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Health Care Causes Rift Between Progressive Left and Democratic Party Stalwarts

From left: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Bob Shrum, Cenk Uygur, Symone Sanders and Sally Kohn. (Emma Niles / Truthdig)

From left: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Bob Shrum, Cenk Uygur, Symone Sanders and Sally Kohn. (Emma Niles / Truthdig)

Politicon 2017, the “unconventional political convention” taking place this weekend in Pasadena, Calif., often feels more like a high school pep rally than a forum for serious debate.

That certainly was the vibe at the outset of one of the first panels on Sunday, titled “What Now, Democrats?” It featured speakers from various points on the liberal spectrum: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Democratic political analyst Bob Shrum, The Young Turks co-founder Cenk Uygur, Democratic strategist and former Bernie Sanders press secretary Symone Sanders, and CNN commentator Sally Kohn.

Convened to shine a light on the future of the Democratic Party, the panel began with MSNBC commentator and panel moderator Krystal Ball declaring: “Let’s not even say the word ‘Trump.’ ”

The discussion went slowly at first, with most of the panelists agreeing that the Democratic Party needs to incorporate economic justice into its platform. Uygur, a crowd favorite, ardently argued against the “systemic corruption” that has taken over the party. Sanders and Kohn expressed similar concerns, saying that it has become the “party of the elite,” in Kohn’s words.

Sanders was the first to mention the Democrats’ recently announced “Better Deal,” which focuses on boosting the economy.

Panelists remained civil despite mild disagreements, and each agreed that the party needs to change in order to succeed in future elections. It wasn’t until the Q&A portion that the discord between progressives like Uygur and mainstream party associates like Shrum became apparent.

“When we do let Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein and all these people know we’re for Medicare for All, they go, ‘Just hush up already,’ right? They don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to hear it,” Uygur said in response to an audience question about health care and insurance. “So it’s not like it’s unclear; it’s not like the polling is unclear, it’s not like the town halls are unclear—they don’t want to hear it. So I think the onus is way more on them than it is on us.”

But Shrum argued that Democrats “are too busy saving Obamacare right now to fight for single-payer.”

“That is a really, really low bar,” Uygur responded, noting that Pelosi in particular has said that the party does not support single-payer health care.

As the audience erupted into cheers, the panel dissolved into mild chaos, with Uygur ultimately declaring: “Be proud to be a progressive!”

Klobuchar, the only elected politician on the panel, looked uncomfortable during the criticisms of her colleagues and sought balance when addressing the failures of her party. “We have a way forward and we are walking it right now,” she told the crowd.

Watch the full panel in the video below, and stay tuned for more coverage from Day Two of Politicon 2017.

Emma Niles
Assistant Editor
Emma Niles, an assistant editor at Truthdig, graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a degree in political science. She has worked for the National Women’s Law Center and Ms. Magazine.…
Emma Niles

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