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The Wackiness of Evil

That wacky Bernie Sanders, as his groupies would have it—daft, even, with the tousled hair and the professed socialism. Why, back in 1987, he even honeymooned in the Soviet Union.

Missing, generally, from these portraits of Sanders as the oddball patron of hopeless causes is the detail of Soviet communism’s butcher’s bill: 20 million lives sacrificed to, which is to say “by,” the regime with which he cavorted in his eccentricity.

In the province where Sanders enjoyed what he called a “very strange” honeymoon, Yaroslavl, for example, the Bolshevik secret police had in 1919 boasted of terrorizing an uprising into submission. The Black Book of Communism excerpts the police report: “The families of the deserters have been taken as hostages. When we started to shoot one person from each family, the Greens began to come out of the woods and surrender. Thirty-four deserters were shot as an example.” There is no record of Sanders having laid a wreath.

Like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who honeymooned in Castro’s Cuba—where totalitarianism’s death toll conservatively ranks in the tens of thousands and would surely have climbed higher had one in 10 people not fled the island since the Revolution—Sanders also visited Havana, hoping to meet the tyrant. Alas, the Lord Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, was only granted an audience with the Mayor of Havana.

Media portrayals that fail to take such episodes seriously reflect the double standard that, a generation after the Berlin Wall’s demise, still refuses to acknowledge communism’s evil. (For another illustration, see this photo essay on life in North Korea, in which there is not a concentration camp to be found.)

Early 20th century liberalism divided between staunch anti-communists and Stalinist apologists. That debate had the virtue of clarity and moral seriousness. The Sanders phenomenon risks lapsing into a petty nostalgia that, by making flirtation with evil adorable, also renders it trivial.

Totalitarian communism and National Socialism were the twin evils of the 20th century. Yet as the journalist Michael Kelly noted in the late 1990s, the intelligentsia takes only one of them seriously. Had any candidate for the Presidency indulged in a youthful fling with Nazi sympathizers, he would be immediately disqualified. Sanders’ dalliance with Soviet communists, in the full blossom of adult responsibilities, not only escapes serious attention, it renders him colorful.

So do such astonishing displays of egoism as the Lord Mayor’s open letter to the people of Nicaragua disavowing, on behalf of the burghers of Burlington, American policy toward the Sandinista regime. Those who have had enough of grandiosity emanating from the White House may be wary of what someone who acted thusly as Mayor of Burlington would do installed behind a desk in the Oval Office.

A test of Hillary Clinton’s seriousness would be whether she is willing to make these aspects of Sanders’ record what they ought to be: a measure of his own seriousness, either because his moral judgment is appalling or because it is flippant. Neither would commend him.

Reader Discussion

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on August 03, 2015 at 08:57:42 am

I'm not interested in Democratic or "progressive" candidates but enjoyed exploring your comments. I found confirmation at http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/the-25-best-things-we-learned-bernie-sanders-book and in other places. If Wikipedia covered the relationship with Russia, I missed it. I am not a customer for Sanders' book.

However, Greg Weiner's American Burke is on my list to consider; I think we can accomplish the combination personal liberty and domestic goodwill and wonder if Moynihan had similar thoughts.

Phil

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Phil Beaver
on August 03, 2015 at 09:55:14 am

Phil-

Thanks. Moynihan was one of the staunchly anti-totalitarian liberals. He had no patience for the Stalinists.

Greg

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Greg Weiner
on August 03, 2015 at 11:24:27 am

Wow. Sanders traveled in the Soviet Union, where Stalin’s policies in 1927-1953 killed 20 million people. And that’s a test of seriousness.

Just think of it: 20 million. Gosh, that’s almost as high as the low end of the estimated deaths during five years of China’s Great Leap Forward. So what conclusions should we draw about everyone who has ever traveled in China? ‘Cuz we’re being serious here.

And gosh, lots of people attended the 1936 Olympics; I guess they were all Nazi sympathizers. Gosh, lots of people visited Egypt during the Mubarak regime; guess they all embrace military dictatorships. Moreover, if Cuba shortly becomes a vacation hotspot for Americans, the only possible explanation will be Americans' deep love of political oppression. After all, what other conclusions could a serious person draw?

Here’s a suggestion: Serious people should evaluate politicians based on their policies. So why are we wallowing in cheap symbolism? Can you really find no substantive basis to oppose Sanders?

Seriously?

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nobody.really
on August 03, 2015 at 12:17:12 pm

'@ N B

Yes, seriously !

To the extent "politics" has any serious connections with "real" life."

Let me take you back to the time of my childhood by suggesting a look into Amity Shlaes' "The Forgotten Man" for a compelling review of the New Deal sojourners and the development of their motivations.

It is the indicators of motivations that deserve **serious** observation.

How else might (and as we see in NYC - do) those indicators play out.

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Image of R Richard Schweitzer
R Richard Schweitzer
on August 03, 2015 at 13:46:31 pm

"Can you really find no substantive basis to oppose Sanders." How about the fact that he has embraced socialism, an economic system which has failed everywhere it has ever been tried; the fact that he supports a higher minimum wage, a policy which causes increased unemployment and harms the very people it is allegedly implemented to help; the fact that Sanders foolishly believes that income inequality is actually a problem, and believes that the Government is competent to decide not only just how much income inequality is the "right" amount of inequality, but also competent to reshuffle incomes to achieve that result; the fact that Sanders thinks that "market failure" was the cause of the many problems with our health care system pre-Obamacare, and believes that a single payer plan like universal Medicare is the best solution for our health care system (Yeah, Government control of health care has worked out so well for our Veterans Health Care system!!!)? There are simply too many substantive reasons to think that Bernie Sanders is a complete idiot and unfit for ANY public office, let alone President.

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Daniel Artz
on August 03, 2015 at 14:08:56 pm

Obviously, you are slipping into your *unserious* persona again!(another in a long line of arguments that "posture" toward plausibility but in the end obscure legitimate points).
Have fun and all praise to "wackiness."

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gabe
on August 03, 2015 at 14:34:11 pm

Thank you, Daniel Artz! In only 2:22 since I posted my challenge, Artz was able to find a plethora of substantive reasons to oppose Sanders's policies -- without even the slightest reference to where Sanders chooses to vacation.

There really is little challenge for someone of a libertarian bent to find substantive reasons to oppose Sanders's candidacy. The only challenge is trying to determine why Weiner would feel the need to focus on bogus symbolic reasons rather than substantive ones.

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nobody.really
on August 03, 2015 at 17:26:50 pm

Because it is blog opinion post, not a serious authoritative writing. I'm quite sure Weiner could produce plenty of documentation to back up his opinion, but that is not what blogging is about.

My question is why nobody.really would harp on this fabrication of purpose, when everybody knows that blogging is not about proving points; its about enjoyment of writing, and community, and bouncing ideas off of people, and similar kinds of purposes.

Why do you do this kind of sniping. To be rude just because you can? I don't get guys like you.

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Scott Amorian
on August 03, 2015 at 20:20:52 pm

First,the Soviets murdered 43 million not 20 million. Second We have had socialism in America for almost 100 years. All 10 Planks to the Communist Manifesto,albeit in modified form,have been blended into the American Fabric. Sanders is a socialist and so have been the majority of the American politicians for at least the last 80 years. We just call it something different,democracy. Socialism is based on violence or the threat of violence. Stop filing tax returns,rescind your social security number,don't register your firearms,drive without a drivers license, don't register your kids for public school or have them inoculated plus a plethora of other rules and regulations and see how far you get. Bernie Sanders is a socialist but at least he is an honest socialist. Unlike the Democrats and Republicans who claim you live in the land of the free yet embrace the socialist dogma but under cover of legitimacy and a different title. The Income Tax,Social Security numbering,fiat currency,central banks etc.,etc. are all socialist ideas that go back over 150 years. In fact the New Deal was based on the 1928 Socialist Party Platform. In the end its all hypocrisy .

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libertarian jerry
on August 03, 2015 at 23:36:18 pm

[E]verybody knows that blogging is not about proving points; its about enjoyment of writing, and community, and bouncing ideas off of people, and similar kinds of purposes.

Hm. I wouldn't say that everyone knows this. But I might say that it is not true that nobody really knows this.

I grow weary of the nonsense that passes for policy discussion -- especially as it tends toward character assassination -- and I'm expecting a bumper crop during Thursday's debate. Perhaps this has made me crankier than usual. Or perhaps it has merely sustained me in my standard level of crankiness.

So if I have misapprehended the spirit of Weiner's post, I apologize.

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nobody.really
on August 05, 2015 at 10:10:12 am

'@ L J

No; in the end it is all hubris.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on August 05, 2015 at 10:56:13 am

[…] a piece at libertylawsite  called “The Wackiness of Evil,” Greg Weiner objects to the media’s casual and light-hearted treatment of Bernie […]

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Image of Bernie Sanders and Media Double Standards | The Locker Room
Bernie Sanders and Media Double Standards | The Locker Room
on September 01, 2015 at 16:50:46 pm

His weird sense of humour was right up my alley and I was excited when he decided to turn his humour to books for kids. He is an absolutely wonderful writer for children, introducing children and adults alike to the weird and wacky characters that live inside his head.

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Percy Wenzinger

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.