Bill Press: Who's the real liberal — Clinton or Sanders?

Bill Press: Who's the real liberal — Clinton or Sanders?
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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 ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Clip shows Larry David and Bernie Sanders reacting after discovering they're related For now, Trump dossier creates more questions than answers MORE arguing over which one is the true progressive.

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The whole issue might not have come up at all, were it not for the boast Clinton made at a Women for Hillary event in Ohio last September: “You know, I get accused of being kind of moderate and center. I plead guilty.” Sanders saw an opening and sprang for it, claiming that the former secretary of State, by her own admission, could not be trusted to push a progressive agenda in the White House. And Clinton is now pushing back, defining herself as “a progressive who likes to get things done.”

Which one is more progressive? Sanders wins that argument, hands down. He’s the most liberal member of the Senate. He’s been endorsed by Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the co-chairmen of the House Progressive Caucus. True, he voted against the Brady Bill on gun control, but — as he points out at every campaign event — his entire career has been spent fighting for single-payer healthcare, a living wage, expanding Social Security, breaking up the big banks, supporting labor unions and other planks of the progressive agenda.

But Clinton has progressive bragging rights, too. She’s supported by liberal Sens. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTrump riles Dems with pick for powerful EPA job Pelosi's chief of staff stepping down Time is now to address infrastructure needs MORE (D-Calif.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharFacebook shifts strategy under lawmaker pressure Competition law has no place raising prices some say are ‘too low’ CNN to host town hall featuring Nancy Pelosi MORE (D-Minn.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownDems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada Mandel leads GOP primary for Ohio Senate seat: internal poll Red-state Dems need more from Trump before tax embrace MORE (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 as first lady to her championing of women’s rights worldwide.  

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!

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of “Buyer’s Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down.”