The Corner

What a Burger Can Tell You

A lovely piece was written by David Feith for the Wall Street Journal — lovely and true. It’s entitled “A Roy Rogers Thanksgiving Lesson,” and it quotes Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist who’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Americans, said Sanders, “don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country.”

That is so Ann Arbor. I can’t tell you how Ann Arbor that is. I heard that sort of thing a million times when I was growing up in that fair city.

Feith writes,

My grandfather marveled at the Roy Rogers restaurant by our home in Maryland. Each hamburger there was fresh and inexpensive, yet individually wrapped to stay warm, clean and ready to eat. Customers expected no less. But my grandfather came from the Soviet Union. On first visiting America in the 1980s, he saw Roy Rogers’s humble burger as a sign of awesome bounty.

Later in his piece, Feith talks of Boris Yeltsin:

In 1989 the future first president of post-Soviet Russia visited Houston, and what most impressed him wasn’t NASA. It was a Randall’s grocery store, where the Houston Chronicle saw him “nodding his head in amazement” at the fish, produce and frozen pudding pops: “He commented that if the Soviet people, who often must wait in line for goods, saw U.S. supermarkets, ‘there would be a revolution.’”

“Even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev,” Yeltsin said. No Caesar could have imagined the cornucopia available to the average American. Nor can the billions who still suffer today from hunger and empty shelves — often due to politicians who prize state control over consumer choice.

Many years ago, I did a public interview of René Pape, the great German bass, at the Salzburg Festival. Pape grew up in Dresden, in East Germany. When he first came to Salzburg, he was agog at many things — especially the food. The sheer abundance and quality of the food.

Some years later, I interviewed Angela Gheorghiu, the great Romanian soprano. She described to me her first trip to the West, which was to Vienna. She wondered why people weren’t dancing in the streets. There was all this abundance, this fantastic plenty. She couldn’t stop staring at the food in the markets — especially the meat and the fruit. She kept taking photos of these things, to show her parents. She did not take pictures of monuments and buildings (which in Vienna are splendid). She took pictures of meat, fruit, and flowers. Otherwise, how would anyone believe her?

I mentioned to Gheorghiu that Pape had had a similar experience. She was a bit cross: “The shops in Romania — not like in Germany, excuse me — were completely empty. Just white. Just white.”

Growing up, I think, means outgrowing Ann Arbor. And Vermont. Did Bernie Sanders admire Honecker’s Germany and Ceausescu’s Romania more than he did, say, Reagan’s America? I bet he did. A lot of Americans did. I knew a fair amount.

Bernie honeymooned in the Soviet Union. New York mayor Bill de Blasio honeymooned in the Castros’ Cuba. Britain’s Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, took a romantic trip with his then-lover, Diane Abbott, to East Germany. The two Labourites motorbiked through Honeckerland.

Why do people in free countries vote for such people? Ah, that’s too big a subject for a lil’ blogpost like this …

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