Several new staffers have joined the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), including David Sirota, a columnist and political activist who once praised the economic policies of former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.
In a 2013 column for Salon, Sirota credited Chavez's "full-throated advocacy of socialism" with achieving an economic miracle. "As shown by some of the most significant indicators, Chavez racked up an economic record that a legacy-obsessed American president could only dream of achieving," he wrote.
Sirota's piece rants against neoliberalism in a manner characteristic of activist and academic discourse on the far-left.
"As evidenced by the treatment of everyone from Martin Luther King to Michael Moore to Oliver Stone to anyone else who dares question neoliberalism and economic imperialism, that punishment is all about marginalization—the kind that avoids engaging on substance for fear of allowing the notion of socialism to even enter the conversation in the first place," Sirota wrote.
Sanders himself is no stranger to effusive praise for socialism, and not just the allegedly friendlier version touted by the resurgent Democratic Socialists of America, but full-on authoritarian socialism as practiced by countries like the Soviet Union. In a 1988 interview, Sanders talked about how fantastic the Soviet Union's public transportation was—reserving special praise for its many "works of art, and chandeliers, which were beautiful." Sanders also defended bread lines—a common feature of communist countries—as a "good thing," because they meant that people were getting food.
More recently, Sanders refused to label Venezuela's embattled leader, Nicholas Maduro, a dictator. However, he did criticize the regime's human rights abuses, saying in a statement, "the Maduro government in Venezuela has been waging a violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society." He also urged the U.S. government not to intervene in the matter, which is admirable.
Indeed, Sanders' comparatively restrained foreign policy is the best thing about his candidacy. His affection for nationalizing industries, on the other hand, is less than desirable. It should go without saying, but there has been no economic miracle in Venezuela.
Sirota joins the Sanders campaign as a senior advisor and speechwriter. Sanders has also hired Briahna Joy Gray, a former writer and editor at The Intercept.