Chris Matthews has some serious questions about Sen. Bernie Sanders’ socialism. During an appearance on a panel discussion with Chris Hayes this weekend, Matthews, ever the fiery Democrat, said he remembered the Cold War and “the Reds.”
He went on to say that had the communists won, people like Matthews would have been shot in Central Park while others, presumably like Sanders, cheered. Hayes seemed somewhat shocked as Matthews continued the diatribe.
Bernie shoot me in central park pic.twitter.com/y8cK9VvjSo
— Shuja Haider (@shujaxhaider) February 8, 2020
Essentially Matthews wants to know exactly what Sanders, a self-identifying socialist, means by “socialism.” Specifically, he wants to know if Sanders means something like Denmark, a semi-capitalist country with large and expensive social welfare programs, or something like Cuba, which is a brutal dictatorship. Matthews wants Sanders asked how he feels about Fidel Castro and commie brutes, who call themselves socialists. It’s a good question.
There’s a funny thing about socialism — and communism, for that matter: the collectivism in government that they represent has been responsible for repeated genocide over the past century or so, but unlike the term Nazi, socialism is still acceptable in polite political discourse. It’s as if you could just strap the word Democratic in front of Nazi and that would make it okay.
While the defeat of Germany in 1945 stamped out nazism and fascism as legitimate labels for government, socialism somehow made it beyond the end of the Cold War with a reasonable reputation intact. Moreover, today voters under 40 only have the vaguest memory of what the Cold War was really like. As such, a disturbing number of them prefer socialism to capitalism, even though the latter is responsible for the most stunning reductions in global poverty in human history.
Hayes seemed convinced that Bernie is a Denmark socialist, not a Cuba socialist, but as Matthews points out, how do we know? In a 1985 television interview, Sanders had this to say about Castro: “Everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world and all of the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro. They forgot that he educated their kids, gave their kids health care, totally transformed the society.”
Considering that one of Sanders’ selling points is specifically that his politics have been the same since the early 1970s, this sentiment, even stated decades ago, is troubling. Sanders isn’t dumb. He knew in 1985 that in order to “totally transform the society,” Castro ran a murderous and repressive regime. Does he still believe such a trade-off is worth it if it feeds the people it doesn’t kill or, say, seeks to address climate change?
Bernie isn’t just living in his own past. Young socialists like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have flocked to his campaign and promise to push the socialism Bernie helped survive the Cold War far into the American future. AOC and her ilk have promised to go even farther than Sanders in handing huge swaths of American freedoms to the state, and starkly limit citizens in areas such as car ownership.
While many of the young people in the Democratic Party have forgotten history, or just never learned it, there are still Democrats like Matthews for whom the term socialism is anathema. If Sanders continues to have success, questions like Matthews’ will grow louder, and examples of past statements where Sanders praised collectivism will continue to come out.
When this campaign started last year, Democrats couldn’t wait to lurch as far left as possible. Now, many are worried. But is it already too late to tack back to the center?