No, Sanders is not trying to boot moderates out of the Democratic Party and erect a progressives-purity test. He just objects to Clinton’s misrepresenting herself as a progressive Democrat when she is, by her own fairly recent and proud description, a moderate Democrat.
I’ve been a fan of New Republic senior editor Brian Beutler dating back to his days as a Salon writer, but in a piece today called “Bernie Sanders Will Be Unelectable If He Keeps This Up” he misinterprets the essence of Sanders’s current criticism of Clinton as a fair-weather progressive in a way that I think needs quick rebuttal.
Clinton has been campaigning on the claim, which she makes repeatedly, that she’s a progressive, but one who wants to get things done. Sanders pointed out, on twitter, that Clinton herself was until very recently characterizing herself as a moderate. Beutler writes:
The spat began two days ago, when Sanders said he thinks Clinton’s only a progressive “some days.” Clinton and her allies leapt to her defense, which in turn prompted Sanders to run through a litany of her heresies.
Here’s how he summed up his basic argument [in a twitter post]:
“You can be a moderate. You can be a progressive. But you cannot be a moderate and a progressive.”
Beutler interprets this as Sanders establishing a purity test, not for a candidate to represent herself to voters as a progressive but instead to run as a Democrat at all. He thinks Sanders wants to establish a mirror image of Tea Party purity, forcing candidates and elected officials from the party itself if they don’t meet the issue-by-issue test and effectively repelling moderate voters by a message that they are not welcome within the Democratic Party.
But Clinton is, as she has proudly said of herself pre-Sanders-boom, a moderate. Not on every issue, but certainly on most economic and regulatory issues. A favorite slogan of hers is essentially a Republican one: she wants to increase incomes, not taxes.
By which she means, particularly, that she doesn’t think healthcare insurance premiums and out-of-pocket healthcare costs count in tallying up “incomes” as long as those payments are made to private insurers and private hospitals, physicians and medical labs. Better to pay more (much more, if you have a large deductible and, say, also a large hospital bill) in such expenses to the private sector than to pay a set, regular rate for all or most healthcare costs if that set, regular rate is paid to the federal government and called a tax rather than a premium. Or called medical bills.
Clearly, you can be a moderate on one issue and a progressive on another; Sanders himself has been a moderate on gun-control issues. His objection is to Clinton’s sudden repackaging of her general ideological label as progressive rather than moderate. She is not, overall, a progressive. She is, overall, a moderate.
He’s complaining about the false labeling, the false advertising. He thinks voters are entitled to truth in advertising. He does not think moderate candidates and elected officials should be booted from the party, or moderate Democrats made to feel unwelcome within it.