Yes, the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood made establishment endorsements


Bernie Sanders reacted strongly to the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood endorsing Hillary Clinton ahead of him, coming so far as to include them among the “establishment” that he is trying to fight. While Jon makes a strong argument that comparing the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood to Goldman Sachs, as Sanders more or less did, is quite a stretch, both these endorsements and the ensuing drama unfolding on Twitter are an example of politicking at its finest, and the “establishment” at work.

Hillary got an unexpected boon in Bernie Sanders grouping both groups together with the political and economic “establishment,” as opposed to separating the Human Rights Campaign from Planned Parenthood. Both operate in Washington, but the Human Rights Campaign sells itself on being part of the DC establishment, while Planned Parenthood is a group under constant attack from people in This Town.

There isn’t much righteous outrage to be had in calling the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that Kerry Eleveld describes in Don’t Tell Me to Wait as “as mainstream as gays can get,” part of the establishment. Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, is one bad presidential election away from having another part of the Washington establishment kill its funding, which would put its very survival in jeopardy. If Hillary Clinton and her campaign could make hay out of Sanders using the word “shouting” in a debate, they could jump on a dig at an organization that’s had to play more than enough defense already.

As Michelangelo Signorlie wrote in the Huffington Post this morning, speaking specifically of the Human Rights Campaign but making an argument that could similarly apply to Planned Parenthood, there’s a reason these endorsements are coming now, as opposed to later in the primary campaign when the party has more or less decided (HRC has never endorsed this early in a seriously contested race): Bernie Sanders has momentum. Clinton has deployed surrogates like Abby Wambach, Lena Dunham and Bill and Chelsea Clinton to the Vermont-New Hampshire border. She has sharpened her critiques of Sanders on the air and in debates. These are strong signs that Clinton is battening down the hatches for what could be a tougher challenge than she previously expected. Given the poll trends, it comes as no surprise that both the HRC and Planned Parenthood have chosen to endorse Hillary Clinton now. As Signorile wrote:

Why didn’t [the HRC] keep both candidates competing for the LGBT vote and promising more on a range of issues, from fighting to implement the teaching of queer history in schools to taking on issues uniquely affecting LGBT seniors and LGBT people of color? Why not push Sanders more, hoping to get him to speak out more, dangling that endorsement in front of him — he could, after all, become the Democratic nominee — and why not do the same with Clinton?

The Clintons, via stocklight / Shutterstock

The Clintons, via stocklight / Shutterstock

The only answer to that question has to do with access to the White House, and perhaps what the Clinton campaign may have said to HRC, and to Planned Parenthood, the Brady Campaign on Gun Violence and other groups that have endorsed early, about the kind of access they might get — and what they might not get if they didn’t endorse now. (Let’s also not forget that Chad Griffin, HRC’s president, worked in Bill Clinton’s administration, and raised much money via bundlers for President Obama’s campaigns.) And it is a campaign that needs those endorsements now, calling in its chips, as Bernie Sanders and his insurgency has taken the Clintonites by surprise.

These Clinton endorsements are establishment political considerations at best, and in the case of the HRC endorsement, those considerations run counter to progressive policy interests. Bernie Sanders may not have  perfect record on LGBT issues — for instance, he may have glossed over the reasons why he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act — but his record on LGBT issues is still demonstrably better than Clinton’s. Sanders supported marriage equality at the national level four years before Clinton did. And before that, his reasons for not supporting it were based in federalism; Clinton argued on the Senate floor that same-sex marriage would violate bedrock social norms dealing with the raising and socializing of children:

Not only did Bernie Sanders cast the right votes against the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, as mayor of Burlington, Sanders supported the gay pride march in 1983 and the creation of the nation’s first Gay Pride Day in 1985.

Sanders even outscored Clinton in the HRC’s own ratings system (100 to 85) in 2006.

The HRC’s endorsement is even more ironic considering that, according to employees, HRC leadership is near-uniformly white and male, and despite the “T” in LGBT, very transphobic. Since the HRC’s endorsement of Clinton is evidently not based on LGBT issues or individual records, all that’s left are Clinton’s political and economic ties meriting their inclusion in Sanders “establishment” comment.

Cecile Richards, the leader of Planned Parenthood, has deep ties to both Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment. Prior to assuming the leadership of Planned Parenthood, Richards was the president of America Votes – a coalition of national Democratic Party-affiliated organizations – and was deputy chief of staff to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. When Hillary announced her candidacy, Richards all but endorsed her outright:

Richards daughter and former DNC spokeswomen Lily Adams even became the Clinton campaign’s Iowa Press Secretary. Politico pointed out that the Planned Parenthood Action Fund has given heavily to the Clinton campaign over the years and some of the PAC’s biggest donors are also longtime Hillary donors. And that’s just to name a few of the key connections between Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood. These connections aren’t nefarious or corrupt, but they are there. There isn’t much political space between Clinton and Sanders when it comes to reproductive health — you’ll be hard pressed to find a women’s health issue where they disagree in a meaningful way — and in cases like that the tie goes to the candidate you’re connected to and the candidate you think is going to win. In almost all cases, that’s the establishment candidate.

So yes, it seems perfectly reasonable to me that Bernie Sanders is disappointed with who these organizations chose to endorse and when they chose to announce their endorsements. Furthermore, Clinton’s efforts to amplify progressives’ outrage following his comments are politically shrewd moves made by the most establishment of politicians.

Nick Lehn
Nick Lehn recently received his Masters in Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology from the University of Oxford. His favorite topics include anything pertaining to science and society, global politics, social justice, globalization, and technology. Nick recently moved back to his hometown of Baltimore, MD.

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  • Don Chandler

    It was a state issue until it became a national issue. That’s the way it works. You need more than one state to have a national issue. So Sanders was right. In the 2004 video of Clinton, she was so awful. What made her change? You kind of wonder who she had working for her as senator of NY. Totally out of touch.

  • WarrenHart

    Hillary Clinton supported Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships for same sex couples years before she made that speech on the Senate floor. Bernie Sanders also said same sex marriage should be left up to each state at a time when almost no state recognized it. So, neither one of them were perfect on the issue. Back in 2004 support for same sex marriage was at around 40% nationally and thanks to George Bush Jr. using it as a wedge that year that support was going down not up, Anyway, it’s more complicated that this pro-Bernie Sanders article makes it out to be. Hillary Clinton was an incrementalist on gay rights issues just like President Obama was. This video snip is from a 2002 interview.

  • texas hostage

    Sen. Sanders just told MSNBC that PP, HRC and NARAL are not the establishment. Even after Tad the Devine was on the same network just a few hours earlier out spit Chris Matthews saying that the same groups were “Establishment”. So the Sanders campaign chief strategist and candidate cant get their attacks on the same page. Guess Bernie is just a politician like everyone else in the “establishment”. Just gluten free and less evil.

  • Drew2u

    Wow, great piece, but really, only 1 comment in 8 hours?

    I remember about a decade ago or so all the blog entries here and elsewhere that complained about the cocktail parties, etc. that the head of the HRC was busy attending then getting anything done. I mean, that’s as establishment as establishment can get. This is especially true as other LGBT groups have dismantled since the passage of marriage equality, the HRC stands very much as the #1 organization for said rights.

  • Don Chandler

    Good piece.

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