Calling a foul in Clinton-Sanders primary fight

To begin with, let me say that I’m not to be numbered among those fans of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders who, by virtue of that position, necessarily distrust or despise former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Like Sanders, I have respect for Clinton’s accomplishments, drive and resilience in public life, and acknowledge she’s more than qualified to serve as president. That’s more than may be said for some of her Republican opponents.

And I believe it’s entirely possible to like and support Clinton, but to like and support Sanders even more.

Clinton supports an increase in the minimum wage, to $12 an hour. Sanders wants $15 per hour.

Clinton supports a plan to ensure students don’t have to borrow money to attend college. Sanders wants to make every public university and college tuition-free.

Clinton wants to put people to work with an infrastructure program that will cost $275 billion. Sanders has a $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

Clinton wants Wall Street reforms that she says will better police the excesses that led to the global financial crisis in 2008. Sanders wants to implement a modern version of the Glass-Steagall Act and break up banks that are even larger now than they were before the crisis.

And Clinton supports efforts to expand on the Affordable Care Act. Sanders wants universal, single-payer health care for every single American citizen, as a matter of right.

On issue after issue, it’s not that Clinton wants the wrong things. It’s that Sanders wants more of the right things.

But now, Clinton finds herself in an odd place, taking aim squarely at Sanders for his embrace of universal health care. According to Clinton, Sanders’ plan would tear up the Affordable Care Act, erase Medicare as we know it and spike the Children’s Health Insurance Program. How could he?

Left unsaid, of course, is that if Sanders is successful, every single person in America would have access to health care — not health care insurance, but actual health care, and there is a big difference. There would be no need for special programs, carve-outs, or health care exchanges, since we’d all have access to care, regardless of income or employment status. America would finally join the group of nations that decided — when it comes to matters of life and death — a private-sector, profit-motive approach is not the way to go.

Stripped to its essence, the Clinton argument is akin to Sanders coming across a person driving a broken down Vespa scooter. “Here, let me get you into a reliable car,” Sanders offers. But the Clintons counter: “Look! He’s trying to take away your scooter!”

It’s technically accurate, but practically false. And that’s an awful campaign slogan.

Not only that, Clinton knows better. She was attacked in 2008 in fliers distributed by the campaign of then-Sen. Barack Obama on the issue of universal health care, prompting her infamous news conference scold, “Shame on you, Barack Obama!”

But before saying that, Clinton asked a compelling question: What purpose does it serve for Democrats — who all believe in the concept of universal health care — to criticize one another over the precise details of how that idea is achieved? Or, to quote Past Clinton, “Since when do Democrats attack one another on universal health care? I thought we were trying to realize Harry Truman’s dream.”

Well, apparently since polls in Iowa and New Hampshire show Sanders treading close behind — and in some cases, ahead of — Clinton.

The final irony? If Hillary Clinton could wave a wand or press a button and achieve a single-payer system for America without having to endure the political pain that enacting such a plan would entail, I believe she’d do it in a heartbeat. She believes in it, and she believed in it long before many other people did.

Except for Bernie Sanders. He’s been on this bandwagon forever.

— Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and co-host of the show “PoliticsNOW,” airing at 5:30 p.m. Sundays on 8NewsNow. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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