Don Pesci: The rhetorical career of Bernie Sanders, socialist

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders

It is no longer true, as your mother may once have told you, that you are judged by the company you keep. Former President Barack Obama had a few diamonds in the rough on his friends list. There were the Chicago terrorist bombers Bill Ayers, a former leader of the Weather Underground, now an American elementary education theorist, and his wife Bernadine Dohrn, responsible for bombings of the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon and several police stations in New York, as well as the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion that killed three of its members. Dohrn left a position in 2013 as “Clinical Associate Professor of Law" at the Northwestern University School of Law.

Far from being a repentant sinner, Ayres told The New York Times in 2001 "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough." Ayers and Obama served together on the board of directors for the Woods Fund of Chicago, their terms overlapping for three years, and Ayres is credited with helping to jump-start Obama’s political career. In 1995, Alice Palmer introduced Obama as her chosen successor in the Illinois State Senate at a gathering held in the Ayers home.

Obama also attended for 20 years the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Chicago church where, apparently, he snoozed through sermons such as "Confusing God and Government" in which Wright dammed America. Wright officiated at the wedding ceremony of Barack and Michelle Obama and baptized their children. The title of Obama's 2006 memoir, The Audacity of Hope, was inspired by a Wright sermon.

Wright claimed his offending message had been taken out of context, to which Salon editor-in-chief Joan Walsh responded: "the whole idea that Wright has been attacked over 'sound bites,' and if Americans saw his entire sermons, in context, they'd feel differently, now seems ludicrous. The long clips [Bill] Moyers played only confirm what was broadcast in the snippets… My conclusion Friday night was bolstered by new tapes of Wright that came out this weekend, including one that captures him saying the Iraq war is 'the same thing al-Qaida is doing under a different color flag,' and a much longer excerpt from the 'God damn America' sermon that denounces 'Condoskeezer Rice ...”

Obama’s past associations certainly presented no bar to his accession to the presidency.

It is doubtful that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ unsavory past and present associations will figure negatively in his own presidential bid. Assuming that Sanders wins the Democrat primary campaign and goes toe to toe with President Trump in a general election, he may find it difficult to grouse, after losing, that Russian spooks spiked his campaign because they preferred Trump to Sanders, the Hillary Clinton gambit.

Sanders, after all, spent his honeymoon in Russia in 1988 during the bad old days of Soviet Imperialism where, under the influence of vodka, he belted out Woody Guthrie’s ancient anthem “This Land Is Your Land.” Then too, Sanders is a socialist anti-capitalist dragon, belching fire out of his snout every half hour. One year after his Moscow honeymoon, Sanders visited Cuba, and his praise of Castro – a puff adder who was smoking gays and persecuting black Cubans at the time, not to mention the petite bourgeois small “d” democrats littering Castro’s jails -- was effusive.

Sanders, who was a congressman and the mayor of Burlington, Vt., before being elected to the Senate, did pause in his praise to note Cuba’s “enormous deficiencies” in human rights. How could he help but notice? In the United States, freedom-loving radicals like Sanders, longing to bow before the socialist shrine, bit their smothering tongues, but most of them were not shameless enough to throw bouquets at the feet of men like gods. Sanders declared he never saw a hungry child or a homeless person while in Cuba, but he did see a revolution “that is far deeper and more profound than I understood it to be.” One can hardly expect Russian President Vladimir Putin to disagree with Sanders’ pro-socialist leanings.

Senior adviser to Sanders presidential campaign Heather Gautney is convinced that “Today’s neoliberal capitalist system has become utterly incompatible with the requisites of democratic freedom.” High unemployment, Gautny said on an Iranian TV show, is a blessing because it gives people more down time to engage in protest movements. And Sanders speech writer David Sirota wrote glowingly about “Hugo Chavez’s Economic Miracle” in 2013, just as food shortages were “beginning to surface in Caracas and the countryside,” according to a piece in the Washington Times.

As a young man, Sanders should have been studying Churchill – “Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance and the gospel of envy,” a near perfect description of the last ten stump-speeches of Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. But Sanders’ ideological antennae were tuned to the Soviet Union, where he spent his honeymoon. The embrace of the indefensible is fatal in the long run, but in the short run, it is an indispensable element in the rise of autocrats. And in the long run, people who have lost an animating, democratic virtue long only to sleep under the warm, benevolent smile of a dictator.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.