In November we took a brief look at Vermont Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders – specifically, his admiration for Fidel Castro and the late, great USSR. At the time, it was still possible to think of Sanders as an entertaining sideshow in the race for the Democratic nomination – a far-left clown who didn’t really stand a chance of winning. But since then things have changed quickly. His poll numbers have been rising while Hillary Clinton’s have been diving. Suddenly, it seems to be within the realm of possibility that this seventy-four-year-old socialist will make it all the way to the general election.
Sanders’s campaign is especially popular with younger voters – with millennials, that is, who cheer his promises to soak the rich and give everybody else lots of free stuff. To his young supporters, who know nothing about economics or about the history of ideologies that made such promises, Sanders’s program sounds like nothing other than common sense – goodness set into system.
Sanders has, of course, his share of older fans – old hippies, old Commies, people who’ve never given up on the utopian dream. Which brings us to our friends at The Nation, who on January 14 gave Sanders their endorsement. Applauding his call for “single-payer healthcare, tuition-free college, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, the breaking up of the big banks,” his vow to “wrest our democracy from the corrupt grip of Wall Street bankers and billionaires,” Katrina vanden Heuvel & co. averred that the “revolution” promised by Sanders “is not only possible but necessary.” In conclusion, “Bernie Sanders and his supporters are bending the arc of history toward justice. Theirs is an insurgency, a possibility, and a dream that we proudly endorse.”
And sensible observers are getting worried. One of them is Paul Sperry of the Hoover Institution, who on January 16 complained in the New York Post that the media were helping to “mainstream” Sanders. “If Sanders were vying for a Cabinet post,” maintained Sperry, “he’d never pass an FBI background check.”
Why? For one thing, in 1964, when he was a student at the University of Chicago, Sanders belonged to the youth wing of the Socialist Party USA. In the 1970s, he took part in the founding of a party that “called for the nationalization of all US banks and the public takeover of all private utility companies.” In 1979, as Yahoo News reported in a January 17 article, he called for government takeover of all commercial television stations. In the 1980s, as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he “restricted property rights for landlords, set price controls and raised property taxes to pay for communal land trusts. Local small businesses distributed fliers complaining their new mayor ‘does not believe in free enterprise.’” At one event he told an audience of charity workers said he didn’t believe in private charity – government should take on all social needs.
He also became an international busybody, making “goodwill” visits to the USSR and Cuba. In 1985, he attended an “anti-U.S. rally” in Nicaragua at which participants chanted that “the Yankee will die” and President Daniel Ortega charged the U.S. with “state terrorism.” Sanders displayed a Soviet flag in his office and spoke to Communist front groups.
It’s predictable enough that the handful of marginal old Commies who edit, write, and read The Nation are marching arm in arm with Sanders into the bright, new socialist America that they’ve been dreaming about all their lives. But what is depressing is that Sanders’s ideas are admired by millions of young people who don’t understand that the programs advocated by their candidate have been tried before, in the previous century, and that they brought unprecedented calamity, disaster, and tragedy to hundreds of millions of people who’d been promised utopia.