The 2016 presidential election keeps coming up in my political science class on the Obama administration. It is hard not to talk about it, due to the circus-like quality the Republican side has exhibited. But when the class ventures into the Democratic side of the primary, sometimes things get heated.
What is frustrating to me is that some Sanders supporters classify Hillary Clinton and her supporters as “the establishment.” Sanders himself did the same thing on Meet the Press April 10. In some ways, I can see where Sanders is coming from. Hillary has given speeches to big banks, and her campaign has received money from business interests. I do, however, find it disingenuous to paint her and all of her supporters with a single brush of the“establishment,” especially when Sanders himself is guilty of buddying up to the so-called “establishment”, as he did this past summer while visiting Martha’s Vineyard for fundraising and the fact he became a democrat after he has been a lifelong independent, when he finds it convenient.
Mazie Hirono, the Democratic Senator from Hawaii, supports Clinton. If you called Hirono a member of the establishment, you would be mistaken. According to MidWeek, Hirono was born in Japan and fled the country with her family when she was a young girl to escape an alcoholic father. Hirono spoke no English when she arrived in Hawaii, and her mother had to support her family by working at a Japanese-language newspaper for no benefits and low wages. It is a stretch to consider the U.S. Senate’s only Asian-American woman, only Buddhist and a progressive voice against the republican majority in the senate as a member of the establishment.
John Lewis, the Democratic Congressman from Georgia, also supports Clinton for president. Calling Lewis, a legend of the civil rights movement, a member of the establishment is foolish. According to an interview with Lewis I had in the spring of 2014, he said he was born during and lived through the Jim Crow era in the south. Alabama state police beat Lewis and others with billy clubs as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, protesting for equality in 1965. The police fractured his skull and Lewis had to be treated at a local hospital. Lewis is one of the original Freedom Riders and was responsible for numerous sit-ins and protests during one of the most tumultuous times in American history. Putting an activist like him in the same category as Wall Street is hardly accurate.
Planned Parenthood has also endorsed Clinton for the highest office in the country. The organization could be seen as establishment within the ranks of Democratic and progressive politics, but in the broader scheme of things they are hardly an establishment organization. All over the country, state legislatures are trying to defund and destroy the organization. According to KCUR, the Missouri legislature continues to pursue policies that would eliminate Planned Parenthood in our state. They recently pushed the University of Missouri to deny admitting privileges to a Planned Parenthood doctor to their hospital, which, due to restrictive legislation they put in place, has the effect of stopping all abortions in Columbia. Planned Parenthood is fighting to survive, hardly the characteristic of an establishment institution.
If Sanders would clarify his remarks and make a distinction between corporate interests and people who have been fighting for progressive issues their entire lives, I would not take issue. However, Sanders and his supporters make broad generalizations. Dismissing these people and organizations is wrong, especially when he engages in establishment politics himself. According to the New York Times, Sanders visited Martha’s Vineyard this past summer to attend a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) fundraiser. The event required at least $37,000 to attend and featured notable fundraisers and business lobbyists from the Democratic Party. Under normal circumstances I would not think this was a big deal. A senator going to a luxurious location to raise money for his party and his future re-election efforts is standard. But it’s hypocritical to decry establishment politics while attending fundraising events held by the DSCC. He does voters and his colleagues in the senate a disservice by engaging in this behavior.
Running to become president of the United States requires some degree of “establishment” politics. Young people have a right to be cynical of the system, but they should consider not chastising people and organizations who champion issues younger voters support, just because those individuals do not support Sanders for president. Young voters should understand that people might not always agree when it comes to what candidate to support, and that does not mean they are corrupt or bought by the establishment. John Lewis, Mazie Hirono and the president of Planned Parenthood have reasons to support Clinton, and given their track records, they should be respected for it.