As the much-anticipated first Democratic debate draws near, the focus is on the two top candidates: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Primary voters will want to know exactly where these candidates stand on the important issues – and how their positions differ.

One thing is certain. Several months ago, Ring of Fire predicted that Sanders’ presence in the Democratic primary race would force Clinton to move further to the left, and that is what has been happening. Clinton has indeed become more liberal in some positions – but not in others. With the understanding that Ring of Fire will endorse the Democratic nominee in the general election, regardless of whether it’s Clinton, Sanders or Biden, we present the following comparison between the two front-runners.

The Economy

In the topic of income inequality, Clinton – like Sanders – has acknowledged that workers deserve and need higher wages. This past summer, Clinton stated: “I believe we have to build a growth-and-fairness economy. You can’t have one without the other…corporate profits are at near record highs, and Americans are working as hard as ever, but paychecks have barely budged in real terms.” She’s calling for an increase in the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $12 – whereas Sanders wants it raised to $15.

When it comes to Wall Street, Clinton – unlike Sanders – does not favor the break-up of “too big to fail” banking institutions. Sanders has unequivocally stated that “too big to fail” banks are too big to exist.  That was in fact the name of the bill he introduced to the legislature in May. Sanders says: “No single financial institution should be so large that its failure would cause catastrophic risk to millions of Americans or to our nation’s economic well being…if an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist and that is the bottom line.”

Trade and The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Sanders has long been public in his vehement opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now making its way to the US Congress for approval. Clinton, on the other hand, has been unclear on her position – or has been unwilling to take a position as she waits to see which way the political winds are blowing. The TPP has put Clinton in an awkward position. On one hand, opposing the deal could damage her relationship with President Obama, whose support she requires. On the other hand, supporting it may cause her to lose the labor vote.

Health Care

Clinton is satisfied with the Affordable Care Act, calling for a few minor changes such as caps on out-of-pocket expenses for prescription medications, and the repeal of the “Cadillac tax”. Sanders believes that the ACA has represented a step in the right direction, but wants to see it replaced by a single-payer system, similar to what people in the rest of the industrialized world enjoy.

Social Security

In protecting and shoring up social security, Sanders’ proposal is to raise the marginal income tax rate. Clinton states she wants to protect the program, but has not presented any definite ideas on how to go about it.

Energy and The Environment

Sanders favors an aggressive approach that includes eliminating tax breaks for fossil-fuel companies, imposing a tax on coal-fired power plants, and installing solar panels on 10 million roofs within the next five years. Clinton states that she would like to see a third of US energy needs supplied from renewable resources by 2027 – including the manufacture and installation of 500 million solar panels.


Student loan debt is one of the hot-button issues in this election. Both Sanders and Clinton are in favor of ending profits on student loans; furthermore, Clinton proposes lowering the interest rates on present and future loans. Sanders proposes to make public colleges and universities tuition-free.

Gun Control

Both candidates support background checks for gun purchasers; however, Sanders has drawn criticism over his support of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The 2005 law granted immunity to gun manufacturers and retailers from liability, making it impossible for the families of shooting victims to bring legal action. Clinton has been more consistent in opposing gun law restrictions than Sanders.

National Defense and the Military

Clinton is more hawkish in regard to foreign affairs than Sanders. She supports US involvement in dealing with ISIS and training Syrian rebels, whereas Sanders has stated that countries in the region need to step up and deal with the issue themselves. Clinton would continue the presence of US troops in Afghanistan; Sanders is calling for a complete withdrawal.


In general, Sanders is more Progressive than front-runner Clinton, who has moved further to the center.  However, Tuesday, October 13th will give both Sanders and Clinton the first opportunity on the national stage to clearly define themselves.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.