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Will Hillary Clinton Listen to Progressives?

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Bernie Sanders, left, speaks with Hillary Clinton during a break at a Democratic presidential primary debate Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Bernie Sanders, left, speaks with Hillary Clinton during a break at a Democratic presidential primary debate Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

As Daniel Marans points out, while a lot of rank and file Bernie Sanders supporters think of Hillary Clinton as the Hildebeest rubbing her hands together to start coups in various Latin American nations while lighting cigars with money donating from Wall Street cronies, veteran liberal insiders are optimistic that a Clinton administration will be quite progressive.

Other observers ask a separate, but related question: If Clinton is courting Mitt Romney voters, neoconservative thought leaders and Bernie Sanders supporters alike, whose core interests will she fight for once in office? She cannot please all of them at once, and with progressives lacking an alternative in the two-party system, she is more likely to view their priorities as expendable, the theory goes.

Progressive optimists respond by noting that Clinton has not actually compromised her domestic policy platform to appeal to these “swing” voters. She still supports expanding Social Security, a public health insurance option, debt-free college and raising the federal minimum wage to at least $12. Most crucially of all, Clinton’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the massive trade accord negotiated by President Barack Obama, has only grown stronger over time. She now promises to oppose it before the election, after the election ― a tacit reference to the lame-duck session of Congress ― and as president.

The Democratic nominee is not coy about mentioning these plans on the campaign trail. Clinton put them at the center of her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in July, as well as in a key economic policy address in Michigan last week.

Even if she doesn’t believe in progressive policies, she isn’t going to want to cross the Democratic Senate caucus of 2017, a very different world from the Democratic Senate caucus of 1997.

Warren was also not yet a senator when Obama took office, depriving her of the platform in the media that she has used so effectively. One can easily imagine Warren, a higher-profile Sanders and allies like Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) taking their case to cable TV if a Clinton appointment is not to their liking.

“Clinton does not want to see multiple Antonio Weiss-style fights,” a senior aide to a progressive House Democrat said, referring to an Obama nominee for a top Treasury post. Weiss withdrew himself from consideration after Warren launched a public campaign against him.

As a banker, Weiss had worked at a firm that specialized in tax inversion, a technicality through which companies reincorporate overseas to avoid U.S. corporate taxes. (Obama has since named Weiss to a role that did not require Senate confirmation, where he supervises White House policy for the Puerto Rican debt crisis.)

A key test for Clinton will be whether she re-nominates to the Supreme Court Merrick Garland, Obama’s centrist nominee who is stuck in limbo due to Republicans’ refusal to grant him nomination hearings.

The aide to a progressive house Democrat said Clinton is “even cool on Senate Democrats’ push to get her to renominate Garland,” indicating she is acutely aware of progressive trepidation about Garland.

Obviously, a Clinton administration is going to be very good for progressives in some ways. And it’s going to be disappointing in others. Sometimes it might be infuriating. But it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The primary reason the Bill Clinton years were generally bad was that Democrats in Congress and the general public as well were far to the right of where they are today. Today, as was very much not the case 20 years ago, there is an active left-wing of Congress and there is an active and growing left wing in the general public. Had Sanders not put up such a strong challenge to her, I don’t think Hillary Clinton would realize this easily and there would be some Weiss-style fights in 2017. But now she’s quite cognizant of the left. So are her advisors. This is one of the many good things that will come from the Sanders campaign.

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