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The Strange Establishment Backlash Against Bernie Sanders

“I have friends and supporters in the Human Rights [Campaign], in Planned Parenthood,” Democratic presidential aspirant Bernie Sanders told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on January 19.  “But you know what, Hillary Clinton has been around there for a very, very long time and some of these groups are part of the establishment.”

The comment in reply to Maddow’s query as to his feelings about those groups endorsing Clinton’s campaign rather than his own, produced an immediate and bizarre backlash from both Clinton and the groups in question. “Really Senator Sanders?” tweeted Clinton. “How can you say that groups like @PPact and @HRC are part of the ‘establishment’ you’re taking on?”

Well, let us count the ways.

Planned Parenthood is a “non-profit” business with a history going back nearly a century, which has for decades kept its lips firmly latched on the US government’s corporate welfare teat to the tune of half a billion dollars a year. It keeps that money flowing with intensive, ongoing lobbying and litigation to ensure that a plurality of American politicians support its goals and guarantee its revenues. It’s as much a part of the American political establishment as any investment bank or old-money K Street lobbying shop.

The Human Rights Campaign is a more interesting case — and more obviously “establishment” than even Planned Parenthood. It’s younger (founded in 1980) and poorer (only about $40 million in annual revenues), but historically, it’s been purely a partisan establishment political project. HRC’s job, for 30-odd years, was to cajole LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) voters into pulling the lever for Democrats instead of for Libertarians, Greens and other political candidates who actually supported LGBT rights. And it did a pretty good job as PR flack. The Democrats nearly monopolized the LGBT vote without ever having to actually earn that vote.

Here’s a good indicator of just how “establishment” the Human Rights Campaign is:  Bernie Sanders publicly supported gay rights at least as early as 1983. Hillary Clinton finally stopped publicly opposing same-sex marriage three years ago, once the end of the fight was clearly in view. HRC isn’t supporting its better ally in its stated cause.  It’s supporting the Democrat it expects to win — the “establishment” Democrat — because only winners get to dispense the favors HRC feels it has earned.

The notion that Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign are anything but “establishment” through and through doesn’t pass the laugh test.

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Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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