Bernie Sanders once boasted Burlington, Vt.,
the city of which he was mayor from 1981 to 1989, was the only American city of 40,000 with a foreign policy. An odd boast considering his clear discomfort discussing international affairs has been the brush Hillary Clinton has used to paint him as a naive dove not fit to serve as Commander-in-Chief.
But as former Reasoner Michael Moynihan has uncovered by digging through troves of hiding-in-plain-sight materials, the democratic socialist senator and Democratic presidential candidate has a history of supporting some very undemocratic initiatives by some very undemocratic socialist regimes.
In an article at The Daily Beast, laid bare are Sanders' more problematic ventures into international politics, in which The Bern eschewed his more familiar envy of Danish-style social deomocracy, and instead opined that the United States had a great deal to learn from Latin American communist dictatorships.
Moynihan writes that in the 1980s, Sanders was wont to offer a "full-throated defense of the dictatorship in Nicaraguara," including its crackdowns on a free press:
What "made sense" to Sanders was the Sandinistas' war against La Prensa, a daily newspaper whose vigorous opposition to the Somoza dictatorship quickly transformed into vigorous opposition of the dictatorship that replaced it. When challenged on the Sandinistas' incessant censorship, Sanders had a disturbing stock answer: Nicaragua was at war with counterrevolutionary forces, funded by the United States, and wartime occasionally necessitated undemocratic measures. (The Sandinista state censor Nelba Blandon offered a more succinct answer: "They [La Prensa] accused us of suppressing freedom of expression. This was a lie and we could not let them publish it.")
To underscore his point, Sanders would usually indulge in counterfactual whataboutism: "If we look at our own history, I would ask American citizens to go back to World War II. Does anyone seriously think that President Roosevelt or the United States government [would have] allowed the American Nazi Party the right to demonstrate, or to get on radio and to say this is the way you should go about killing American citizens?" (It's perhaps worth pointing out that La Prensa never printed tutorials on how to kill Nicaraguans. And it's also worth pointing out that in 1991, Sanders complained of the "massive censorship of dissent, criticism, debate" by the United States government during the Gulf War.)
Having already written off free expression as a bourgeois capitalist construct, Sanders actually praised what is perhaps the single most vilified optic of economic life in a communist society, bread lines:
When asked about the food shortages provoked by the Sandinistas' voodoo economic policy, Sanders claimed that bread lines were a sign of a healthy economy, suggesting an equitable distribution of wealth: "It's funny, sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is, that people are lining up for food. That is a good thing! In other countries people don't line up for food: the rich get the food and the poor starve to death."
After returning from a trip to Cuba, Sanders declared the Green Mountain State had much to learn from the totalitarian basket case of the Caribbean, not the least of which was the island's impoverished people's devotion to a cult of personality:
Sanders had a hunch that Cubans actually appreciated living in a one-party state. "The people we met had an almost religious affection for [Fidel Castro]. The revolution there is far deep and more profound than I understood it to be. It really is a revolution in terms of values."
Hillary Clinton frequently brags about her foreign policy experience, which can reliably be described as loaded with calamatious failure from which she never learns a thing. For a while it seemed Sanders' inclination toward non-interventionism made him at least a somewhat attractive alternative for libertarian-leaning voters to Clinton's uber-hawkishness.
But the yeoman's work done by Moynihan provides a stark reminder that it wasn't just Reaganites supporting the actions of ruthless Latin American regimes in the 1980s, it was the ever-authentic cuddly democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, too.