Democratic presidential hopefuls, in contrast to GOP candidates, push progressive agenda

LAS VEGAS – What is the best approach for uniting Americans to prevent a right-wing takeover of the White House in 2016?  That question was not made explicit in the debate here last night between those hoping to become the Democratic Party nominee for president, but it was the subtext of just about everything said.

All five hopefuls agreed on a progressive agenda.

They agreed that growing income inequality is the major crisis facing our nation. All agreed that corporate billions have corrupted our political processes, especially since the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in the Citizens United case. All stated it’s criminal that there are more people in prison in the U.S. than in any other nation.

All called for major reforms in our criminal justice system and in our immigration policies.

Furthermore, all the debaters supported higher taxes for the super wealthy and other tax policy reforms, a raise in the minimum wage, a lowering of college tuition and the nationwide adoption of family and medical leave benefits.

What’s more, all agreed that climate change poses a real threat to the earth and that the danger is human-made. Sanders said that “we have a moral duty to move away from use of fossil fuels and leave this planet habitable.”

However, the current frontrunners, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, offered different approaches to addressing these problems and meeting these goals.

Sanders said that as president he would back a “political revolution” that would “bring together millions of people to stand up to the billionaire class.” He said that “is the only way to take our country away from billionaires and to create the vibrant democracy that we should and can have.” The first step, he said, is to work to increase the number of Americans who vote.

Clinton said that “this country needs a new New Deal” and asked the American people to rely on her proven ability to “get things done.”

Are you a capitalist?

Debate moderator Anderson Cooper asked Sanders if he was a “capitalist.”

Sanders answered: “No. I don’t believe in ‘casino capitalism,'” where huge corporations and banks in effect gamble billions in the stock market. “When they lose, they are bailed out because they are too big to fail.” The result is “more and more wealth at the top.

“I believe,” Sanders said, “that if an enterprise is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.”

He pointed out that he as a congressman and senator, he was among the few lawmakers that voted against bank mergers promoted by both Republicans and Democrats.

“Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street,” he said. “Wall Street regulates Congress”

However, he agreed with Clinton that encouraging the establishment of small and medium-sized businesses helps create jobs.

Clinton, who has clearly moved to the left on many issues, said, “Sometimes we have to rein in capitalism to save it from itself.”

Clinton and Sanders dueled over gun control issues, with Clinton stating that the National Rifle Association rates her voting record as “F” and Sanders saying he gets a “D minus” from the NRA.

In the foreign policy segment of the debate, Sanders and Clinton agreed that chaos in the Middle East is posing a danger to the entire world. However, they had some disagreements.

For example, Clinton supports a “no fly” zone over Syria in order to support rebels on the ground fighting against the Assad government.

Sanders said that by preventing countries from flying over Syria, the U.S. could very well trigger more fighting.

Clinton and Sanders still frontrunners

Clinton and Sanders entered the debate as front runners and there was no indication that the debate changed their standings.

Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb voiced positions that are markedly different from mainstream Democratic voters. He said that he supports the coal industry and nuclear power. He said that although he’s for immigration policy reforms, he believes that a country “defines itself” by having “firm borders.” Furthermore, he said he is against the anti-nuclear development agreement with Iran.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley generally echoed what others said, offered few ideas of his own and had no compelling answer when asked to respond to an assertion by Baltimore’s current city prosecutor that the “zero tolerance” program O’Malley established as Baltimore mayor is a main cause of police brutality in that city.

Former Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee said that the thing he is most proud of is that fact that during his many decades as an elected official “I haven’t been involved in any scandals.”

The evening ended by participants summing up the differences between their debate and those held recently by the Republican hopefuls.

As opposed to the Republicans, the Democrats did not demonize any ethnic or racial group in America and did not insult each other.

All participants seemed to be trying to develop answers to the problems the U.S. faces in ways that will unify, not divide, Americans.

Photo: Bernie Sanders (left) and Hillary Clinton.  |  John Locher/AP


Larry Rubin
Larry Rubin

Larry Rubin has been a union organizer, a speechwriter and an editor of union publications. He was a civil rights organizer in the Deep South and is often invited to speak on applying Movement lessons to today's challenges. He has produced several folk music shows.