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Sharpening Contrast with Clinton, Sanders Touts Bold Positions in Tough Times

'When the going gets tough, when leadership was needed, I was there,' Bernie Sanders tells Rachel Maddow

"We live in a tough world and leadership counts," Sanders told Rachel Maddow during a live interview on Monday evening. (Photo: Screenshot)

On the campaign trail and in media interviews, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is drawing increasingly sharp contrasts between himself and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, presenting his consistent record on critical issues as evidence of their "real differences."

"I have known Hillary Clinton for 25 years," Sanders said in an interview Monday with Charlie Rose on PBS. "I have enormous respect for her. She’s a friend. But when you're running for president of the United States, it's important to differentiate the differences between the candidates, and there are real differences between Hillary Clinton and myself. I have been extremely consistent on my views for many, many years."

In an appearance Monday night on The Rachel Maddow Show, Sanders addressed the question of why it matters that, as Maddow put it, he was "right first" on issues like gay rights, trade policy, and the Keystone XL pipeline.

"That's an excellent and fair question," he said, "and the answer is: We live in a tough world and leadership counts. It's great that people evolve and change their minds and I respect that. But it's important to stand up when the going gets tough. And if you look at my career, I have taken on every special interest when it was tough to do."

"Where we are right now in American history is, we have a rigged economy with Wall Street and the big money interests exerting huge power over the economy, we have a corrupt campaign finance system with super PACs prepared to buy elections," Sanders continued. "What the American people and Democrats have to know [is] which candidate historically has had the guts to stand up to powerful people and [make] difficult decisions."

"When the going gets tough, when leadership was needed, I was there," he declared.

In recent days, Sanders has hit back particularly hard against Clinton's narrative regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—the 1996 law that defined marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman—which the former First Lady recently described to Maddow as a "defensive action" meant to forestall even more discriminatory measures like a constitutional amendment.

But Sanders and gay rights activists say that wasn't the case. "Now today some are trying to rewrite history by saying they voted for one anti-gay law to stop something worse," he told a crowd in Iowa over the weekend.

"I have had in many years of politics had to make tough votes," he elaborated in his interview with Maddow. "The times then were very, very different. We had a lot of homophobia going on, a right-wing Republican leadership clearly trying to push this anti-gay legislation, and it bothered me to hear Secretary Clinton saying 'well, DOMA what it really was about was preventing something even worse'."

"It wasn't true," Sanders said emphatically, quoting Clinton ally Hilary Rosen who tweeted over the weekend: "Note to my friends Bill and : Pls stop saying DOMA was to prevent something worse. It wasnt, I was there."

"It wasn't true," Sanders repeated on Monday night. "That was a tough vote, it really was. And there were a lot of decent people who in their hearts wanted to vote no and voted yes for political reasons. I didn't. That's all the point that I want to make."

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In another instance that clearly framed fundamental differences between Sanders and Clinton, the U.S. Senator from Vermont "put his campaign where his mouth is," Engadget reported, when he spoke at a picket line with Verizon union workers in New York City on Monday.

As Huffington Post labor reporter Dave Jamieson noted, "[b]oth candidates have placed economic inequality at the core of their campaigns as they seek the nomination, though it's much harder to imagine Clinton walking a picket line aimed at a telecom giant."

In fact, The Nation's John Nichols wrote on Monday, such clear distinctions were "the takeaway message from a weekend of high-stakes politics in which Sanders positioned himself as a candidate whose long-term commitment to progressive ideals, and whose willingness to act on those ideals even in the most challenging of moments, suggested not just 'authenticity'—to borrow the buzzword of the moment—but a context in which Democrats might assess his promise to 'govern based on principle not poll numbers.'

"I pledge to you that every day I will fight for the public interest not the corporate interests," Sanders said in Iowa on Saturday, as his young supporters answered with thunderous applause. "I will not abandon any segment of American society—whether you’re gay or black or Latino, poor or working class—just because it is politically expedient at a given time."

"The proposition Sanders offered was clear enough," Nichols concluded. "While others might make promises, he can be counted on to stand firm for economic and social justice, for peace and the planet."

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