Many people today are spinning the moment when Bernie was asked about the Sandinistas and Fidel Castro in 1985 as a weakness. It’s this kind of thinking that has corrupted our politics so thoroughly at this point. It’s this kind of thinking that makes the rise of a pompous ingrate like Donald Trump possible. The implicit assumption here is that the only way to be “electable” is to lie and pander.
What we saw last night was Bernie’s refusal to pander. What we saw was his refusal to do “politics as usual.”
What we saw in Hillary last night was a continuation of her contrived response to everything with only one thing in mind: get votes. We saw her walk back her statement about deporting children. We saw her embrace “free college for all,” when just a few weeks ago this was a “pie in the sky” idea. We saw her “reframe” essentially every one of her policy and on-the-record weaknesses in dishonest ways.
What we saw in Sanders was radical honesty. For this reason, he is what our politics needs. Even in Miami, where sentiment against Castro is highly negative, Sanders did not equivocate. He simply explained what he was saying in the video from 1985 and demonstrated that his comments, then and now, were ALWAYS a critique of American interventionism and exceptionalism, and not an endorsement of Castro or the Sandinistas.
I have seen some suggest that because of this statement, and Sanders being labeled a socialist, Donald Trump will make mincemeat of him in the general election. But what about Donald Trump’s lavish praise for Putin? Only 11% of Americans have a positive view of Putin and 69% of Americans say they view Russia as a threat. I bring this up only to say that there is a counterpoint to such a critique and when Sanders offers his rebuttal, it will “land” because throughout this primary and his entire career, he has shown himself to be impeccably honest and unafraid to “own” his record and critiques.
As to the critiques about support for the Minutemen, I think the actual wording of this amendment (it wasn’t a whole bill) bears reproducing:
“On June 6, 2006, Bernie Sanders voted for an amendment to the FY 2007 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act which read, “Page 62, after line 17, insert the following: Sec. 537. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to provide a foreign government information relating to the activities of an organized volunteer civilian action group, as defined by DHS OIG-06- 4, operating in the State of California, Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona, unless required by international treaty.”
Now this amendment may have helped the minutemen, and that may have even been the intention of the Senator (Kingston) who authored the amendment, but it is not a bill that explicitly supports the minutemen. It doesn’t say anything about the minutemen. That’s a connection that has to be made, argumentatively, elsewhere. And, please note that I am not saying it is an invalid argument. But, I think we need to hear more from Sanders about his support of this amendment before we hang him on this issue. These distinctions are important and I think there are deeper issues here to parse and I hope that someone with a deeper knowledge of the law than I will do so in the coming days or that Sanders will himself.
Needless to say, the minutemen issue is not likely to lose Sanders any votes in the general election should he prevail in the Democratic primary. But, and this is a serious question, do we (as Democrats) really think that Clinton is more progressive than Sanders on any issue, including issues of immigration?
And, while Sanders (in 1985) said some Sandinistas were sincere and that Castro did some good things in his country, do we find these informal comments more damning (or dangerous) than Clinton’s admiration for Kissinger? I don’t bring Kissinger up here as a smear, but as an actual historical force that Sanders was implicitly critiquing in this 1985 video:
“Two months ago, hundreds of thousands of Chileans somberly marked the 40th anniversary of their nation’s September 11th terrorist event. It was on that date in 1973 that the Chilean military, armed with a generous supply of funds and weapons from the United States, and assisted by the CIA and other operatives, overthrew the democratically-elected government of the moderate socialist Salvador Allende. Sixteen years of repression, torture and death followed under the fascist Augusto Pinochet, while the flow of hefty profits to US multinationals – IT&T, Anaconda Copper and the like – resumed. Profits, along with concern that people in other nations might get ideas about independence, were the very reason for the coup and even the partial moves toward nationalization instituted by Allende could not be tolerated by the US business class.
Henry Kissinger was national security advisor and one of the principle architects – perhaps the principle architect – of the coup in Chile. US-instigated coups were nothing new in 1973, certainly not in Latin America, and Kissinger and his boss Richard Nixon were carrying on a violent tradition that spanned the breadth of the 20th century and continues in the 21st – see, for example, Venezuela in 2002 (failed) and Honduras in 2009 (successful). Where possible, such as in Guatemala in 1954 and Brazil in 1964, coups were the preferred method for dealing with popular insurgencies. In other instances, direct invasion by US forces such as happened on numerous occasions in Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and many other places, was the fallback option…
If the United States is ever to become a democratic society, and if we are ever to enter the international community as a responsible party willing to wage peace instead of war, to foster cooperation and mutual aid rather than domination, we will have to account for the crimes of those who claim to act in our names like Kissinger. Our outrage at the crimes of murderous thugs who are official enemies like Pol Pot is not enough. A cabal of American mis-leaders from Kennedy on caused for far more Indochinese deaths than the Khmer Rouge, after all, and those responsible should be judged and treated accordingly.”
These two issues (border issues and comments on US interventionsim) are linked. What would the world look like if US imperialism and other interventions (war, embargos, resource hoarding, coup, etc) cease? How might improved conditions in other countries (which become more possible in a world where the US isn’t a murderous bully) change the nature of immigration to the United States?
My ex-husband is an immigrant and I spent 10 years traveling back and forth from the US to his home country. It is never the optimal situation to emigrate to another country. Very few people want to leave their own culture, their family, their traditions “just because.” Most people leave because opportunities and conditions in their countries make life untenable, impossible, and difficult. Addressing immigration reform is not just about opening the border; it’s also about changing how we operate in the world. This is the underlying ethos of Sanders’ politics on immigration as I understand it.
I realize that most people on the right will not accept such a nuanced critique. But here is something that is without critique and can be offered as a counter to any right wing (or left wing) red-baiting. What is Sanders’ record? What evidence do we have that he attempted to stage an authoritarian communist take over of the government?
He is the least dictatorial of all the candidates running and, he’s the most honest. This is why his failure to disavow Castro last night is a WIN, not a loss.
What we saw in the debate last night was evidence that Sanders will not wiggle out of his record and he will stand by it, come what may. This should be emphasized to the American people now, and in the general campaign if he becomes the nominee. “You may not agree with everything I have ever said,” he can say. “But one thing you know for sure about me: I do not lie and I will tell you truth. Whatever I say, you can take it to the bank and my record proves it.”
He’s the only candidate who can say this with a straight face and so we ought to keep on listening (and voting).