The way that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were savaging each other in Brooklyn, you’d think they were miles apart politically.
But that’s kind of an illusion. They’re really not all that different on the issues.
It’s in the nature of party primaries that the contenders have to exaggerate their differences. They need to portray their rivals as hopelessly wrong and misguided on a laundry list of subjects, or else the contest seems purely personal—and indeed, it’s gotten bitterly personal between these two Democrats.
But when you drill down, the distinctions that raised Bernie’s decibel level to 11 at the CNN debate turn more on nuance than matters of mighty principle.
Sanders wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Clinton also wants to raise the minimum wage, but to $12. So there’s a grand total of three bucks between them—and Hillary, who quickly said she sorta likes $15, has a more complicated plan (naturally) depending on local cost-of-living.
Both the Vermont senator and the former first lady say they want to rein in Wall Street. Sanders goes further rhetorically when it comes to breaking up the big banks, but (as Clinton pointed out) couldn’t tell New York’s Daily News what laws he would use. His main argument is that Clinton is too close to Wall Street big shots, with the infamous six-figure speeches to Goldman Sachs, to have credibility on the subject. But when challenged by CNN, Sanders couldn’t name anything Clinton had done that was influenced by those ties.
Gun control is Clinton’s pivotal issue against Sanders, but he has supported, for instance, an assault-weapons ban, despite being from a rural state with no gun control laws. He does differ from her on shielding gun manufacturers from liability suits. But by and large, they are both in favor of tighter gun controls.
Fossil fuels? Clinton doesn’t accept money from the industry, as Sanders once charged, because that would be illegal. Her campaign has taken money from people who work in the industry, and the Sanders camp has taken a much lesser amount. Neither is exactly sympathetic to the oil and gas crowd.
One of the greatest debate clashes was over Israel. Sanders, taking an unusual step in a New York Democratic primary, spoke sympathetically about respecting the Palestinians (and criticized the Jewish state for a disproportionate response to provocations in Gaza). But as secretary of State, Clinton also pursued an administration policy that would ultimately lead to a two-state solution—just as her husband did, and as Sanders favors. And despite her pro-Israel rhetoric, no administration could orchestrate a peace deal without treating the Palestinian side with respect. Indeed, Clinton said at the debate she would try to “get an agreement that will be fair both to the Israelis and the Palestinians,” while protecting Israel’s security.
The list goes on. On issue after issue, Hillary and Bernie are, yes, liberal Democrats. They are light-years away from the Republicans on banking, minimum wage, gun control and other issues. There was a similar dynamic between Clinton and Barack Obama eight years ago. Sure, Sanders goes much further in promising, say, free college tuition, but even there Clinton decided to pitch a program of grants to the states that would allow students to avoid taking out loans.
And that is telling. While it looks virtually impossible for Sanders to win the nomination, he has basically won the argument, with Clinton sliding left on a whole host of issues, including the Pacific trade deal she once backed.
In the end, it shouldn’t be hard for Bernie supporters to back Hillary—except that many of them, who adore the 74-year-old lawmaker, are mad at her. And the two candidates are really fed up with each other. But that has far more to do with personality than ideology.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.