Political contests, especially in this country where everything focuses on the candidate instead of the party, are high-tension situations. I get that. I get that verbal slips are made in these situations. It’s how one reacts to these verbal slips that matters.
One of those slips happened on Tuesday night, when Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders made a comment on television implying that Planned Parenthood and several other progressive interest groups including NARAL and the Human Rights Campaign were part of the political establishment that his candidacy is fighting against. The one thing all of these organizations have in common, other than nor normally being described as establishment and fighting for progressive causes? They’ve all endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. Interest groups endorse presidential candidates all the time, nothing special or newsworthy about that.
Except in the case of Planned Parenthood. Just two weeks ago news broke that Planned Parenthood was making its first endorsement in a presidential primary ever, and it was endorsing Hillary Clinton over her rival. The head of the organization had the following to say about this endorsement, quoted from above link:
“Let’s be clear — reproductive rights and health are on the ballot in 2016,” said Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards. “We’re proud to endorse Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.
“No other candidate in our nation’s history has demonstrated such a strong commitment to women or such a clear record on behalf of women’s health and rights,” she added. “This is about so much more than Planned Parenthood. Health care for an entire generation is at stake.”
Before this endorsement, Democrats were united in defending Planned Parenthood from an unprecedented attack from Capitol Hill Republicans who were attempting to starve the organization of funds and shut it down entirely in the same way ACORN was shut down just a few years ago. This is nothing new for an organization that’s been breaking barriers since its founding in 1916 when its founding members were arrested for opening a birth control clinic. To this day it vehemently defends reproductive rights and its leading members regularly face harassment and even death threats for doing so. Nothing about that should sound to anyone like an “establishment” organization. And yet, in the middle of a primary that the country is watching closely and considering a referendum on progressive values, many in the Sanders camp are defending rather than even attempting to explain this opinion. If the Sanders campaign wants to be the organization known for defining what it means to be a progressive, it should start by explaining to the American people what a Senator who’s been in Washington so long his hair had color to it when he first got there is doing calling a group of dedicated progressive women under daily attack from other politicians in that same city part of the “establishment.” I have great respect for the man, but I believe if he’s going to fight against the establishment he first has to be honest and acknowledge that he has been an active part of that establishment for decades, as has Hillary, as have most politicians in Washington. Both candidates, in fact, are far more of the establishment than Barack Obama, a Hawaiian born to a mixed race family, raised in Indonesia, the product of public schooling, former community organizer. If you want someone with a legitimate anti-establishment background, Barack’s your man.
Maybe asking who’s pro “establishment” is the wrong question. Maybe Senator Sanders and Mrs. Clinton both should be asking themselves a far more important question: if they actually have what it takes to succeed the most successful American president since at least FDR.