Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders brought his presidential horror show to Denver this week, an appearance which amounted to, ironically enough, an opiate for the masses that came to hear him.
It’s easy enough to dismiss Sanders as just some quirky neo-Marxist who has never fully recovered from having a bit too much chemically-aided fun in the 1960’s; but that quirky, confused Marxist draws crowds in the thousands and is currently leading Joe Biden in polls asking Colorado Democrats who they want to be their nominee for U.S. president in 2020.
That’s an indication, obviously, of how far afield the Democratic base has strayed, but does it reflect where the country in general is headed? After all, similar leftist temper tantrums have sprung up periodically, and all such outbreaks of shiny rhetorical fervor attract the young and the malcontented who are drawn to the revolutionary glamour of radical activism. It didn’t translate into very much for George McGovern in 1972.
But that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the Bernie-enamored, reportedly about 10,000 of whom showed up to hear their Dear Leader speak. They drank in, hearts a-flutter, every word of his stump speech, which had it all for them: exhortations to “an economy and government that works for everyone, not just the one percent”; and of course blistering contempt for the “corporate elite”, singling out for special vitriol the pharmaceutical and fossil fuel industries (you know, those bastards who keep us alive and warm.)
There was, of course, the wish list, the promises of “free” stuff tossed out like candy to the ravenous crowd – Medicare-for-all, free college tuition, $15 national minimum wage. One of the biggest applause lines was for his support of the abominably expensive and chimerical Green New Deal. The proposal, the provisions of which are so patently ridiculous that Mitch McConnell couldn’t wait to bring it up for a vote in the Senate earlier this year, was the centerpiece of Sanders’ remarks. The crowd ate it up, alternating between chants of “Bernie!” and “Green New Deal!” before he even got around to mentioning it.
His other major applause lines came, naturally enough, when he attacked Donald Trump. Most of that was typical political bore that punctuates anyone’s stump speech, but it struck an interesting and ironic note when he remarked that Trump was “moving us away from democracy into an authoritarian-type society.” It is a curious criticism coming from someone who has spent a lifetime defending some of the most brutal and murderous regimes the planet has ever known – including Cuba and the Soviet Union, where he and his wife infamously spent their honeymoon.
None of the ironies, inconsistencies, or fallacies provided even a moment’s pause among the captivated and infatuated crowd of obsessed admirers. It is particularly fascinating to observe the bewitched endearment some people hold for this man who, at the deeper levels, cares little for them as people, except as an abstraction. Sanders is, at heart, a misanthrope. Roger Kimball commented on this in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, taken from an article he penned for this month’s New Criterion. In it, Kimball noted the story of how Sanders, while happy to vacation in the USSR, pointedly never made an effort, even once, to visit Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn while the exiled Russian human rights activist and Gulag survivor was virtually living in his back yard in Cavendish, Vt., between 1976 and 1994. Kimball suggests, persuasively, that the refusal was not merely an ideological act, but the result of an innate incuriosity among the far left for the individual, who must always be subordinate to the collective. This would help explain a man who can speak of population control as a government policy as nonchalantly as discussing tax policy or the lunch menu.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what has catalyzed this new radicalism on the left, symbolized by the rock-star appeal of Bernie Sanders, which calls as much for Revolution against their own political establishment — i.e., the grownups in the Democratic Party – as against the economic system that has afforded them greater wealth than most of humankind ever dreamed of. It may simply be that time, distance, and comfort have shielded them from the realities of socialism and left them vulnerable to its local salesman. Whatever it is, there is something faintly disquieting about throngs of people enthusiastically clamoring for a revolutionary expansion of government power and purpose, on somebody else’s dime.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.