And then there were two. If there were any doubt going in, Super Tuesday brought clarity to the Democratic race. It is now a race between moderate and progressive. Build it up versus tear it down. Normalcy versus revolution. Biden versus Sanders. The winner will take on Donald Trump in November. But it is perhaps of equal importance that the winner will determine the course of the Democratic party for a generation.
Readers of this column — if such people exist — are no doubt aware of my, at times, fervent opposition to Sanders. In the past, I’ve criticized him and other far-left Dems for promising programs they know will never pass and for playing the self-defeating games of identity and grievance politics. It’s true, I am strongly opposed to Sanders. And because I believe the stridency of one’s views determines the lengths to which one must go to defend them, I feel it is necessary to lay out the reasons for my opposition to Sanders. This is the first of two columns (the second to be published tomorrow) that I will dedicate to making my case.
Sanders is nothing short of an ideological zealot, a true devotee to his cause of “democratic-socialism.” In his 50-odd years as a political emissary from the socialist world, he’s convinced many — but accomplished next to nothing, as I explain in my second column. Really his only claim to fame is being one of, if not the most liberal (by several metrics) members of the U.S. Senate. But now he’s running for President (again) on a platform chock-full of freebies with no real plans to pay for them. He’s proposing — and this is not hyperbole — the biggest expansion of the federal government, ever. This, alone, is cause for concern. But really, my problem isn’t with the policies as much as it is with what those policies represent. Sanders sees the world through a keyhole: To him, nothing else matters but ideological purity and an uncompromising pursuit of socialist politics. In many cases, this narrow worldview has led him to support policies that hurt the very constituency for which he is fighting.
Strict devotion to one’s ideology may not be intrinsically undesirable, but with Sanders it manifests in some pretty unpleasant ways. Sanders has taken to apologizing for brutal, dictatorial regimes like Fidel Castro’s Cuba, Communist China, the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, the Soviet Union, Venezuela and others — all because they instituted some of the socialist policies he favors. Criticize him for these apologies, and he’ll accuse you of “red-baiting.” But, in truth, his past is riddled with an unhealthy dose of warmth toward communist, authoritarian and, in many cases, murderous regimes.
While mayor of Burlington, Vermont in the 1980s, Sanders traveled to Cuba on an eight-day trip with the goal of securing a meeting with Castro — but he was rebuffed. When he returned, he praised the Castro regime for providing its citizens “free health care, free education, free housing.” But also, amazingly, Sanders praised the Castro regime for helping to create “a very different value system than the one we are familiar with.”
Recently, Sanders has come under fire for his praise of Castro’s literacy program. In an interview about a week ago, Sanders said, “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing?” But what he failed to mention is that the Cuban literacy program Sanders praised was largely a re-education program. Sure, they may have read books, but they weren’t exactly reading Dickens. They were being indoctrinated into Castro’s Marxist ideology with books such as “Fidel is Our Leader.”
And at the end of their instruction, each student was forced to prove their literacy by writing a letter to the Supreme Commander, thanking him for teaching them to read.
For some reason, Sanders wants to weigh the pros and cons of oppressive dictators like Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, who have goose-stepped their people into generations of poverty and bloodshed. But he has totally glossed over the thousands of people Castro sent to labor camps, the thousands his regime murdered and the thousands more who have perished as they’ve made the treacherous journey from Cuba to Florida to seek refuge in the United States. Sanders may think it’s worthwhile to praise the Castro regime’s literacy program, but he has completely forgotten the scores of people who weren’t alive to see it. Bernie may be right. Castro may have increased literacy rates. But the dead can’t read.
And it’s not just Cuba. Sanders is the only Democratic candidate, for example, who refuses to recognize Juan Guaidó as the rightful president of Venezuela, and he has refused to call Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro a dictator. More recently, Sanders has even praised Communist China as having made “more progress in addressing extreme poverty than any country in the history of civilization.” What Bernie failed to mention is that Red China may also hold the record for killing more of its own citizens than any other state in the history of civilization. Not to mention China is currently engaging in violent suppression of political protestors in Hong Kong and ethnic cleansing of Uighurs — a Muslim ethnic minority — on a massive scale.
If Sanders’ modus operandi were to try to see the good in every situation — not just in communist dictatorships — maybe his comments would be more defensible. Are we not all concerned that Sanders appears to believe Fidel Castro deserves a more favorable appraisal than Jeff Bezos?
But what is perhaps most troubling is that it seems Sanders views Cuba, the Soviet Union, Communist China and others as success stories — as examples of nations that have implemented well the kinds of socialist policies he champions. But these nations have surely oppressed their own people more than almost every other nation in history.
Sanders seems to give these oppressive governments a pass on human rights for no other reason than that they have implemented some of the socialist policies he favors. Devotion to ideology is one thing, but it shouldn’t be the only thing. Sanders has staked his entire campaign on the proposition of revolution, of the powerless rising up against their oppressors to demand a seat at the table. But for a man who seems genuinely concerned about the little guy, he may want to rethink who and what he holds up as examples of success in the socialist world.
Andrew Reed ’21 can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and op-eds to email@example.com.