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Clinton vs. Sanders, Who Do Progressives Choose? As Race Heats Up, 2 Socialist Feminists Debate

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In the final Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton clashed with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in their most contentious sparring match so far. Sanders criticized the former secretary of state for her close ties to Wall Street, while Clinton chided Sanders on gun control and cast herself as the political heir to President Obama. Their exchange comes as Sanders has surged in the polls nationwide and in the opening two states up for grabs, Iowa and New Hampshire. As the Democratic race intensifies, we host our own debate between two self-described socialist feminists: Liza Featherstone, a contributing editor to The Nation who supports Sanders, and Suzanna Walters, a professor of sociology and director of the Gender Studies Program at Northeastern University, who supports Clinton.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In the final Democratic debate before the Iowa caucus, Hillary Clinton clashed with Bernie Sanders in their most contentious debate so far. Senator Sanders criticized the former secretary of state for her close ties to Wall Street, while Clinton cast herself as the political heir to President Obama. Clinton repeatedly praised Obama’s Affordable Care Act, while warning Sanders’ plan for a single-payer system.

HILLARY CLINTON: Now, there are things we can do to improve it, but to tear it up and start over again, pushing our country back into that kind of a contentious debate, I think is the wrong direction.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: We’re not going to tear up the Affordable Care Act—I helped write it—but we are going to move on top of that to a Medicaid-for-all system.

AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton also attacked Bernie Sanders over his record on guns.

HILLARY CLINTON: I have made it clear, based on Senator Sanders’ own record, that he has voted with the NRA, with the gun lobby, numerous times. He voted against the Brady Bill five times. He voted for what we call the Charleston loophole.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I think Secretary Clinton knows that what she says is very disingenuous. I have a D-minus voting record from the NRA.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Sanders criticized Clinton for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from Wall Street.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Let me give you an example of how corrupt—

HILLARY CLINTON: —authority, with his regulators, to make those decisions.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: —how corrupt this system is. Goldman Sachs recently fined $5 billion. Goldman Sachs has given this country two secretaries of treasury—one on the Republicans, one on the Democrats. The leader of Goldman Sachs is a billionaire who comes to Congress and tells us we should cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Secretary Clinton—and you’re not the only one, so I don’t mean to just point the finger at you—you’ve received over $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs in one year. I find it very strange that a major financial institution that pays $5 billion in fines for breaking the law, not one of their executives is prosecuted, while kids who smoke marijuana get a jail sentence.

AMY GOODMAN: In their closing remarks, both candidates brought up the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where the city’s water supply was contaminated by lead after an unelected emergency manager appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder switched Flint’s water source to the long-polluted Flint River in a bid to save money.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, Lester, I spent a lot of time last week being outraged by what’s happening in Flint, Michigan. And I think every single American should be outraged. We’ve had a city in the United States of America where the population, which is poor, in many ways, and majority African-American, has been drinking and bathing in lead-contaminated water. And the governor of that state acted as though he didn’t really care. He had requests for help that he had basically stonewalled. I’ll tell you what, if the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it, there would have been action. So, I sent my top campaign aide down there to talk to the mayor of Flint to see what I could do to help. And I issued a statement about what we needed to do, and then I went on a TV show, and I said it was outrageous that the governor hadn’t acted. And within two hours, he had.

LESTER HOLT: Senator Sanders?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, Secretary Clinton was right. And what I did, which I think is also right, is demanded the resignation of the governor. A man who acts that irresponsibly should not stay in power.

AMY GOODMAN: While the debate focused largely on Sanders and Clinton, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley brought up several issues at the end of the debate that hadn’t been discussed earlier.

MARTIN O’MALLEY: We have not fully discussed immigration reform and the deplorable number of immigrant detention camps that our nation is now maintaining. We haven’t discussed the shameful treatment that the people of Puerto Rico, our fellow Americans, are being treated with by these hedge funds that are working them over. We haven’t discussed the fact that in our hemisphere we have the danger of nation-state failures because of drug traffickers in Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by two guests.

Liza Featherstone is a contributing editor to The Nation. Her recent piece is headlined “Why This Socialist Feminist Is Not Voting for Hillary.” She’s the editor of the forthcoming volume titled False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Clinton. She’s also author of Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart.

Suzanna Walters is also with us. She’s professor of sociology and director of the Gender Studies Program at Northeastern University. Her recent piece for The Nation is headlined “Why This Socialist Feminist Is For Hillary.” She’s also the editor of the feminist journal Signs and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions Are Sabotaging Gay Equality.

Welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Walters, let’s begin with you. Why are you supporting Hillary Clinton as a Democratic socialist? And what does “Democratic socialism” mean to you?

SUZANNA WALTERS: Well, I’m supporting her for a lot of reasons. And certainly, I should say, as I said in the piece, I love Bernie. And, you know, I sort of consider myself a supporter of both of them. If Bernie is the nominee, I will work my butt off for him; if Hillary is the nominee, I’ll work for her. I think we’ve got, you know, wonderful candidates there, so I’m thrilled to see that. And I should also say that I’m thrilled to see how they’re conducting themselves with such collegiality and substance in these debates.

I’m supporting Hillary for a number of reasons. I think she is a centrist, turning-left centrist Democrat. I think Bernie has pushed her much further to the left, and kudos to him and his campaign for doing that. She’s taken much more progressive positions since this campaign season started. But I also am supporting her, very honestly and forthrightly and proudly, because she is a woman. And I have—you know, I have no problem saying that. We have voted with our gender for over 200 years, and that vote has resulted in the gender male being in the office for over 200 years. The significance of having a woman break that glass ceiling cannot be overestimated. I just think it’s incredibly important, just as it was incredibly important to have an African-American president break through that ceiling. So, you know, the fact that she is a feminist, that she is a, you know, leaning-towards-progressive Democrat at this point, obviously qualified for the job—all of those things lead me to support Hillary. But again, I should say, I support Hillary, and I support Bernie, you know, and I love his candidacy, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Liza Featherstone, talk about why you’re supporting Bernie Sanders.

LIZA FEATHERSTONE: Well, I’m supporting Bernie Sanders because he actually is a socialist and a feminist candidate. I mean, he is talking about exactly the things that would make life better for the majority of women—single-payer healthcare, given women are the most likely to go into medical debt. Women have the highest healthcare costs and most likely to be poor heads of families. He is talking about raising the minimum wage to $15, riding on a grassroots movement that is calling for that right now. Again, women are the majority of low-wage workers. So, these are the kinds of things that would really improve life for women, and it’s—as well as for many other Americans. And it’s exciting to see that.

AMY GOODMAN: What does “Democratic socialism” mean to you?

LIZA FEATHERSTONE: So, you know, it’s kind of—it’s funny, because some people have said to me, since I wrote the Nation piece, “But, you know, Sanders is not really a socialist, because socialism is workers sharing the means of production, and Sanders is not calling for that.” It’s like, well, good point. He’s not calling for that, because that would be a—that would be fairly radical for an American public that hasn’t often been exposed to socialist ideas. However, he is calling for socializing a lot of things: healthcare, higher education.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain, on healthcare, what it means. You hear—


AMY GOODMAN: —Hillary Clinton slamming him, saying, “We have just erected Obamacare, and you’re talking about tearing it down.” What exactly he’s calling for, how single payer—how you take the road from Obamacare to single payer?

LIZA FEATHERSTONE: Sure. So, he’s calling for getting rid of private healthcare, private health insurance companies, like the entire private insurance industry, which, as anyone who deals with healthcare, you know, in the sense of trying to access it for themselves, knows, would be a really—would be a really great thing. He’s effectively talking about expanding Medicare, public health insurance, which is now enjoyed by senior citizens, to everybody. And that is something that works very well in many other countries, such as Canada, and would greatly improve our healthcare outcomes and quality of life.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Walters, your views on healthcare and Hillary Clinton’s attack on Bernie Sanders around pushing for Medicare for all?

SUZANNA WALTERS: Right. It was an interesting moment in the debate, actually, and again, you know, one of the more substantive ones, which I’m always glad to see the Democrats doing. The Republicans simply don’t have substantive debates, so this is a nice change. And I agree with Liza. I mean, I think Bernie’s—you know, I am for socialized medicine and for universal healthcare, absolutely. I think the debate is a strategic one, and it’s a tough one. Paul Krugman had an interesting piece in the Times the other day arguing that simply it can’t be done, that the best chance we have, given that there has been such enormous pushback, I think, by the Republicans, that—I don’t think any bill has been so attacked as this one in history, and so many repeals sent to the president’s desk—that Hillary’s strategy of boosting up, enhancing, making it better, in terms of the Affordable Care Act, is a winnable strategy in this political context, versus the strategy of Medicare for all, opening up to more debate and more contestation by the Republicans.

I actually don’t know who’s correct on this. I mean, I hope Bernie’s right. You know, I fear that unless there is a real change in the makeup of the House and the Senate, that in fact it’s just not going to happen, that if a proposal for Medicare for all or for a version of really creating a robust socialized medicine program and healthcare program in this country, unless there was a fundamental change in the makeup of our government, that it just simply couldn’t happen. So, you know, on a strategic level, I’m somewhat convinced by Hillary and Krugman’s argument there. Certainly, ethically, ideologically, I believe in universal health. So, for me, this is an interesting and substantive and strategic debate within the Democratic Party. And, you know, I don’t pretend to be an expert on this and to know who’s actually accurate. And I do—you know, I do think, though, that this is a debate well worth having, without demonizing one side or the other on it. It is largely, I think, a question of realpolitik and strategy. And a lot of that is dependent not just on an individual, whether there’s a Hillary or a Bernie in office, but what happens to the rest of the makeup of our governing bodies.

AMY GOODMAN: Liza Featherstone, you wrote a book on Wal-Mart, Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart based in Arkansas, Hillary Clinton on the board of Wal-Mart for many years. Your thoughts?

LIZA FEATHERSTONE: Yeah. Well, she served on the board of Wal-Mart for many years. In fact, she was brought on by the Walton family because they were concerned about getting some criticism. This was, you know, very early days, years before the Betty Dukes lawsuit that I wrote about, in which women sued Wal-Mart for sex discrimination. But they were concerned about getting criticism about the position of women in the company, so they brought Hillary Clinton on the board at the time she was first lady of Arkansas. And she was—she didn’t really do anything to address the situation of women at the company. But more surprisingly to me, she hasn’t in recent years ever said anything, you know, when people ask her, “Do you have any comment? As, you know, such a prominent woman claiming feminist credentials, running for president of the United States, do you have any comment about this company where you served on the board and the company was later the target of the largest sex discrimination suit in history?” You know, she hasn’t—she hasn’t walked it back. She hasn’t really said anything at all about it. And I think that that’s—I think that’s indicative. I think Hillary Clinton really represents a kind of a Lean In feminism, a feminism for the elite. You know, I think that some people will look to her as breaking glass ceilings, but I think her attitude toward her time at Wal-Mart indicates her attitude toward the vast majority of working-class women.

AMY GOODMAN: One of her fiercest criticisms of Sanders was his positions on guns, though he said he got a D-minus from the National Rifle Association. Wal-Mart is the biggest gun and ammunition seller—


AMY GOODMAN: —in the country.


AMY GOODMAN: Did she weigh in on that as a board member?

LIZA FEATHERSTONE: Not as far as I know. And I think that that’s an interesting thing that people should be asking her more about.

AMY GOODMAN: Suzanna Walters, your position on Hillary Clinton’s position on the board of Wal-Mart, not to mention the issues of wages for workers, etc.?

SUZANNA WALTERS: Yeah, look, I think she has a decidedly—like most politicians and people in public life, a decidedly mixed history, absolutely. You know, would I like her to be less hawkish? You bet. Would I like her to be more outspoken on any number of things? Absolutely. I also think we need to look at where she stands now and the positions she’s taking now. She’s been a firm supporter of questions of wage equity, of reproductive rights. I mean, there’s a reason Planned Parenthood went out of its way to endorse her in this way. You know, she has called for more funding for Planned Parenthood, for repeal of the Hyde Amendment. So, you know, I think she is a strong advocate for women’s rights in a wide range of fora.

I also would say that this kind of parsing of is she a Lean In feminist, or is she a this kind of feminist, you know, I kind of feel anyone—most of our major leaders, people who reach this level of political life, make all kinds of compromises, are deeply compromised people in their politics. They are not radical feminists of the ilk that I would love to see in office. I’m not expecting that. So I guess my expectations for all—you know, for all of this are quite different: that people are complicated, they are mixed bag, they’re good on some things, not good on other things. That’s why—you know, like the criticism about Bernie and guns. I actually think Bernie would do fine on guns. I think it’s not a justified criticism. I think he could have been tougher. You know, he would do just fine if he was president. He would do the right thing on gun control.

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