Bernie Sanders Says Barack Obama is Progressive, but Many Progressives Disagree

Is Barack Obama a progressive? Bernie Sanders says yes, but many progressives disagree. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

On Thursday night, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders clashed over what it means to be a progressive. Over the past week, Sanders has been somewhat successful in criticizing Clinton for failing to live up to progressive ideals. The Senator pointed to some of Clinton's past stances, like her support of the Defense of Marriage Act, and her actions, such as accepting campaign cash from Wall Street, which he refuses to do.

On Thursday, Clinton fought back against Sanders by arguing that many left-leaning Democrats, including President Barack Obama, fall short of Sander's definition of the word progressive. Sanders said while he disagrees with the president on a number of issues, the country is in better shape than it was before he took office and conceded that Obama is indeed a progressive.

Sanders needs more African-Americans to vote for him, so it's not surprising that he would shy away from criticizing Obama, who remains widely popular among the constituency. But for many progressives, ther president is a disappointment.

Bill Press, a leading American progressive talk show host and former chair of the California Democratic Party, lays out the reasons for his disappoint in Obama:

In three ways, in fact, he's let progressives down, either by taking no action at all, settling for too little or continuing the policies of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Obama disappointed many of us, for example, by doing nothing on gun control or immigration reform for his first four years. To this date, he still has not tackled the serious issue of a record amount of special interest, dark money in politics. And the income gap between the wealthiest and middle-class Americans has grown wider than ever under his watch.

Ironically, his signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is also one area where the president fell short.

This was the time for America to move toward a single-payer healthcare system. Instead, we got a hodge-podge called ObamaCare. Yes, Obama brought us closer to universal healthcare than we've ever been before, but some 30 million Americans are still without health insurance, either because they can't afford it or they choose not to buy it.

And we're still dependent on private insurance companies, which can raise rates every year, and pharmaceutical companies, which can raise the price of prescription drugs.

At first, in lieu of "single-payer," Obama championed the alternative of a "public plan option," but then he dropped it without a vote.

Perhaps most disappointing for progressives are those areas where Obama merely continued the policies of former President George W. Bush. We expected him to curtail the National Security Agency's widespread eavesdropping on American citizens. Instead, he defended it. He's vastly expanded the deployment of killer drones. He's deported far more immigrants than Bush. And, over the objections of Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, he forced through another colossal trade deal that will cost American jobs.

On Wednesday night, Sanders acknowledged that he'd written a blurb for the book but said he didn't necessarily share its views. It's the kind of tiptoeing that makes sense in a race where no one wants to be on the wrong side of the word "progressive."