Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton Are More Alike Than You Think; in Congress the Two Were Certainly at Odds Stylistically-But They Were Not That Different

By Cadei, Emily | Newsweek, February 26, 2016 | Go to article overview

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton Are More Alike Than You Think; in Congress the Two Were Certainly at Odds Stylistically-But They Were Not That Different


Cadei, Emily, Newsweek


Byline: Emily Cadei

The financial system was in a meltdown, and Bernie Sanders was on the Senate floor inveighing against the financial bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, in October 2008. "The masters of the universe, those brilliant Wall Street insiders who have made more money than the average American can even dream of, have brought our financial system to the brink of collapse," Sanders railed in his now-familiar Brooklyn accent, in which jobs becomes jawbs and dollars sounds like dah-llahs.

Now "these multimillion-ahhs," he continued, "are demanding that the middle class...pick up the pieces that they broke!"

As Sanders spoke, a young aide behind him propped up posters featuring sinister-looking close-ups of select fat cats. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson ("Goldman Sachs rewarded him with a $35 million bonus in 2005," the caption read) and Richard Fuld, the former CEO of Lehman Brothers ("$354 million in total compensation over the past five years") were just two of those singled out.

Sanders's colleague, Hillary Clinton, came to the floor the same day, more somber than the Vermonter, less theatrical and brandishing no posters. "The costs of inaction are far too great," the New York Democrat said in defense of TARP, explaining more than blaming. "Essentially, what we are doing here, in an intangible way, is restoring trust and confidence and, in a very tangible way, helping to restore credit."

It's easy to paint Sanders, a political independent, as the raging liberal, the idealist, the anti-Wall Street crusader, and Clinton as the pragmatist, the centrist, the friend of financiers. But an in-depth examination of Clinton's eight-year career in the Senate and Sanders's 23 years in the Senate and House reveals those portrayals are caricature, based on truth but exaggerated. The two Democratic presidential contenders were certainly at odds stylistically. But on Capitol Hill, Clinton and Sanders were not as different as they might appear.

It's in the interest of each campaign to emphasize their disagreements. Clinton has used Sanders's reputation as a starry-eyed idealist to play up her own self-styled image as a "doer." Pressed at the first Democratic debate, in Las Vegas, on whether she is really a progressive or more of a moderate, Clinton responded with a none-too-subtle diss: "I'm a progressive. But I'm a progressive who likes to get things done."

Their differences on key votes have already become campaign fodder. Clinton has tried to make the case that Sanders isn't the consistent liberal he's playing in the primary, highlighting his vote against a 2006 immigration reform bill that Latino groups favored and Clinton supported. In 1993, it was the Vermont "socialist" who voted against the Brady Act mandating a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases to enable background checks. Clinton wasn't in Congress at the time, but her husband, President Bill Clinton, signed the bill into law.

Sanders counters by noting that Clinton voted to authorize the Iraq War in 2002; he opposed it. And, of course, Clinton voted for the TARP bailout Sanders opposed. Sanders also likes to point out that while he's never been much of a fundraiser, Senator Clinton hauled in millions of dollars through her campaigns and political committee, Hill PAC, including vast amounts from Wall Street.

And for Sanders, playing the role of the principled insurgent has allowed him to tap into the nation's populist, anti-Washington mood. At his campaign launch in Burlington, Vermont, in May, the 74-year-old promised "a political revolution to transform our country." In a November interview with the Boston Globe editorial board, he asserted, "I disagree with Hillary Clinton on virtually everything."

Really? During the two years they overlapped in the Senate, Sanders co-sponsored 19 pieces of legislation that Clinton introduced, while Clinton signed on in support of seven Sanders bills. …

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