Columns » Gene Lyons

Bash Bernie

Here's my basic problem with Bernie Sanders: To put it bluntly, once a Trotskyite always a fool.

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Here's my basic problem with Bernie Sanders: To put it bluntly, once a Trotskyite always a fool. Personal experience of '60s-style left-wing posturing left me allergic to the word "revolution" and the kinds of humorless autodidacts who bandy it about. The Sanders types, I mean: morally superior, never mistaken and never in doubt.

The Clinton campaign's high-minded refusal to red-bait Sen. Sanders has been a big mistake, needlessly allowing this unelectable crank to pose as a serious candidate far too long — and enabling Bernie and his impassioned supporters to translate the GOP anti-Hillary playbook into left-wing jargon.

In consequence, Clinton's found herself in a one-sided fight against her own degraded image. Some of it's her own damn fault. Accepting preposterous fees to speak to Wall Street bankers and then keeping the contents secret is no way to run for president.

But realistically, Sanders lost any chance of prevailing after badly losing New York and Pennsylvania. Word has yet to reach him. Meanwhile, it's become common to see Clinton described as "evil," a "war-monger" and worse on social media, while the Sanders campaign whines that it was cheated. The damage to progressive chances in November from this kind of poisonous rhetoric is hard overstate.

Mike Tomasky puts it this way: "The guy who's going to end up with about 300 fewer pledged delegates and more than 3 million fewer votes doesn't get to say 'you beat me, but you must adopt my position.' It's preposterous and arrogant, which of course means he will do it."

Has leading the Children's Crusade gone to Sanders' head? No doubt. However, my larger point is that he's always been this guy, and Democrats have been needlessly polite about it.

Is it McCarthyite to point out, like Slate's Michelle Goldberg, that in "1980, Sanders served as an elector for the Socialist Workers Party, which was founded on the principles of Leon Trotsky. According to the New York Times, that party called for abolishing the military budget. It also called for 'solidarity' with the revolutionary regimes in Iran, Nicaragua, Grenada and Cuba; this was in the middle of the Iranian hostage crisis."

Not objectionable because undeniably true. No doubt Sanders has an explanation for such heterodox, albeit politically poisonous, views. Fine. So why hasn't he been forced make it?

In 1976, Bernie urged the University of Vermont student paper to "Contrast what the young people in China and Cuba are doing for themselves and for their country as compared to the young people in America. ... It's quite obvious why kids are going to turn to drugs to get the hell out of a disgusting system or sit in front of a TV set for 60 hours a week."

He wrote stern letters to the FCC protesting "Gunsmoke" and "I Love Lucy."

Ancient history? Perhaps. But also 30 years after George Orwell's epochal novel "Animal Farm," and just as Chairman Mao's "Cultural Revolution" was winding down after giving millions of Chinese youngsters a swell chance to serve their country in slave labor camps.

As I say, show me an American Trotskyite, and I'll show you a damned fool. But again, shouldn't Bernie have had to explain it?

Let's pass over Sanders' newspaper columns fantasizing about rape and suggesting that cervical cancer is caused by sexual frustration.

"Basically," writes Will Saletan, "if you were designing the perfect target for Republicans — a candidate who proudly links socialist economics to hippie culture, libertinism, left-wing foreign policy, new-age nonsense and contempt for bourgeois values — you'd create Bernie Sanders."

With so distinguished a record of crackpot opinions, maybe it shouldn't surprise that Bernie has also misjudged the Democratic electorate. Salon's Amanda Marcotte is correct: Sanders didn't lose because establishment Democrats cheated. He lost because his Thomas Frank-influenced theory that strong majorities of white working-class voters would respond enthusiastically to left-wing economic populism turns out to be wrong. The "revolutionary" turnout Bernie kept predicting never materialized.

He swept the white-bread college campuses and the cow states. End of story. The urban proletariat? Not so much. Who can be surprised? Campus radicals have been trashing "establishment" Democrats and fantasizing about a working class insurrection all Bernie's life.

The revolution remains imaginary.

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