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Bernie's past not an issue yet for voters

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during Tuesday's Democratic debate in Charleston, S.C. [AP Photo]
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during Tuesday's Democratic debate in Charleston, S.C. [AP Photo]

Sen. Bernie Sanders took heat this week for comments on “60 Minutes” in which he applauded some of Fidel Castro’s work as dictator of Cuba. Yet no one should have been the least bit surprised.

Sanders is a longtime self-described democratic socialist, after all, who dreams of a United States where others’ wealth is redistributed to serve government’s wishes — paying for “free” health care, college tuition, early childhood education, you name it.

And, the 78-year-old Sanders has shown a soft side for strongman regimes throughout his adult life.

On “60 Minutes,” Sanders was asked about his long-ago praise of what Castro did for health care and education in Cuba. His response: “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”

(You’ve got to love the term “came into office,” as if Castro were freely elected instead of having seized power.)

Sanders didn’t back off amid the post-“60 Minutes” criticism — he doubled down. At a CNN town hall Monday, he noted that Castro formed “the literacy brigade. He went out and they helped people learn to read and write. You know what, I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing.”

Disconcerting, certainly, but not surprising. This is the same man who took a honeymoon to Moscow in 1988. As mayor of Burlington, Vermont, at the time, Sanders took his wife and several others to visit three cities in hope of establishing a “sister city” relationship with one of them, Yaroslavl. Footage from the trip included Sanders “extolling the virtues of Soviet life and culture, even as he acknowledges some of their shortcomings,” Politico reported last year.

In 1980, The Daily Beast reported recently, Sanders joined the Socialist Workers Party, became its presidential elector in Vermont, and “campaigned for its candidates and platform that defended the Iranian hostage seizure” in which 52 Americans were held for 444 days. The party’s candidate that year said of the U.S. hostages, “we can be sure that many of them are simply spies … or people assigned to protect the spies.”

In 1984, National Review’s Jim Geraghty noted this week, Sanders asked, “We’re spending billions on military. Why can’t we take some of that money and pay for thousands of U.S. children to go to the Soviet Union?”

The following year, Sanders attended a rally in Nicaragua led by Daniel Ortega. During the visit, Sanders said defending the Sandinistas was “patriotic.” He later wrote that the trip was a “profoundly emotional experience.”

Heading into Super Tuesday, Sanders is the clear front-runner among Democrats seeking to become president. His past hasn’t been an issue with voters. Will it become one?

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›