Bernie Sanders Challenges The Democratic Party To Keep Its Soul


Hillary Clinton’s allies have pressured Bernie Sanders to tone down his criticisms of Democrats as the party’s convention nears. But a speech he gave yesterday shows that if anything, Sanders is broadening his attacks on the party even as his chances of getting the nomination narrow.

At a rally in Springfield, the independent senator from Vermont suggested Democrats have fallen short of their ideals and that low turnout in midterm elections can be attributed to the party’s aligning itself with special interests. His comments were in line with what he began to say late last month, which is that if he doesn’t win the nomination he still will try to “completely revitalize the Democratic Party.”

“Are we on the side of working people or big-money interests? Do we stand with the elderly, the sick and the poor or do we stand with Wall Street speculators and the insurance companies?” he asked Thursday. “You can’t be for Wall Street and the working people of this country. You cannot be for the drug companies and senior citizens and veterans. You cannot be on the side of workers and support those corporations that have thrown millions on the street.”

Sanders has tended to criticize “establishment politics” in past campaign appearances, but his rally Friday was most more explicitly aimed at Democrats.

“The problem, in my view, is not that the Republicans are winning elections. It’s that Democrats are losing elections,” he said.

While Democrats have passed laws to make voting more accessible and sued to block laws passed by Republicans that make voting more challenging, Sanders argued the party has not pushed strongly enough for election reforms that, as his campaign’s press release after the rally said, “would increase voter turnout and help Democrats win elections.” (Democrats who push to broaden voting access don’t tend to say they’re doing it to benefit their party.)

Sanders criticized the Democratic primary process. He has won primaries that were open to independents, like Michigan’s, but struggled in primaries that were closed to unaffiliated voters, like New York’s.

“Republican governors want to make it harder to vote,” he said. “Our job is to bring more people into the system.”

Clinton leads Sanders by over 800 delegates, if one counts superdelegates, or by nearly 330 pledged delegates. But Sanders’ campaign has suggested that it could persuade superdelegates backing Clinton to switch sides by pointing to polling matchups where the senator performs better against Republicans. 

While Sanders has said that he would support Clinton if she is the Democrats’ nominee, he has also said that it is her job to win over his supporters, not his. His speech Thursday indicated that he isn’t giving up any of his bargaining chips ahead of the Democratic convention. His supporters want him to push to make the party’s platform more progressive and for the party to change its nomination process.

“I think Secretary Clinton and I agree that we must not have a Republican in the White House but I think the evidence is overwhelming that you are looking at the strongest Democratic candidate,” he said. “And the reason for that is that our campaign is able to reach beyond the Democratic base and win the support of millions of independents.”

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