things are going, soon no Democratic leader will be able to oppose single-payer.”
Notably, the momentum behind Medicare for All is part of a broader shift among Democrats, who seem to be coalescing around a set of progressive ideas that would have been nearly impossible to imagine the party establishment putting forward just a few years ago. The “Better Deal” platform that Sen. Charles Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California unveiled this summer endorses a crackdown on monopoly power, a $15 minimum wage, and a balanced trade agenda that recognizes the harm to workers caused by corporate trade deals that Democratic leaders have long supported. There is also rising support in the party for debt-free college tuition, with Warren, Harris, Murphy, and Gillibrand all co-sponsoring Sanders’s “College for All Act.”
This shift is due in large part to the tireless efforts of Sanders, both during the campaign and in the months since President Trump took office, to push Democrats to be more progressive on core economic issues. Grass-roots activist organizations such as Our Revolution, National Nurses United, Working Families party and People’s Action, among others, also deserve a great deal of credit for sustaining the movement energy across the country and applying consistent pressure on Democratic leaders.
The party’s more progressive direction is also a result of the hard-fought 2016 primary campaign, which Clinton’s book takes needless jabs at; after all, it produced the most progressive Democratic platform in history. It’s worth remembering, despite attempts to scapegoat Sanders, it was his campaign that forced issues such as the $15 minimum wage and affordable or free college tuition into the mainstream discussion.
The rebuilding and the reform of the party, of course, is very much a work in progress. There are still big fights to be had to create a Democratic Party untethered from lobbying and corporate money — a party more committed to advancing the power of workers and the grass roots. But while much of the media is likely to fixate on the spectacle and the sniping, stoking controversy over Clinton’s return to public life, savvy Democrats and progressives will focus on driving a bold new agenda and winning in 2018 and 2020. Now is a time, as Sanders said last week, “to look forward and not backward.”
Editor and publisher of the Nation magazine, vanden Heuvel writes a weekly column for The Post.