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OpinionColumnistsCathy Young

The disaster of a Sanders nomination

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., arrives

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., arrives to speak to supporters at a primary night election rally in Manchester, N.H. on Tuesday. Credit: AP/Matt Rourke

While Sen. Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire Democratic primary by a far smaller margin than many predicted and got the same number of delegates as runner-up Pete Buttigieg, the Senator from Vermont is now the Democratic front-runner, favored in many projections to win the nomination. Given his history as a man of the far left, this is a disturbing prospect.

“You can vote for the sociopath or the communist. Which one is better?” centrist Democrat Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, tweeted on Tuesday night. Sommers was quickly bombarded with replies asserting that to call Sanders a communist was a smear.

Four years ago, when Sanders was starting his primary battle against Hillary Clinton, I defended him against the “communist” label. While I thought his ideas were too far to the left, I also found him to be a fresh voice of challenge to the stale party establishment.

After four years of anti-establishment populism in power, its left-wing version no longer looks fresh or idealistic. What’s more, revelations about Sander’s history raise new questions about just how radical a candidate the self-proclaimed Democratic socialist is — as do some of his current associations.

In 2016, I wrote that Sanders’ reputed flirtations with the Soviet Union were limited to a “sister city” program between Burlington, Vermont, where he was mayor in the 1980s, and the Russian city of Yaroslavl. But previously unseen videos from Sanders’ 1988 trip to the Soviet Union have raised new questions on this issue.

While Sanders acknowledged problems in the former USSR, he also asserted that we should “take the strengths of both systems” and “learn from each other.” This, at a time when the Soviet system was coming apart at the seams and the main thing to learn from its experience was that Soviet-style socialism breeds human misery. Sanders also praised the beauty of the Moscow subway — a Stalin propaganda showcase with palatial stations — while ignoring the fact that most Soviet public transit was overcrowded and environmentally disastrous.

Around the same time, in a statement unearthed by The Washington Examiner in University of Vermont archives, Sanders praised the “very deep revolution” in Fidel Castro’s Cuba for not only providing free health care, education and housing but also “creating a very different value system than the one we are familiar with.” (The entire document has not been released, but the Sanders camp has not even tried to claim that these quotations are taken out of context.)

Other troubling facts include Sanders’ association with the Marxist-Leninist Socialist Workers Party. In 1980, Sanders was an elector for this fringe group at a time when it defended the Islamist revolution in Iran and its capture of the “imperialist” U.S. Embassy. He also spoke at rallies for its candidates in 1982 and 1984.

Granted, this happened decades ago. But Sanders has never apologized for his past. And aside from the morality of being on the wrong side in the Cold War, there is the issue of what it means to his ability to win in the general election when Republicans will make full use of this baggage.

Couple this with the fact that one of Sanders’ chief campaign surrogates today is militant anti-Israel activist Linda Sarsour, whose anti-Zionism includes rhetoric about “Jewish supremacy,” and Sanders looks more and more like an American version of Jeremy Corbyn, the radical British labor leader who got trounced in last year’s election.

Sanders’ nomination will be a disaster for America whether he wins or loses in November. There is still time for Democrats to come to their senses.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.