A supporter's inflammatory rhetoric at a massive rally for Bernie Sanders on Wednesday — capped by a reference to Hillary Clinton as being among "corporate Democratic whores" beholden to the pharmaceutical industry — underscored the concerns of some Democratic leaders about unifying the party heading into the general election.
Dr. Paul Song, a Santa Monica radiation oncologist and leader of a major California progressive group called the Courage Campaign, was one of the first speakers at Sanders' evening rally in New York's Washington Square Park. He used his remarks to rail against what he called "an immoral and unjust healthcare system" even after some improvements through President Obama's Affordable Care Act.
"Please do not believe ... that our healthcare system is OK," he pleaded with the crowd, which the Sanders campaign said numbered more than 27,000. "Please do not believe that we only need minor tweaks."
Song praised Sanders as the only candidate who recognized healthcare as a human right and support for universal healthcare, before he turned his attention to Clinton.
First, he said he respected Clinton and her husband and noted they had helped his family -- President Clinton traveled to North Korea to secure the release of his sister-in-law, Laura Ling, a journalist who was detained there. But Song said he could only support a candidate who "will help every single family in the United States."
"Secretary Clinton has said Medicare-for-all will never happen," he said. "Well, I agree with Secretary Clinton that Medicare-for-all will never happen if we have a president who never aspires for something greater than the status quo. Medicare-for-all will never happen if we continue to elect corporate Democratic whores who are beholden to Big Pharma and the private insurance industry instead of us."
"There's no room for language like that in our political discourse," the post reads.
Though Song's insult has drawn a flurry of attention, it's what Song said next that highlighted a viewpoint that Obama himself recently warned could risk an intraparty split among Democrats, similar to what has so vexed Republicans recently.
Song said that Sanders "rightfully recognizes" that he cannot pursue universal healthcare on his own.
"It first starts with us electing him president, and ends with us voting out every corporatist Democrat and replacing them with Bernie-crats," he declared.
Last week, speaking to law students in Chicago, Obama acknowledged that many of his supporters were disappointed in the Affordable Care Act among other policies, but argued the only way to achieve their goals was to pursue change on an incremental basis.
"The thing that Democrats have to guard against is going in the direction that the Republicans are much further along on, and that is this sense of we are just going to get our way, and if we don't, then we'll cannibalize our own and then kick them out and try again," he said. "We narrow our viewpoints more and more until finally we stake out positions that are so extreme that they alienate the broad public."
The dust-up is likely to be addressed Thursday night in the first Democratic primary debate in more than one month. Clinton leads in public polls ahead of Tuesday's New York primary, but Sanders said at his rally that he thought an upset was still possible if voters turned out in large numbers.
But a major win for Clinton could put the nomination out of reach mathematically for Sanders, and increase pressure on the candidate to begin working to help unify the party ahead of the general election in the fall.
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