Bernie Sanders, the socialist from Vermont from Brooklyn, has stepped in it and stepped in deep with his praise of Fidel Castro’s brutal dictatorship in Cuba and its fictitious advances in, among other things, literacy. Republicans must be looking forward to watching him defend that in Florida in front of audiences composed of the friends, family, and survivors of those whom the Castro regime murdered, imprisoned, tortured, disfigured, repressed, and terrorized — which, it bears remembering, it continues to do, to this day, under Raúl Castro. The Cuban people desperately need our help, not Senator Sanders making excuses for the men who murder and oppress them.
The analogous cases are, as a rhetorical matter, obvious enough: Mussolini had a really strong public-works program. Hitler was a patron of the arts. Franco was . . . pretty fashion-forward, even for a generalissimo. Etc.
Conservatives are as vulnerable to flights of ideological fancy and political passion as anybody. Even the great F. A. Hayek (who rejected the label “conservative” even though he plainly was a conservative as Americans use the word) found himself hostage to excessive enthusiasm, in his case for the repressive rightist government of Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet’s government did make critical reforms to economic policy in Chile. It also committed horrendous atrocities. “Yes, but what about his entitlement-reform program?” is at the very least morally and intellectually insufficient. And the attraction to the strongman form of government always must be resisted, because there is, finally, no such thing as a benevolent dictator. Hayek was gently chided by Margaret Thatcher for his excessive affection for the Chilean regime. Her advice to him is wise counsel for conservatives today: “Our reform must be in line with our traditions and our Constitution. At times the process may seem painfully slow. But I am certain we shall achieve our reforms in our own way and in our own time. Then they will endure.”
It is not true that the American Left has no interest in “our traditions and our Constitution.” The Left is very interested in our traditions and our Constitution — it hates these and wishes to see them destroyed. The Left’s war on the Constitution goes back to the foundation of American progressivism under Woodrow Wilson, who considered the Constitution outmoded and a hindrance to intelligent administration. The line of thinking extends straight into modern progressivism: Harry Reid’s attempt to gut the First Amendment in order to put political speech under government control, a proposal endorsed by every Democrat in the Senate; other related progressive attempts to destroy the Bill of Rights, beginning with the First and Second Amendments but by no means limited to these; the contention by progressives, typified by Ryan Cooper, that “the American Constitution is an outdated, malfunctioning piece of junk”; Senator Sanders’s call for “revolution”; etc.
The Democrats may shed a few crocodile tears over President Donald Trump’s supposed assault on the Constitution (Trump’s assault mainly has been on American manners, the importance of which is generally overlooked and misunderstood), but assaulting the Constitution is the foundation of their politics and their jurisprudence: Assaulting the Constitution — reshaping it to better fit progressive political preferences — is what Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were put on the Supreme Court to do. The intellectual and constitutional position that this is impermissible — that the Constitution must be treated as though it says what it actually says rather than as though it said what people invested with transient political power wish it said, which is all the “textualism” of Clarence Thomas et al. actually amounts to — is denounced as dangerous “extremism.” Whatever it is the American Left is on about, it is not the Constitution — not the actual one that has been written down, in any case.
Rather, the Left advocates a new constitutional covenant, one in which the law is written on our hearts — or at least on the hearts of a cabal of left-wing law professors. Senator Sanders is not an intellectual. He is not a scholar of law or economics or intersectionality studies, and he is not a member of the new administrative class that the American Left has been building since Woodrow Wilson. He is only their John the Baptist, a voice crying in the wilderness and announcing the coming of the new kingdom.
What kind of kingdom is it to be?
There is some indication in history, because Senator Sanders’s parroting Castroite propaganda about Communist Cuba’s supposed successes in literacy and health care are hardly without precedent. The New York Times’s infamous Walter Duranty reportage was straight-up Soviet propaganda. Lincoln Steffens’s celebration of Soviet life — “I have seen the future, and it works!” — required a measure of willful blindness. The New Republic at times functioned as a gentle apologist for Stalin and Stalinism. Noam Chomsky and Pol Pot, the American Left and Ho Chi Minh, the American Left and Chairman Mao, the American Left and Castro, the American Left and Hugo Chávez, the European Left and the Ayatollah Khomeini, knucklehead campus dopes and Che Guevara, etc. — the pattern repeats itself. There is a streak of Leninism that runs from the Soviet enterprise through Mao’s China and into the ayatollahs’ Iran. But what Lenin’s revolution really has in common with Mao’s and with Khomeini’s is that each of those ultimately was directed at the same enemy: us.
The American Left believes, and always has believed, that American society is fundamentally corrupt, that American power is a cancer, that American prosperity is a sham enjoyed only by the undeserving, that American business is great barrier to happiness at home and abroad, that the American way is dangerous hypocrisy, that the American foundation is not the story of liberty but the story of slavery and genocide, and that the shortest way to utopia is making common cause with those who oppose this stockpile of wickedness. And so the American Left has found something to love about every monster it can go abroad to find: Lenin and Stalin, the Khmer Rouge, Mao, the Castros, the ayatollahs, the Sandinistas (Greetings, Mayor de Blasio!), every tinpot tyrant and posturing revolutionary from Mussolini to Che. Even when it comes to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, the Left feels compelled to reinterpret history so that the crimes of Osama bin Laden et al. ultimately can be laid on the Pentagon, Wall Street, Main Street—if Americans are dying in Benghazi, it must be because some crazy American Christian stirred up the locals. If there are crack addicts in Los Angeles, it must be that the CIA was behind it. That is really what Senator Sanders’s weird little rape-fantasy literary œuvre is about — the unshakeable conviction of the Left that American society is fundamentally corrupt, an abomination that only can be saved — if it can be saved at all — by means of “revolution.”
By “revolution” Senator Sanders means investing a great deal of political power — including extraconstitutional power — in him as president. Power to what end? He already has told us, if only we would listen. He hasn’t spent his public career as an aspiring Thorvald Stauning but as an apologist for the likes of Fidel Castro and the Soviet party bosses who kept the gulags stocked with fresh souls.
Does Senator Sanders bear in his heart some secret love for Fidel Castro or the Bolsheviks? Possibly. But that is not the relevant question. Senator Sanders has come to this point not because of what he loves but because of what he hates. He is naturally sympathetic to the Soviets and the chavistas and the Castros because they hate what he hates: American power, American prosperity, the American way of life. Common causes are made by a common enemy.
In this case, us.
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