Imagine being held as a political prisoner in Fidel Castro’s workers’ paradise for a few years, a Yanquí accused of espionage for bringing wider Internet access to a small enclave of Jews in Cuba. Your guards allow you to dress in normal clothes to greet a congressional delegation of three senators from your home country. The first two bring you sympathy, conversation, pledges of assistance, and candy. The third sits quietly throughout most of the meeting, and then at the end wonders why everyone talks badly of your jailers.
You can afford to imagine it. Alan Gross had to live it with Bernie Sanders, and he’s through being quiet about it:
American Alan Gross, a prisoner in Cuba for five years during the Obama administration, is accusing Sen. Bernie Sanders of commending the communist country when he came to visit him behind bars.
Sanders visited Cuba as part of a congressional delegation in 2014, along with Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and Jon Tester.
During the one-hour meeting, Sanders told the prisoner that he didn’t understand why others criticized Cuba, Gross said in an interview with NPR.
“He said, quote: ‘I don’t know what’s so wrong with this country,’ ” Gross recalled.
If that quote seems ambiguous in its reading six years later, it wasn’t ambiguous at all to Gross at that time. In fact, Gross can still hardly believe Sanders had the nerve to say it:
Gross, as a prisoner in that country, said he took offense to the remark.
“I just think, you know, it was a stupid thing for him to do,” Gross told NPR. “First, how could he not have seen the incredible deterioration of what was once the grandeur of the pre-Castro era. And two, how could be so insensitive to make that remark to a political hostage — me!”
To extend our imaginations a bit further, consider what the impact might have been if Alan Gross told this story over the last two weeks prior to Super Tuesday. Bernie Sander might not have even won the three states he managed to salvage from his front-runner debacle — California, Utah, and Colorado.
Well, maybe not California:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 4, 2020
This is right in line with Sanders’ usual apologetics for left-wing tyrants and juntas, although usually he had the good sense not to proselytize their inmates. I argue in my column at The Week that Bernie’s Fidel comments turned the tide for Biden in last night’s primaries:
How did Biden manage to pull off this feat, especially with his underfunded organization and tendency to stick his foot in his mouth? He got a lot of help from Sanders, the media, and perhaps the biggest loser of Super Tuesday: Fidel Castro.
Until Sanders surprised everyone by jumping out into the lead in the early contests, the media focus on his campaign was generally softer and more positive. Once Sanders became the frontrunner, his past statements got a lot more scrutiny, thanks in large part to Bloomberg’s oppo-research machine. Past statements got unearthed, mainly the same statements that got unearthed four years ago by the Clinton campaign but were never pressed by the media while Sanders remained in the underdog role. Those writings and remarks run the gamut from the weird to Wobblies nostalgia, but until a few weeks ago Sanders maintained the narrative that he was pushing for “Scandinavian” socialism.
That all came crashing down in a 60 Minutes interview when Anderson Cooper confronted Sanders over his support for Fidel Castro, the Sandanistas, and the Soviets. After playing some of his past public statements of support for these brutal dictatorships, Cooper asked Sanders to explain them. Rather than admit error, Sanders essentially doubled down by praising Castro’s “massive literacy program,” whose success and supposedly singular nature is a canard by any measure.
Two days later in a CNN town hall, Chris Cuomo tried to give Sanders an opportunity to respond to outrage from Florida Democrats over his praise for Castro. Rather than apologize, Sanders added Chairman Mao to his list of praiseworthy figures. “China is an authoritarian country,” Sanders told Cuomo, “but can anyone deny — I mean, the facts are clear — that they have taken more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history?” One supposes that Sanders isn’t counting the 45 million who died of starvation between 1959-1962 in Mao’s Great Leap Forward.
Very belatedly last week, the Washington Post reviewed Sanders’ decades-long public record of support for socialist regimes and reported that it was hardly limited to a “Scandinavian” strain:
But a Fix review of more than 10 hours of Sanders appearances over the past three decades reveals how Sanders has often been quick to downplay abuses of authoritarian regimes, instead focusing on aspects and programs he admired. During his two presidential bids, Sanders has at times appeared to contradict or try to explain away his earlier views on authoritarian regimes, examples of which you can watch in the video above.
In 1985, Sanders praised Cuban dictator Fidel Castro for his education and health-care programs. In 1986, he recalled being “very excited” by Castro’s revolution. And after he returned from a trip to Cuba in 1989, the Rutland Daily Herald paraphrased Sanders as calling Cuba a “model of what a society could be” for Latin America.
Returning from a trip to Nicaragua in 1985, Sanders downplayed reports of abuses by the Sandinista-led government, instead lauding the country’s democratic rights, civil liberties and food lines. In 1988, Sanders discussed the government’s media censorship by pointing to previous U.S. crackdowns on press freedoms during the Civil War and first and second world wars.
He’s been a useful idiot for a very long time, and convincingly so among people who know no better. That does not include Alan Gross, who learned the hard way about the nature of socialist regimes and their innately authoritarian character. Even when faced with a victim of it — a fellow American, in fact — Sanders was more interested in his ideology than in its realities.
One has to wonder why it took two presidential bids to finally get some mainstream-media investigation of this track record. Now that Michael Bloomberg has dropped out of the race, will we see any further probing of Sanders’ socialist apologetics?