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America’s Sanderista Future?

Sanderista heroes: Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and Cuba's Fidel Castro, in 1988 (Photo by Jason Bleibtreu/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)

Devout Trumpophobe Andrew Sullivan worries that Bernie is going to be a Yankee Doodle Corbyn. He talks about how Bernie has strengths that Corbyn never did, but that there is still reason to worry, as with Corbyn, about Sanders’s weaknesses as a national leader. Excerpts:

The Tories and their press hammered Corbyn on extremist moments in his past: inviting members of the IRA into the Commons, placing a wreath at a ceremony where Black September terrorists were honored, calling Hamas leaders his friends, and several incidents which revealed either Corbyn’s anti-Semitism or his staggering indifference to it in his own ranks.

You can see an identical strategy by the GOP. Sanders’s kind words for left-wing despots, his defense of the Sandinistas, his honeymoon in the Soviet Union in the Cold War, his affiliation with the Socialist Workers Party while it was supporting the Iranian revolution, his admiration for some of the policies of totalitarian Cuba, his refusal to speak at AIPAC: All this and more will be playing on a loop by the summer. The Corbyn precedent — though Corbyn was comparatively more extreme and anti-Western in his rhetoric and foreign policy — suggests it could be fatal.


Watching Sanders in the South Carolina debate, he became aggressive, shouty, and angry. His visceral hatred of actual billionaires like Mike Bloomberg — and not just the system that creates billionaires — was striking to me. He’s all but incapable of nuance. I remember my own interaction with him on the Bill Maher show, where I begged him to consider at least that there might be a middle ground between clobbering the pharmaceutical companies’ profits and encouraging research and development in the private sector. He wouldn’t. The profit motive in health care was evil, even if it had saved and extended countless lives.


Corbyn was also crippled by cultural issues. Labour supported — or refused to oppose — the same mass immigration policies that had been rejected in the Brexit referendum. Upscale, pro-E.U. liberal urbanites therefore came more fully into Labour’s orbit, and gave the party a distinctly globalist appearance, even as socially conservative and nationalist members of the working class fled to the right. Corbyn tried to stop this realignment, or arrest it a little, but couldn’t. He had once been a classic old-school, left-wing immigration skeptic, just like Sanders. Yet he ran for office on a platform of relitigating the Brexit issue, toying with a second referendum, and demonizing hostility to mass immigration as a function of racism. For many white working-class voters, this was disqualifying.

And this is uncannily similar to Bernie’s trajectory. Sanders was, until quite recently, against open borders — “a Koch brothers’ proposal” — and an advocate of controlling immigration to strengthen wages for domestic workers. But check out his platform now: more liberal than any of the other Democratic candidates. He’s in favor of decriminalizing border crossing, a moratorium on all deportations, no more spending on the border wall, the abolition of ICE, federal health benefits for illegal immigrants, and no mandatory E-Verify. It’s a Koch brothers’ agenda — just woker — and all but an invitation for a new surge in illegal newcomers.

Read it all. I keep hearing from Bernie supporters that he cares more about class issues than about woke stuff. As I said yesterday, you vote for Bernie, you get all the woke stuff. He doesn’t care about class instead of wokeness; for him, it’s a matter of emphasis. And as Sully points out, he flip-flopped on immigration, abandoning the stance that would have strengthened the working class’s position in the country he wants to lead, in favor of the proposal that pleases the woke, including woke capitalists.

I also keep hearing that nobody cares about the Cold War anymore, and Bernie’s crackpot lefty activism back then doesn’t matter. Read this 2016 piece by Michael Moynihan to know just how far out Bernie was. If you dwell in a campus bubble, or are under the age of 40, you may not see why this stuff rattles us older folks. You need to think about this. Excerpt:

In the 1980s, any Bernie Sanders event or interview inevitably wended toward a denunciation of Washington’s Central America policy, typically punctuated with a full-throated defense of the dictatorship in Nicaragua. As one sympathetic biographer wrote in 1991, Sanders “probably has done more than any other elected politician in the country to actively support the Sandinistas and their revolution.” Reflecting on a Potemkin tour of revolutionary Nicaragua he took in 1985, Sanders marveled that he was, “believe it or not, the highest ranking American official” to attend a parade celebrating the Sandinista seizure of power.

It’s quite easy to believe, actually, when one wonders what elected American official would knowingly join a group of largely unelected officials of various “fraternal” Soviet dictatorships while, just a few feet away, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega bellows into a microphone that the United States is governed by a criminal band of terrorists.

None of this bothered Sanders, though, because he largely shared Ortega’s worldview. While opposition to Reagan’s policy in Central America—including indefensible decisions like the mining of Managua harbor—was common amongst mainstream Democrats, it was rare to find outright support for the Soviet-funded, Cuban-trained Sandinistas. Indeed, Congress’s vote to cut off administration funding of the anti-Sandinista Contra guerrillas precipitated the Iran-Contra scandal.

But despite its aversion to elections, brutal suppression of dissent, hideous mistreatment of indigenous Nicaraguans, and rejection of basic democratic norms, Sanders thought Managua’s Marxist-Leninist clique had much to teach Burlington: “Vermont could set an example to the rest of the nation similar to the type of example Nicaragua is setting for the rest of Latin America.”

The lesson Sanders saw in Nicaragua could have been plagiarized from an editorial in Barricada, the oafish Sandinista propaganda organ. “Is [the Sandinistas’] crime that they have built new health clinics, schools, and distributed land to the peasants? Is their crime that they have given equal rights to women? Or that they are moving forward to wipe out illiteracy? No, their crime in Mr. Reagan’s eyes and the eyes of the corporations and billionaires that determine American foreign policy is that they have refused to be a puppet and banana republic to American corporate interests.”

But Sanders was mistaking aspirational Sandinista propaganda for quantifiable Sandinista achievement. None of it was true, but it overlaid nicely on top of his own political views. Sanders’s almost evangelical belief in “the revolution” led him from extreme credulity to occasional fits of extreme paranoia.

I love Moynihan’s questions:

If CNN can ambush Sanders by reaching back to 1974 and his not-entirely-unreasonable criticism of the CIA, perhaps another enterprising television journalist will ask the candidate-of-consistency one of the following questions:

— Do you think that American foreign policy gives people cancer?

— Do you think a state of war—be it against the Vietnamese communists, Nicaraguan anti-communists, or al Qaeda’s Islamists—justifies the curtailment of press freedoms?

— Do you stand by your qualified-but-fulsome praise of the totalitarian regime in Cuba? Do you stand by your unqualified-and-fulsome praise of the totalitarian Sandinista regime in Nicaragua?

— Do you believe that bread lines are a sign of economic health?

— Do you think the Reagan administration was engaged in the funding and commissioning of terrorism?

A weird palette of questions, sure, but when Sanders was mayor of Burlington, he answered “yes” to all of them.

Read it all. There is a lot more. The main reason this matters today is that Bernie has not repented of any of this today. When he’s asked about it, he waffles unconvincingly (as Moynihan noted in 2016), and changes the subject. I honestly don’t think he could withstand being grilled on it by a journalist who pressed him. He just gets ranty. There is a reason that Trump wants to run against Sanders, and Sanders’s solid record of left-wing extremism is at the core of it. The Democrats may not want to run on a replay of the Cold War, but that’s what the Republicans are going to make them do if Sanders is the nominee. I have seen nothing so far from Sanders to make me think that he knows how to handle effectively these questions about his past — and what the answers say about America’s future under a Sanderista government.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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