[Marxism] Cold war? NYT
anthony.boynton at gmail.com
Fri Feb 28 17:21:34 MST 2020
Sanders Is Stirring Cold War Angst. Young Voters Say, So What?
How Democratic voters feel about Bernie Sanders’s views on foreign policy
and socialist governments tends to split along generational lines.
The New York Times by Patricia Mazzei and Sydney Ember Feb. 28, 2020
MIAMI — In the spring of 1989, as the outgoing mayor of Burlington, Vt.,
Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane, traveled to Cuba on an eight-day trip,
with the hopes of meeting the Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro.
The 47-year-old Mr. Sanders didn’t get time with Mr. Castro, but he toured
Havana, met with its mayor and marveled that visitors could take a cab
anywhere in the country. “The revolution there is far deeper and more
profound than I understood it to be,” he said back home, according to The
Burlington Free Press, and commended Cuba for providing free health care,
free education and free housing.
Many older Democrats with sharp memories of the Cold War have been baffled
and even offended by Mr. Sanders’s praise for the country — which is in the
spotlight after he repeated some of it on “60 Minutes” this week — and it
is one of the reasons they believe a self-described democratic socialist
like Mr. Sanders would be a risky presidential nominee.
“It was a colossal blunder,” said Bob Squires, 70, of Murrells Inlet, S.C.
“Loses Florida. If you look at Twitter, the people who had relatives come
from Cuba, they have quite a different view. Bernie’s got blinders on.”
But for many younger progressives, the negative reactions to Mr. Sanders’s
comments — which were also aired and debated in his 2016 presidential
campaign — seem like boomer panic and a pernicious form of red-baiting, and
reveal the divides within the Democratic Party.
“Socialism is a supposedly scary term that we’ve talked about so much, but
we really don’t understand,” said Nolan Lok, 18, a chemistry major at the
University of California, Los Angeles, where he cast a ballot early on
Wednesday, ahead of its primary next week.
“In a society where technology is so important, where it takes fewer people
to produce more things, we’re going to have to have a more socialistic
society, where the government needs to step in more,” he said. “The
government is going to be required to do more, and it’s something we should
welcome, not be afraid of.”
This generational divide among Democrats was vividly apparent in interviews
across the country this week assessing Mr. Sanders’s views and history,
which included trips to the Soviet Union and Nicaragua as Burlington’s
mayor as well as complimentary remarks about the Sandinistas. He has
repudiated American foreign policy backing anti-Communist governments and
resistance forces, and he has been fervently against war. But his remarks
about Mr. Castro stand out, like his expression of amazement in 1989 that
the Cubans he met “had almost a religious affection for him.”
Older liberals show varying support for Mr. Sanders’s positions, and the
generational split was less apparent in South Florida, where many Cubans,
Venezuelans and Nicaraguans do not like his views. Yet progressive voters
born after the end of the Cold War — many of them people of color —
dismissed the concerns about socialism as anachronistic and irrelevant.
For years in Washington, those left-wing views defined and to some extent
diminished Mr. Sanders, an independent congressman and then senator who was
widely regarded as a quirky outsider to the Democratic establishment. But
now as the front-runner for the party’s nomination, Mr. Sanders is being
pressured to explain his anti-imperialist worldview in the face of scrutiny
and criticism from his rivals.
Mr. Sanders, 78, was pilloried during Tuesday night’s debate in Charleston,
S.C., for his remarks on “60 Minutes” on Sunday, when he complimented the
literacy programs Mr. Castro had enacted. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor
of South Bend, Ind., said Mr. Sanders had a “nostalgia for the
revolutionary politics of the 1960s” and lamented the prospect of “reliving
the Cold War.”
Mr. Buttigieg and other Democrats say Mr. Sanders’s views are not only
misguided but also reinforce his image as a socialist, which will make him
and other Democratic candidates down the ballot easy targets for President
Trump and Republicans. And if he were to win the nomination, his stances
could jeopardize his chances in Florida, the largest presidential general
election battleground, where there is little room for appreciation of the
1959 Communist Cuban revolution.
Mr. Sanders stood by those positions at the debate, where he criticized
U.S. policy in Latin America and repeated his praise for Mr. Castro’s
“Occasionally it might be a good idea to be honest about American foreign
policy, and that includes the fact that America has overthrown governments
all over the world in Chile, in Guatemala, in Iran,” Mr. Sanders said.
Many older Cuban-Americans cringed at Mr. Sanders’s remarks, saying he
sounded like an apologist for Communist indoctrination. And his views
provoke particularly strong resistance in Miami, where the Cuban diaspora
remains a powerful political force.
“I was offended by his ignorance,” said Mario Cartaya, a 68-year-old
architect in Fort Lauderdale who left Cuba when he was 9 and is on the
board of the Florida Democratic Party. “It is hurtful not just to Cubans,
but it’s hurtful to every other Latin American who has fled their country
because of the tyranny in those countries.”
“And it’s not an old comment that he can take back now, ‘He’s learned from
his past mistakes,’ or whatever,” Mr. Cartaya added. “He said it now; he
doubled down on it.”
The backlash was evident not only among conservative Cubans but also among
liberal ones who helped former President Barack Obama win Florida twice.
“It’s actually incredible that it’s 2020 and we have to talk about this
again,” said Fabiola Santiago, a columnist for The Miami Herald who wrote
an emotional column about her experience as a young girl in Cuba. “We have
to rehash Fidel, and we have to rehash the Cuban system. I don’t understand
exactly what his motivation is.”
Mr. Sanders’s campaign does not view his remarks on Cuba, or his history of
praising socialist governments, as problematic for him because it matters
more to older moderate voters, a demographic Mr. Sanders already finds hard
Aides believe he is competitive in Florida in the Democratic primary, and
the campaign plans to run commercials in all of the major media markets by
next week. It is already deploying staff members to every region of the
In South Carolina, which holds its primary on Saturday and where many
Democrats are evaluating candidates based on their perceived ability to
defeat Mr. Trump, older voters examined Mr. Sanders’s unyielding views
through the lens of electability.
“The man had his honeymoon in the old Soviet Union,” said Harvey William,
70, who works in Charleston, referring to a trip Mr. Sanders and his wife
made there shortly after they married in 1988. Mr. William, who intends to
vote for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., spoke bitterly about
his experiences with socialism growing up in Guyana.
Voters at Mr. Sanders’s events, however, hardly mention his foreign policy
views, instead ticking off his domestic policy agenda that includes
implementing Medicare for all and making public colleges and universities
“Millennials don’t remember the Cold War,” said Maurice Isserman, a history
professor at Hamilton College who has studied democratic socialism. “They
don’t react in the same way to the word ‘socialist’ and associate it with
Instead, young voters have experienced a structural shift in the economy,
including the 2008 financial crisis and the crushing burden of college
debt, that has given them a more critical view of capitalism, he said.
Professor Isserman, though, warned that Republicans would use the senator’s
comments to attack him in a general election.
“Bernie is not a communist,” Professor Isserman said. “He’s not a
totalitarian. He’s a Scandinavian-style democratic socialist. But he’s also
a product of the ’60s, and he has a kind of in-your-face confrontational
style. It’s not so much politics as style that is his liability.”
Blanca Estevez, a member of the National Political Committee of the
Democratic Socialists of America from Arkansas, said her political leanings
initially confused her mother, given that the family fled the civil war in
El Salvador. But Ms. Estevez said she had made some inroads.
“I’ve been able to tie in my mom’s everyday values to the work that we do —
telling her that she’s always shared everything she has, she’s always
helped her neighbor, she’s made sure people have what they need where
they’re down on their luck,” Ms. Estevez said. “Four years ago she hated
Bernie Sanders. Now we have his sign in our yard.”
Even in Florida, Mr. Sanders has some support among younger
Cuban-Americans, though they do not necessarily agree with his views on the
Castro dictatorship. Defending Mr. Castro’s literacy program “kind of
misses the bigger picture, which is the means don’t justify the ends,” said
Julián Santos, 30, a legislative aide who was raised by Cuban immigrant
parents in Hialeah, the most heavily Cuban-American city.
Still, Mr. Santos backs Mr. Sanders, as he did in 2016, because of his
emphasis on addressing economic inequality and racial injustice.
In states like California, where Mr. Sanders has devoted time and resources
to reaching out to the Latino community, some older Democratic voters have
come around to him.
Concepción Cruz, a 64-year-old Mexican immigrant who voted early in Los
Angeles this week, said she had backed Hillary Clinton in the last
election. But her three sons have supported Mr. Sanders since 2015, and
despite her initial intention to back Mr. Biden this year, she changed her
mind after watching several debates.
“I want someone who is strong and experienced and will get the current
president out,” she said. “We’re not going to become a socialist country.
That’s not something I am worried about.”
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