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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 ClintonThe Memo: The center strikes back Democratic clamor grows for select committee on Jan. 6 attack White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: The center strikes back Sanders against infrastructure deal with more gas taxes, electric vehicle fees Sunday shows - Voting rights, infrastructure in the spotlight 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 Levy BoxerBottom line Trump administration halting imports of cotton, tomatoes from Uighur region of China Biden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status MORE (D-Calif.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDemocrats scramble to unify before election bill brawl Hillicon Valley: Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC | Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cyber during summit with Putin | TSA working on additional security regulations following Colonial Pipeline hack Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC MORE (D-Minn.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBiden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal How Biden can get the infrastructure bill through Congress Democrats reintroduce bill to create 'millionaires surtax' 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.”