The Morning Jolt


Bernie Sanders Will Rebuke Billionaires, But Not Ruthless Dictators

Bernie Sanders 2020 Presidential Campaign
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Rochester, Minn., February 2016. February 27, 2016. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Bernie Sanders picks a heck of a night to refuse to denounce Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro; an old monologue from a television show that warns us about the dangers of revolutionaries for the people; and another, sadder, fake hate crime that illustrates the incentive structure of modern political activism.

Bernie Sanders Is a Sucker for Any Self-Professed Socialist

Perfect: Bernie Sanders refused to call Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro a “dictator” on a night when Maduro temporarily detained Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos and his network colleagues, and seized their cameras and equipment.

Last night on CNN, anchor Wolf Blitzer asked Sanders, “Why have you stopped short of calling Maduro of Venezuela a dictator?”

After a long and awkward pause, Sanders answered:

Well, he . . .  I think It’s fair to say that the last election was undemocratic. Uh, but there are still democratic operations taking place in that country. The point is, what I am calling for right now, is, uh, internationally supervised free elections. And I do find it interesting that Trump is very concerned about what goes on in Venezuela, but what about the last election that took place in Saudi Arabia? Oh, there wasn’t any election in Saudi Arabia. Oh, women are treated as third class citizens. So I find it interesting that Trump is kind of selective as to where he is concerned about democracy.

Is he any less selective than Sanders, who couldn’t bring himself to utter one critical word about Maduro himself in his answer? And please, no mealy mouthed excuses on behalf of Sanders, claiming that his mild utterance of “undemocratic” constitutes substantive criticism. We’ve seen Sanders get angry, castigating “the millionaires and billionaires and the big banks” with bug-eyed, finger-jabbing, full-throated fury. The company that holds your savings and checking accounts outrages the Vermont senator; Nicolás Maduro does not.

Here’s what else is going on in Venezuela that Sanders didn’t mention:

The masked motorcyclists roared into the border town, shooting pistols in the air. They sent terrified demonstrators racing to cower in doorways or tremble in the homes of strangers. They formed roadblocks to shake down dissidents, and late into the night they prowled debris-strewn streets in deafening patrols

In San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, colectivos — gangs loyal to autocratic President Nicolas Maduro — led the charge against those who challenged the regime this past weekend. They terrorized thousands who tried to usher humanitarian aid into the hungry nation from Colombia, brutalizing them within a block of an international bridge where food and medicine were waiting.

 . . . Maduro said the convoys were a pretext for a foreign invasion, and his forces crushed the effort with tear gas, plastic buck shot and often bullets. At least 200 people were wounded, and in the remote town of Santa Elena de Uairen at least four died as troops and colectivos ran rampant, according to eyewitnesses.

This is a campaign of terror to prevent starving people from getting to food aid. This is as straight-up evil as it gets. This is not a hard call. This is not “very fine people on both sides.” The oppressor and the oppressed are crystal clear in this situation, and Bernie Sanders cannot bring himself to offer anything beyond the most perfunctory criticism of Maduro.

Bernie Sanders is the unchanging man. Back in the 1980s, he sang the praises of Daniel Ortega and attended a Nicaraguan rally where the crowd chanted, “Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die.” Sanders insisted that the United States was unreasonably hostile to the Soviet Union. He happily met with representatives of the Irish Republican Army.

There’s an amazing inversion in Sanders’s worldview, as some of the villains he denounced most frequently were the Central Intelligence Agency, private hospitals, banks, and of course, “millionaires and billionaires,” no matter how they made their money.

Maduro’s stepsons allegedly plotted to skim $200 million from the state-owned oil company, and there are other claims of an attempt to embezzle $1.2 billion. Hugo Chavez’s daughter is believed to be the richest woman in Venezuela, with a personal fortune of more than $4 billion hidden in bank accounts in Europe. (Finally, Bernie Sanders found some “millionaires and billionaires” that he likes.)

Bernie Sanders is a sucker, who will always give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who claims to be a socialist. Most of us, at an early age, recognize that people who claim to act on behalf of others can be selfish. Plenty of people who say they love humanity turn out to treat individual human beings terribly. Plenty of leaders who claimed to fight for freedom turned out to be lusting after power and ruthless in getting it and keeping it. You have to be careful who you trust with authority, because absolute power corrupts absolutely. And you have no obligation to defend someone you once saw as an ally once they start abusing their power and demonstrating cruelty and brutality.

Bernie Sanders never learned this. At 77 years old, he’s unlikely to ever learn.

‘Presidents Rise and Fall. They All Stole Your Chickens.’

Way back in 1992, ABC television debuted the short-lived but elaborate television series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. In the second half of the pilot episode, young Indy finds himself first captured by Pancho Villa’s army in Mexico, then pressed into service as a translator, and then a believer in the cause. But Indy begins to rethink his stance after watching Villa’s army take chickens from an old farmer in Pueblo. Young Indy tells the farmer that the revolutionaries are fighting on his behalf. The old farmer is unimpressed, and offers a hard-truth monologue — one of the few times you’ve seen a speech performed entirely in Spanish, with subtitles, on American prime-time television:

“Listen, years ago I rode with Juárez against Emperor Maximilian. I lost many chickens but I thought it was worth it to be free. When Porfirio became President, I supported him – but he stole my chickens. Then came Huerta and he stole my chickens. Then it was Carranza’s term, and he stole my chickens too. Now comes Pancho Villa to liberate me and the first thing he does is steal my chickens… What makes one different from the others? My chickens don’t know. All over the world revolutions come and go. Presidents rise and fall. They all stole your chickens. The only thing to change is the name of the man who takes them.”

When Activists Can’t Take ‘Yes’ for an Answer

No matter how many times members of the mainstream media declare the motivation of hate-crime hoaxers to be an impenetrable mystery, most of us can figure this out. People like attention, and they like the sympathy that comes from others when they are recognized as a victim. (Our culture has blurred the line between sympathy for a victim and admiration for a hero for quite some time now.) Hate groups make perfect, nearly universally detested enemies, and someone who runs afoul of them must be on the side of the angels. The praise and recognition and reassurance of their good qualities can be intoxicating, and hard to move beyond when it starts to fade with time.

Now the state of Michigan offers a perfect sequel to the Jussie Smollett story:

When the home of Nikki Joly burned down in 2017, killing five pets, the FBI investigated it as a hate crime.

After all, the transgender man and gay rights activist had received threats after having a banner year in this conservative town.

In the prior six months, he helped open the city’s first gay community center, organized the first gay festival and, after 18 years of failed attempts, helped lead a bruising battle for an ordinance that prohibits discrimination against gays.

Authorities later determined the fire was intentionally set, but the person they arrested came as a shock to both supporters and opponents of the gay rights movement. It was the citizen of the year — Nikki Joly . . .

Two people who worked with Joly at St. Johns United Church of Christ, where the Jackson Pride Center was located, said he had been frustrated the controversy over gay rights had died down with the passage of the nondiscrimination law, according to the report.

The church officials, Barbara Shelton and Bobby James, when asked by police about a possible motive for the fire, said Joly was disappointed the Jackson Pride Parade and Festival, held five days before the blaze, hadn’t received more attention or protests.

Think about it: This person “won” their struggle . . .  and did not know what to do next. The enemy of intolerance and homophobia had been slain, but if the comments about this activist are accurate, the battle had to go on, even in the absence of an enemy. Some people are drawn to a conflict because they believe in a cause, but some people just want to fight. And some people’s sense of self-worth is so tied into a conflict with an opponent that when the opponent disappears . . . they fear that they’ll metaphorically disappear as well.

Last September I wrote:

The more time I spend covering politics, the more I’m convinced that a significant chunk of grassroots political activists aren’t really arguing about politics at all. These folks are actually grappling with personal psychological issues and projecting it onto the world of politics. Every problem they had with a parent is projected onto authority figures. Every religious person who ever scolded them or made them feel guilty becomes the embodiment of organized religion and demonstrates its menace. Because they’ve had a bad experience with a member of a minority group, that experience reveals something sinister about every member of that minority group. The cop who wrote them a ticket instead of giving them a warning demonstrates the danger and corruption of law enforcement, the boss who fired them for shoddy work exemplifies the inherent cruelty of the capitalist system, and every frustrating experience they had with an ex-girlfriend demonstrates some defect in all women.

We should be discouraging this, but the incentive structure of our public discourse encourages it.

ADDENDUM: Over at Fox News, Howard Kurtz concurs with much of yesterday’s assessment — without having a high-ranking position or much time in office, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become one of the de facto leaders of the Democratic party, simply because she commands such an outsized share of the public debate.

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