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Columnist: According to Hillary Clinton’s conservative opponents, she’s pretty progressive

By John A. Tures

Contributing columnist

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During the Democratic primary debates, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and his supporters have criticized former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for being insufficiently progressive. But it’s a different story for conservatives, who see her as a pretty progressive candidate.

The media has pretty much labeled Hillary Clinton as a political moderate. But it wasn’t always the case that she had that public perception. When she was the first lady, a New York Senate candidate and senator, and candidate in 2008, she was very much pegged as a liberal.

The site “One the Issues” documents Senator Clinton’s voting record. She voted to increase the tax rate on millionaires in 2008, and voted against allowing the AMT reduction, without corresponding budget changes. She also voted to stop estate tax — also known as the so-called “death tax” — exemption from being lowered — from $5 million to $1 million — in 2008 and in 2007, as well as casting a ballot against getting rid of the “death tax” altogether and keeping Bush-era estate tax reductions permanent.

She also stood up in the Senate against having $350 billion in additional tax cuts that would have taken place from 2004 to the present.

Additionally, Sen. Clinton voted to reduce the marriage penalty, an alternative to cutting taxes on the wealthiest. Most importantly, she voted for increasing tax deductions for college tuition in her first year as a New York senator.

But Sen. Clinton was hardly progressive in all of her votes. OntheIssues.org also notes that she voted for a measure that retained reduced taxes on capital gains and dividends, and extended those tax cuts in those areas. She also voted to increase military spending in a measure that also included similar tax cuts on capital gains and dividends, in the mid-2000s.

Despite voting for those tax cuts, she received a 21 percent rating by National Taxpayers’ Union (NTU). The conservative organization derided Sen. Clinton as a “big spender” on tax issues. At the same time, she received a strong 80 percent rating by the Citizens for Tax Justice group, identifying her as a proponent of progressive tax policies.

Moreover, during this 2016 campaign and the 2008 battle with Barack Obama for the nomination, Sen. Clinton is on record with a number of statements that confirm her support for the votes she took in office. She opposed Bush policies, and supported Obama policies.

Sen. Bernie Sanders can always make the argument that he’s more progressive than she is. And that’s certainly the case on most issues. With the exception of guns, Sen. Sanders seems to deliberately take a more liberal position than Sen. Clinton. But the argument that Sen. Clinton is some sort of “fake progressive,” or the ugly term also used against some Democratic women in office: “corporate whore” — also see Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas, who was challenged by Bill Halter from the left in 2010 — is not supported by the evidence.

Moreover, Democrats should take note from that ill-fated 2010 race. The Democrats had a strong Senate incumbent in Blanche Lincoln, who had won office in 1998 and 2004, the year Bush was re-elected. But she faced a candidate in the primary, Halter, who ran from the left and derided her as being insufficiently progressive.

Lincoln eventually prevailed, but it left her campaign bankrupt and unable to defeat Arkansas Congressman John Boozman, a nearly 100 percent conservative vote, who is up for re-election this year, and a good bet to win another term. And it’s all because Sen. Lincoln, with only a 20 percent rating on the American Conservative Union scale for votes, was seen as “not progressive enough.”

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.