Hillary Clinton Moves Left: The Bernie Sanders Effect

05/23/2016 12:00am

Dean Baker
The Hankyoreh, May 22, 2016

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A year ago, not many people would have believed that a 74 year old senator from Vermont, who describes himself as a socialist, could be a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. Incredibly, Bernie Sanders has given former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a very tough battle, even if it is now virtually certain that she will end up as the nominee. Sanders’ strength showed the depth of the support within the Democratic Party for a more progressive political agenda.

While many Sanders supporters will undoubtedly be disappointed to see Secretary Clinton get the nomination, this has always been a battle about policy, not personalities, as Senator Sanders repeatedly said. And in this area, the Sanders campaign can boast some substantive victories. In several important areas, Clinton is now putting forward positions that are far to the left of where she was at the beginning of the campaign.

Starting with the issue that has drawn the most attention, Clinton now opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In fact, just last week she came out against any effort to pass the TPP in a lame duck session of Congress which would meet after the November elections.

This is a turnaround from past positions. As Secretary of State in the Obama administration, Clinton played a large role in negotiating the TPP, which she had previously praised as a model accord. Sanders was a strong opponent of the deal, arguing that it is more about protecting corporate interests than free trade. In fact, since there are already few formal trade barriers between the countries in the TPP, it is likely that the impact of stronger protection for patents and other forms of intellectual property in restricting trade will more than offset the tariff reductions in the TPP. In other words, the TPP would on net mean an increase in protectionism.

Clinton’s opposition to the TPP will undoubtedly upset many of the businesses that support the Democratic Party. But it will help her gain the support of Sanders’ voters and many independents and Republicans in the fall election.

A second area where Clinton seems to have moved towards Sanders’ agenda is on health care reform. Sanders had been proposing a universal Medicare system which would incorporate everyone in the health care system for the over 65 population. While Clinton has not embraced this sort of drastic overall of the health care system, she recently proposed allowing people over a certain age, such as 55 or 60, to buy into the Medicare system.

This proposal can provide immediate benefits by offering a good insurance option in many areas of the country where there is little competition among private insurers. However it also has the potential to offer a path to Sanders universal Medicare system.

If Medicare can compete successfully with private insurers for the segment of the population between ages 55 and 65, or between ages 60 and 65, then why not let it compete for younger people as well? If the age restrictions are eventually removed, and Medicare really is more efficient, then we could end uo with something like universal Medicare in the not too distant future. For this reason, Clinton’s willingness to go down this path is a big deal.

Finally, Clinton took up the cause of Federal Reserve Board reform, also a topic long pushed by Sanders. Clinton argued that the banks should not be able to get a direct voice in the country’s monetary policy by appointing the presidents of the twelve Fed district banks. She also argued that the Fed needs to redouble its commitment to full employment. She also called for more minority representation at the Fed and more attention to how its policies affect minorities.This is also a huge issue. If the Fed decides it wants to prevent the unemployment rate from dropping because of its fears of inflation, its interest rate hikes can prevent the unemployment rate from falling. Even if Clinton were to adopt a great program for jobs and the economy as president, the Fed could undermine it with high interest rates.For this reason, it is important that the Fed be committed to reaching the highest possible levels of employment, even if this could mean a somewhat higher risk of inflation. It appears that Clinton now agrees with this view, or at least is arguing it in the campaign.

Of course staking out a position in the presidential campaign is not the same thing as implementing it as policy when in office. But the fact that she is pushing these positions now certainly makes it more likely that she will follow through on them than if she were not pushing them.

We can also never know for sure that the pressure from the success of the Sanders campaign was the factor that caused Clinton to move to the left, but it is certainly a good guess. And, Senator Sanders and his supporters should be proud to take credit for this shift. This is what political mobilization is supposed to do.

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