Politics & Policy

Weekend at Bernie’s

Sanders campaigns in Las Vegas, Nev., February 14, 2016. (Ethan Miller/Getty)

One can find much wisdom in popular culture, and in Communism jokes, and the Bernie Sanders campaign offers a fascinating blend of both. As in the movie classic Weekend at Bernie’s, in which a corpse refuses to play the part, socialism — an ideological corpse thoroughly rotted but emitting a ghastly stench describable only by those who have lived through it — shines bright in the minds of innumerable college students, wealthy leftists, and the ineffable Bernie Sanders, “democratic socialist” (an oxymoron), presidential candidate promoting a “new kind of politics,” blatant demagogue, and exposer of Hillary Clinton’s political weaknesses, about all of which more below, including a Communism joke. (I’ve got a million of ’em.)

For now, let us note that Iowa and New Hampshire are past, as is Chris Christie, the man who claims to abhor rhetorical repetition. (How many dozens of times did Christie mention in offhand fashion that, oh, by the way, he is a former prosecutor?) South Carolina, the other primaries and caucuses, the conventions, the debates, the Labor Day baby-kissing contests, and the November climax at the O.K. Corral beckon still. Thus do we find ourselves only at the beginning of the amusements, horrors, and popcorn fests of the election season. This really is the most fun one can have without a squirt gun.

Oops: Did I neglect to offer a trigger warning before “squirt gun”? Precisely how would that work, anyway? “You are about to read the phrase ‘squirt gun.’” Bernie Sanders’s supporters on college campuses disproportionately favor trigger warnings, safe spaces, and the teddy bears and baby blankets needed for comfort, a phenomenon simultaneously amusing and distressing. That individuals in desperate need of such coddling are enamored with Bernie’s campaign for socialism is “no accident,” as Pravda in its glory days used to put it when touting the all-seeing power of the Party. (Every college student should be required to read The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression.)

A source of laughter even heartier: The Hillary campaign seems actually to believe that her political weaknesses stem not from a career characterized by rampant corruption, or the central nature of the Clinton Foundation as a money-laundering operation, or her blatant resort to identity politics, or her utter lack of actual accomplishment, or her use of a private server to frustrate public scrutiny of her public actions, or the certain hacking of that server and its classified materials by foreign powers, or her willingness to destroy the women victimized by her husband’s depredations, or her paralysis during the Benghazi attack and the blatant mendacities that she told to the victims’ families and to the nation writ large, or her grating laughter. No, her political weakness thus far stems instead from a failure of messaging. Seriously.

#share#Back to Bernie: Far less amusing is his explicit campaign as a demagogue hurling invective at the financial-services industry. Their business model? “Fraud.” The fossil-fuel industry has known such hatred for decades, as have bankers, the pharmaceutical sector, the insurance companies, and on and on. To paraphrase the ineffable Joe Biden, socialism as an ideology is dead, but Bernie’s demagoguery is very much alive. Far from being a “new kind of politics,” the demonization of unpopular political minorities is as old as the hills, practiced by hucksters, mass murderers, and a multitude in between. Nor is there anything new about the ancient reality that down this road lies a land called “totalitarianism,” an eternal truth that exposes the deep falsehood of Sanders’s “new politics” rhetoric. That Sanders’s rhetoric has proven a competitive formula in a constitutional republic supposedly governed by the rule of law says less about Hillary’s political and policy weaknesses than about the discouraging effect of big government on self-reliance and the defense of freedom.

Bernie is castigated by many for having taken his honeymoon in 1988 in the Soviet Union, an accusation that is not quite accurate. As the mayor of Burlington, Vt., Bernie, right after his wedding, made an official visit to the “sister city” of Yaroslavl. Accordingly, that trip was more of a junket than a honeymoon, although most junketeers choose places with postcard images more beautiful. (Yaroslavl may be near the Volga, and Burlington near the Winooski, but there the similarities end.) This does not cast Bernie in a better light than the honeymoon story: Did Bernie at that time not notice the contrast between decades of official Soviet lies and the harsh truths then being exposed by perestroika? Or is Bernie a true patriot who believes that American ingenuity will make our socialism better than the Soviet version? U!S!A! 

#related#And now for the Communism joke for which you have suffered this essay: The Great Leonid Brezhnev, bursting with pride, was preparing one day to announce to a meeting of the Supreme Soviet that the glorious Soviet Union was about to launch the very first manned space mission to the sun. So one of aides leaned over: “Comrade General Secretary, aren’t you worried that our cosmonauts will be vaporized?” Brezhnev glared at the kid and started screaming: “Do you think the Politburo is stupid? We will launch the mission at night.”

Pretty dumb, isn’t it? But is it dumber than Bernie’s sincere belief that industries nationalized or politicized will preserve quality and conserve resources? Is it dumber than the view that socialism can be “democratic”? Is it dumber than the fragile flowers applauding Bernie while balancing teddy bears on their laps? Yes, no, no, and no.

— Benjamin Zycher is the Marshal of the Soviet Union, John G. Searle scholar, and resident repository of Communism jokes at the American Enterprise Institute.

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