Bill Clinton Has a Few Thoughts About the Meaning of ‘Establishment’

Bill and Hillary Clinton with patrons at Chez Vachon restaurant in Manchester, N.H.
Bill and Hillary Clinton with patrons at Chez Vachon restaurant in Manchester, N.H.Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times

By Patrick Healy

A day after Bill Clinton attacked Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on multiple fronts, the former president refined his critiques by zeroing in on the senator’s habit of dismissing Democratic leaders and liberals who disagree with him as “part of some mythical establishment.”

Mr. Clinton, introducing his wife at a rally here on the final day of campaigning before the New Hampshire primary, acknowledged that his new aggressiveness had set off a political firestorm as the election gets “hotter.”

“I have to be careful what I say,” he said to some laughter from the audience of several hundred people.

Then he noted that Vermont’s governor, Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, had tried to pass a single-payer health care program not unlike the plan put forward by Mr. Sanders, and that Vermont’s other senator, Patrick D. Leahy, a Democrat, was a champion of human rights globally. Their records “hardly” make them part of the political establishment, Mr. Clinton said, as he noted they were both supporting Mrs. Clinton.

“It bothers me to be in an election where a debate is impossible because if you disagree, you’re just part of the establishment,” Mr. Clinton said.

He also noted that former Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who is campaigning in New Hampshire on Mrs. Clinton’s behalf, lost his re-election race in 2014 in part because some voters were angry that he had voted for the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Sanders wants to replace the health care law with his Medicare-for-all plan, a legislative goal that, Mrs. Clinton argues, could destabilize the Affordable Care Act and give Republicans a way to repeal it and then block Mr. Sanders’s idea. Mr. Clinton, referring to Mr. Pryor’s vote for the health care law, said, “That doesn’t strike me as establishment, and no one in my state thought he lost because he wasn’t liberal enough.”

While never mentioning Mr. Sanders by name, Mr. Clinton said it was divisive to “demonize anyone who is against us” and recalled the senator’s criticism of two liberal groups supporting Mrs. Clinton, saying he did not agree there was “some mythical establishment, including Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign fund.”

Mr. Sanders later said he was referring to those groups’ leaders as establishment figures.

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