Hillary Clinton is playing a dangerous game: How her anti-Bernie talking points could cost her — and America — big time

As her lead in the primary widens, Clinton seems to be moving back toward the center. This could be a huge mistake

Published November 20, 2015 4:23PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Carlo Allegri/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Carlo Allegri/Photo montage by Salon)

Hillary Clinton is starting to remind progressives why the name Clinton brings up such a mixed bag of emotions, and why it's so hard to believe Clinton's pivot to the left this campaign season. Lately, the “progressive who likes to get things done” has gone after her main competition, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for his advocacy of a single-payer healthcare system, which is a staple of progressive policy, found in many other industrialized states like Canada and Taiwan. Taking a page out of the GOP handbook, Clinton and her campaigners have gone into fear-mongering mode about the fact that such a plan would cause an increase in taxes on the middle class.

“Hardworking, middle-class families need a raise, not a tax increase,” said Clinton during the second Democratic debate, while a senior adviser to a pro-Clinton organization tweeted: “Hillary Clinton was the only one who ruled out raising taxes on the middle class – others talked about raising taxes to 70 and 90 percent.” Of course, this is nonsense. Sanders only stated the fact that the top rate was over 90 percent under Dwight Eisenhower. He was quite clear when he said: “We haven’t come up with an exact number yet, but it will not be as high as the number under Dwight D. Eisenhower, which was 90 percent. I’m not that much of a socialist compared to Eisenhower.” (Plus, people seem to forget that he is talking about a progressive tax, with top rates only on income over a certain level, not all of the income an eligible individual earns.)

Indeed, the Clinton campaign is starting to sound more and more like Republicans. Chris Christie said something similar last month (albeit more crudely): “The socialist says they’re going to pay for everything and give you everything for free, except they don’t tell you they’re going to raise your taxes to 90 percent to do it.”

“Pants on Fire,” ruled PolitiFact, calling it a “grossly misleading characterization.”

Grossly misleading characterizations are expected from GOP candidates, but the Clinton campaign? Nobody mentions the fact that a single-payer plan (which would admittedly be impossible to get through Congress in today's political climate) would significantly lower the expenses of middle-class families and, with the proper regulations and price controls, lower the outrageously high healthcare costs in the United States.

It is certainly an interesting strategy for the Clinton campaign, which has regained its confidence over the past month or so, as her numbers have jumped more than 10 percentage points since the first debate in October. (Sanders has also gone up about 6 points, but is now more than 25 points behind Clinton.) Things are going well, so why would Clinton attack Sanders with a petty GOP-style tactic?

There are already many reasons to believe that Clinton is neither a progressive nor a “progressive who likes to get things done,” but a poll-driven politician who says what it takes to get elected. And some Sanders supporters have already said that they will not support Hillary in the general, such as Salon and Huffington Post contributor H. A. Goodman. “If by chance Sanders loses the nomination, I’ll write him in, and if Democrats lose, then the Democratic Party will evolve to cater to progressives tired of moderate Republicans posing as Democrats,” writes Goodman. “If the Democratic Party learns the hard way, it won’t be my fault. It will be the fault of the pragmatists who’ve coddled the DNC for fear of Supreme Court nominees, or the allure of political power. I’m only voting for Bernie Sanders, primarily because we still live in a democracy, and I’ll vote based upon my conscience.”

Needless to say, this kind of “conscience voting” has bothered many people who see a field of increasingly authoritarian Republicans who seem to become more racist and militarist with each passing month. If a Republican does get elected with majorities in both the House and Senate, and nominates a few justices, the little democracy we still have may not be around for next time, which is not hyperbole. As Ian Millhiser points out in Think Progress, the Supreme Court carries a lot of blame for anti-democratic policies like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and of course, the unlimited political spending. Whether a Democrat or a Republican elects the next couple of justices is kind of a big deal.

Sanders has been quite clear from the onset that he will not be a spoiler and that he will vote for the Democratic nomination. But Clinton is making it harder for progressives to support her. With a history of hawkish foreign policy and Wall Street backing, she truly is the lesser to two evils. (A neoliberal is better than a fascist, after all.) But many on the left tend to vote with their conscience, and going after single-payer healthcare and hurling dishonest attacks on Sanders will only alienate progressives further.

By Conor Lynch

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

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