And if they were still around, the Soviets still might. After all, Bernie Sanders still sings praises for Fidel Castro over his literacy program and the Communist Party in China for its efforts on income inequality. In that sense, we don’t truly require the New York Times’ walk down Memory Lane to 1988 they dropped last night to learn that Sanders fits the mold of the “useful idiot.”
But it certainly doesn’t hurt. In that year, Sanders traveled to the Soviet Union in an attempt to establish a sister-city relationship for Burlington, part of an international-friendship effort that had some encouragement from Ronald Reagan at the time. Reagan saw it as a way to export Western democracy, of course, to people who might appreciate the differences. Sanders wanted to leverage it for his own anti-war and socialist views, however, and the Soviets saw an opportunity to exploit that for their own propaganda ambitions:
The New York Times examined 89 pages of letters, telegrams and internal Soviet government documents revealing in far greater detail the extent of Mr. Sanders’s personal effort to establish ties between his city and a country many Americans then still considered an enemy despite the reforms being initiated at the time under Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet general secretary.
They also show how the Kremlin viewed these sister city relationships as vehicles to sway American public opinion about the Soviet Union.
“One of the most useful channels, in practice, for actively carrying out information-propaganda efforts has proved to be sister-city contact,” a Soviet Foreign Ministry document provided to Yaroslavl officials said. …
Nothing in the documents suggests that Mr. Sanders was the only local American official targeted for propaganda, or even that he was particularly receptive to it, though they do describe him as a socialist. But the documents do show the Soviets’ intensive preparation to use Mr. Sanders’s interest in their country to their advantage.