Politics, Top Stories

The Falsity of the Sanders Venezuela Meme

Bernie Sanders, the senior Senator for Vermont and presidential primary candidate for the Democratic Party in 2016, exists in the popular and intellectual right-wing imagination as an American avatar of Venezuela’s Bolivarian socialist regime. Multiple conservative and libertarian writers at various publications and websites have promoted a relationship – be it one of policy inspiration or ideological brotherhood – between Senator Sanders and the late Hugo Chavez.

Mainstream print media has followed and a representative Forbes Magazine online op-ed in 2016 ran under the headline “Venezuelan People Feel The ‘Bern’ as Real Socialism Destroys Their Country.” Its author, Doug Bandow, ended his column by flatly stating: “Bernie Sanders, call your office. America can’t afford to import a system that continues to fail around the world.” In December 2017, the libertarian comedian Owen Benjamin tweeted this:

Bernie Sanders identifies as a democratic socialist and has a longstanding commitment to the policies and movements of the anti-imperialist Left. It is therefore unsurprising that his views on Venezuela would attract interest and concern during the 2016 Presidential Election cycle and beyond. However, a comprehensive search of Sanders’s congressional records, speeches, newspaper articles, books, and the weight of opposition research against him, offers a rather different picture to that painted by his political opponents. The condemnation of his apparent praise of the Venezuelan regime, it turns out, is based on unfounded claims, unexamined sources, conclusion-jumping, intellectual laziness, and some pretty shoddy journalism.

During the presidential primaries, Sanders insisted that “When I talk about democratic socialism, I’m not looking at Venezuela. I’m not looking at Cuba. I’m looking at countries like Denmark and Sweden.” This declaration was met with scepticism by critics such as libertarian economist William L. Anderson, an associate scholar of The Mises Institute. In September 2015 Anderson wrote an article which concluded that, “While many people believe that instituting the Sanders economic agenda would help turn the USA into another Sweden or Denmark, the more likely outcome would be turning this country into another Venezuela.” The renowned economist Thomas Sowell, meanwhile, has linked Sanders with Venezuela as part of a more general critique of socialism and its resurgent popularity among young voters.

Whether one agrees with it or not, criticism that postulates an alarming gap between the aspirations of Sanders’s policies and their likely outcomes is surely fair enough. But the accusation that Sanders is actually ideologically committed to the Bolivarian socialist model is considerably more dubious. It is true that Hugo Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, did publicly call Sanders “our revolutionary friend” and praised his candidacy – an endorsement neither sought nor welcomed by Sanders or his campaign. In September 2015, Sanders explicitly disavowed any ideological sympathy with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, whom he described as a “dead communist dictator” in an email to campaign supporters. Sanders’s disavowal was scorned by Venezuelan state media and dismayed Chavez’s remaining defenders in the West.

The widespread belief that Sanders earnestly hopes to import Venezuela’s economic system into the United States invariably rests on the following quotation, usually attributed Sanders himself:

These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger. Who’s the banana republic now?

On the basis of this apparently damning evidence, an August 2017 editorial in National Review described the Democratic Party candidate as:

[B]atty old Bernie Sanders, who celebrated Venezuela, along with Ecuador and Argentina, as a beacon of life where “the American dream is more apt to be realized.” Some dream.

And the same month, a writer for The Weekly Standard’s ‘Scrapbook’ came to this sarcastic conclusion:

And so it’s worth remembering that Venezuelan socialism has long had its champions in the United States, most notably Bernie Sanders, who in 2011 said, “These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina.” The Vermont senator concluded with this taunt: “Who’s the banana republic now?” Good question, Bernie.

Jonah Goldberg said much the same in a December 2017 article for National Review Online (later syndicated in the Baltimore Sun and the LA Times), as did writers at Forbes Magazine and The Federalist. Websites like The Ben Shapiro Show, NOQ Report, and The Daily Wire all referred to, quoted, or paraphrased the same words as evidence of Sanders’s unambiguous devotion to Bolivarian economics. This sample doesn’t begin to cover the innumerable blogs, tweets, and social media posts which all repeat a variation on the same theme, but it is enough to illustrate the point.

The words attributed to Sanders are traceable to a single online source: an article posted on his official website on 5 August, 2011 in the ‘Newsroom’ section and categorised as a ‘Must Read.’ It is entitled “Close the Gaps: Disparities That Threaten America,” and, as the link below the headline indicates, it originally appeared in the 4 August edition of Valley News, a New England regional newspaper. The link to the Valley News website now goes to a downed ‘404’ page, but an archived version shows the article as it appeared on the site. No by-line exists and the author of the article is unclear.

So did Sanders write it? This mystery was resolved with a single email to the Valley News Editorial Board. An editor named Ernie Kohlsaat replied:

The Aug. 4, 2011, piece you are referring to, headlined “Close the Gaps: Disparities That Threaten America,” was an editorial, not a news article. It was written by a member of the Valley News Editorial Board and as such reflects the opinion of the newspaper. The version on Sen. Sanders’ website appears to be an accurate rendition of the editorial as published on Page A8 of the Valley News on that date.

Sanders’s critics would doubtless reply that cross-posting the article without clarification or caveat amounts to an endorsement. But an endorsement of what? The article is not about Venezuela or Bolivarianism (or Equador or Argentina, for that matter) but American inequalities, poverty, and lack of opportunities. The “Gaps that Threaten America” are domestic inequality, ‘the wealth gap,’ ‘the jobs gap,’ and racial disparities in property ownership. The only mention of Venezuela in the 600 word editorial comes in the endlessly circulated final two lines. It ought to be obvious to fair-minded people that, in the context of the article, this final rhetorical flourish was intended to shame America for failing to live up to its promise.

As would-be shaming attempts go, this one is obviously absurd. By 2011, the idea that Venezuela was any kind of land of opportunity was already a significant departure from reality. In 1931, James Truslow Adams offered this widely accepted definition of the American Dream as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” A cursory examination of Venezuela’s domestic affairs in 2011 would have shown that this was not a remotely accurate description of the situation there.

The American Dream involves entrepreneurism and accumulation of private wealth for social mobility; Bolivarian socialism used expropriation, wealth-confiscation and state seizure of private property in pursuit of a socialist state modeled on Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Wealth in the American Dream derives from private sector growth, trade, and innovation; wealth under Bolivarian socialism flowed from abnormally inflated oil prices, government debt, corruption and the creation of a socialist billionaire class, or Boliburguesía, from stolen public funds. And the American Dream is almost synonymous with the arrival of immigrants to American shores in hope of achieving it; by 2011, Bolivarian socialism had caused an exodus of over one million Venezuelans (including over half the country’s Jewish population), with more than three million Venezuelans now living as exiles and refugees today.

Their stupidity notwithstanding, however, these two lines do not by themselves invite an inference that Sanders endorses the Venezuelan economic model. Nor do they allow us to conclude that they were the only or the main reason he reposted the article. About the editorial’s substance, Sanders has had plenty to say. The article’s narrative of American collapse, rising poverty, and gathering disillusion are themes to which Sanders has returned repeatedly, both in his writings and on the stump. It is reasonable to assume that, if he does in fact harbour a romantic longing for the catastrophe of the Bolivarian model and its fruits, this would be similarly reflected in his other public statements and political activity.

However, a search of the public record reveals next to nothing. Searches of the ‘Must Read’ section of Sanders’ website yield only six results for the word “Venezuela.” Two of these are news articles about a 2007 trade deal between the US and Peru which Sanders opposed. One is a Bloomberg article about the US Bond market. Two are identical op-eds by Sanders discussing the importance of environmental policies and energy independence which mention Venezuela alongside other oil-producing nations such as Russia and Saudi Arabia. None involve Sanders praising or supporting the emulation of Venezuela’s economic policies, or saying anything about Venezuelan politics at all.

Sanders’s extensive political career includes three terms as Mayor of Burlington, VT (1981-1989), followed by his election to the US House of Representatives (1991-2006), and finally the Senate (2007-Present) as an Independent usually caucusing with the Democrats. The Congressional Record preserves any statements made by Sanders during Congressional sessions, taken verbatim from the House or Senate floor. Sanders’s official Senate website contains archives of press releases, official announcements, and articles written by or on behalf of Sanders, as well as news articles promoted by his office in the ‘Newsroom’ section. Finally, the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign and Sanders’ rise to national prominence resulted in substantial opposition research and criticism from Republican and other conservative opponents, as well as Democrats and liberals supportive of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. The legwork and heavy-lifting of this opposition research sought to furnish the electorate with Sanders’s most politically damaging moments, and to provide compelling arguments for his unsuitability for the Presidency.

The Congressional Record yields no results which quote Sanders praising or even discussing Venezuela in any context besides incidental references. Searches of the use of the word ‘Venezuela’ during proceedings and debates where Sanders was present yield none in which Sanders names the country, its economic system, or its government. The majority of instances of Sanders’s name coinciding with mentions of Venezuela are in House and Senate debates on free trade deals, US energy dependence, and funding bills for federal domestic programs; the word ‘Venezuela’ is always spoken by another member. The closest link found between Sanders and Venezuela in the Congressional Record relates to heating-oil programs. Sanders sponsored an unsuccessful Congressional bill, S.3186 (110th), to fund the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), in which ‘Venezuela’ was mentioned by another member in reference to US energy dependence and the need to expand domestic drilling.

The state-level affairs of Vermont do provide one tenuous association between Sanders and Venezuela in the historical record. In 2005 and 2006, several northern US states including Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts, were negotiating trade deals with the Venezuelan state oil company, CITGO. The deal involved the discounted purchase of Venezuelan heating oil for use in winter public assistance programs. Sanders was involved in negotiating the State of Vermont’s purchase of oil from CITGO. Whilst the program attracted controversy at the time and retrospectively, the particulars had no connection to Bolivarian socialist politics or ideology. The only thing being imported into the US was heating oil, not ideas.

As Michael Moynihan has pointed out in an article for the Daily Beast, dictatorships and autocracies feed on endorsement from elected politicians and celebrities in the democratic West. There is never a shortage of what Paul Hollander called ‘Political Pilgrims‘ eager to receive a despot’s VIP treatment. There exists a bewildering desire among some of the West’s most eminent and moralistic academics, campaigners, and columnists to be flown to a captive state as honoured guests, whisked from the arrivals lounge in a Mercedes to plush hotel rooms, before embarking upon carefully-choreographed national tours under the guard of regime escorts and minders. The information such people provide about Venezuela is intended to distort the understandings of their audiences and supporters at home. But Sanders was not among them. He never visited Venezuela under Chavez on the kind of legitimating-pilgrimage indulged in by British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, nor did he appear on Venezuelan state media TeleSUR to praise the “spirit and presence” of Hugo Chavez as Oliver Stone has done. Sanders has had less contact with Venezuela than former US President Jimmy Carter, whose election monitoring organisation was crucial to the regime projecting legitimacy overseas.

There is no record of Sanders sponsoring or co-sponsoring any symbolic motion which praises the “achievements” or policies of Hugo Chavez, or (quite notably for Sanders) any resolutions condemning US foreign policy towards Venezuela. In fact, the opposite can be inferred from an August 12th 2004 open letter in support of Chavez which bore the signatures of Rev. Jesse Jackson, Naomi Klein, Howard Zinn, and U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich. The name of Bernie Sanders, then a U.S. Representative known for his lifelong left-wing anti-establishment politics, is made conspicuous by its absence.

Even at this relative high-point of Chavez’s popularity, Kucinich was the only U.S. Representative to publicly praise Chavez’s regime and condemn U.S. policy towards Venezuela specifically. All public declarations of support or solidarity with Venezuela or its rulers made by Kucinich were left without concurrent support from Sanders. In more recent months, Sanders has made his position on Venezuela clearer. On February 27th 2018, he co-sponsored a joint resolution of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations which officially “condemns” the “sham election” soon to be held by Venezuela’s government. This was six days before Mark Hemingway of The Weekly Standard sent the following tweet:

It was really not very difficult to check whether Sanders had actually written the words now routinely attributed to him. Nevertheless, this idle misattribution and the tropes it supposedly supports have been energetically circulated by some of the most respected and well-established authors and editors in the world of conservative letters. From their syndicated columns in national newspapers they have propagated and legitimised a falsehood about a national political figure. In the brutal cut-and-thrust of American politics, this may not seem like much. But in the post-truth era ushered in by the Trump administration, conservatism requires a principled and scrupulous intellectual class to anchor the movement’s goals to intellectual honesty and evidenced argument. As T. A. Frank argued in a brilliant essay for the Washington Post entitled “Why Conservative Magazines are More Important than Ever”:

With so many Americans today engaged in partisan war, any publication with a commitment to honesty in argument becomes a potential peacemaker. It also becomes an indispensable forum for working out which ideas merit a fight in the first place. This is what, in their best moments, the conservative magazines are now doing.

The most irritating irony of all this is that Sanders’s near-total silence on the subject of Venezuela presents ethical issues of its own, about which conservatives would find plenty to criticise if they’d only notice. Absent his belated co-sponsorship of the February resolution, Sanders has effectively ignored an important topic of US foreign relations, and now a major humanitarian crisis. He has not used his unique position as both a nationally popular politician with high public approval ratings, and a beloved figure on the American Left, to warn progressives away from the destructive delusions of the disastrous Bolivarian experiment. It is possible that the subject is simply not of interest to him, or that he considers it outside the realm of his central concern with income inequality in the United States.

Either way, what makes Sanders unusual among American radicals – from Noam Chomsky and The Nation magazine to almost every left-wing intellectual and journal of thought – is that he has never uttered a kind word for the cargo cult of Hugo Chavez. The more strange then, that he has been accused, convicted, and tarred-and-feathered on precisely that charge.


Jack Staples-Butler is a writer who studied History at the University of York and the University of Illinois at-Urbana-Champaign, and Law at BPP University. His non-fiction writing focuses on the politics of illiberalism, atrocity-denial and the role of intellectuals in society. He blogs at historyjack.com and you can follow him on Twitter @jstaplesbutler

Filed under: Politics, Top Stories


Jack Staples-Butler is a writer who studied History at the University of York and the University of Illinois at-Urbana-Champaign, and Law at BPP University. His non-fiction writing focuses on the politics of illiberalism, atrocity-denial and the role of intellectuals in society.


  1. These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger. Who’s the banana republic now?

    • SparNine says

      And our progenitors that ate dirt, bones, and each other were more equal than we are. Equality in misery. What a revelation!

    • Jeb Atkins says

      Even a moment’s rational reflection reveals the absurdity of this statement.

  2. Vincent says

    Very interesting topic from a surprising angle, thank you. It’s weird that so many lefty leaders are portrayed as more extreme than they actually are. It’s a hype fuelled by both the left and right. Trudeau, Macron and Ardern are also establishment figures hiding in plain sight. Or, on the other side of the coin, the Trump and gun control paradox. It’s a shame that civilised conversation is to value only the messenger and not the message.

  3. Aleph says

    The Bern’ is a bloody leftist.

    The Chav’ is a venezuelan bloody leftist.

    The right-wing pundits were apparently wrong to say the Bern’ loved the Chav’.

    But still the Bern is a bloody leftist and its programm would tack the USA down to venezuela-like nightmare.

    Thanks for an article that maybe puts the record straight, but misses the main problem.

    Why do you care about the errors of the right-wing pundits more than about the atrocities of the bloody leftists?

    PS. I am huge fan of Quillette and Claire and find no other place to say so. 😉

    • kris says

      Wow that’s a really thought out analysis, it strikes me as odd that you can appreciate quillette but say something so stupid

    • salvador says

      your argument: whatever he is in the left so he is stupid anyway. also we should only focus all our attention towards one side of the political spectrum.


  4. Yes, a curious article to find on Quillette. If the intention of the author is to justify a future vote for Bernie Sanders, why not lay out his platform and make your argument, rather than try and paint his detractors as unprofessional and reactionary? That won’t win anyone over to the socialist/collectivist/wealth redistribution mindset.

    • Vincent says

      I don’t think the author is advocating a vote for Sanders. It’s not a zero-sum game with many of these articles. This article is a coherent challenge to a (malicious) misapprehension on one part of the debate. No fear, no favour; Quillette is that perfect, rare beast of principled journalism that I’m proud to fund.

      • Bill says

        I agree with VIncent. It isn’t saying “Vote for Bernie” but, to me, pointing out that the rather than calling him a Nazi, homophobic, xenophobic, mysogynistic rapist, the “right” simply says “he has the same principles as Hugo, so equate him to Hugo.” Had Bernie run against Hillary in the general election, I’m sure he would have gotten a Stalin tag by the Left-stream Media

      • Agreed.

        But one thing. Quillette leans right. I’d say it’s a center-right publication. When something somewhat off-script like this Sanders story appears it almost seems like it was picked at random. Such lefty-style articles are rare enough here that I haven’t noticed any pattern to them. What might the next one be about? It’s a mystery…

    • It seems as though you wish for Quillette to be an advocate for any commentary that is disparaging of the left. This seems all the more strange.

    • L. Davis says

      From reading the article I cannot imagine why you would think the intention of the author was to advocate a vote for Saunders. This is group think! Resist it please.

  5. The article is saying, socialism is good, its just not been applied properly. Let Bernie have a chance to show us how to do it.

    They never mention that the Scandinavian countries are small populations relying on profits from their multinational corporations, think Carlsberg, Ikea, Volvo, Ericsson, Norwegian oil etc etc etc. Their small populations are running into problems with their welfare loving immigrants who require huge amounts of money for welfare, policing, prisons, rape counsellings etc etc etc…

    Socialism works when there are small populations with little corruption and a source of income based on Capitalism. Venz has suffered due to corruption, they used to be a lovely place, great climate, and lots of oil money.

    Not everyone is poor and eating their pets in Venz, eg Chavez’s daughter is reportedly worth $4B US.

    • Chester Draws says

      The article doesn’t say Socialism is good. You kind of prove the point many on the right read what they want to read, not what is actually written.

      And Sweden isn’t Socialist anyway.

      • Mr. Draws, it you were to scratch out the phrase — on the right — and replace it with the word PEOPLE, it would kind of prove my point (GRIN).

  6. I like to see what politicians do and not what they say, we all know what he says, vote for me and I will make everything free!!

    What has he done, we know his wife and his daughter have done well driving a college into the ground yet they made out like bandits. We also know Bernie has a number of nice houses, some of which was paid for with left over campaign contributions.

    So we can see, Bernie knows how to manage his families well being and despite his age seems to be energetic and a good speaker. Until he got into politics, which he is good at, he didnt really do much, barely making ends meet.

    Perhaps its better to watch what people do, not what they say, especially politicians…..To me politicians are at least 50% actors, and remember actors are given a script and they try to be convincing in a role.

    • Burt Reagan says

      It’s telling that this is what people bring forward to condemn Sanders. His wife did a thing at a college once. Like, that’s the entire barrage of condemnations after 35 years of public service. Hysterical. “A number” of homes is funny too. He has a modest apartment and a family home, which isn’t remotely ostentatious. Are you trying to say that he has unethically enriched himself and his family through government? Really??

      We have access to the public record. Sanders has been in public service for a very long time. We have his voting record. We have the fact that he does not accept PAC money. He has been consistent in his speech and ideology. He is not rich. He tells the truth. That’s good enough for some of us, and rare.

      Of all places, I’m surprised you think your tricks would work here. Most of the readers here care about facts. Sanders is many things and you can disagree on his policy ideas, and I do, but he’s not dishonest and he’s not a money-grubber. That separates him from nearly every politician everywhere, especially all of the candidates in the last presidential election, and most especially from the self-enriching knucklehead in office.

  7. Thank you for setting the record straight. But this seems to be a rather trivial distraction from recognizing the similarities between Sanders and Chavez et al’s political philosophies. They both despise free enterprise and wish more power to the government to control the economy.

    Many hardcore communists of course distanced themselves from Stalin AFTER the mass murders were well-known. And, of course, why not point to the Scandinavian countries as models of socialism, except Bernie never praises the large parts of their economies that are free enterprise and that produce the prosperity that allows for their social spending.

    But more to the point, what about Sanders’ past admiration of murdering, thieving dictators, like Castro and the Sandanistas and his refusal to really disavow that admiration? They were even worse than Chavez and Maduro!


  8. Andre says

    Bernie Sanders, along with other democrats and leftist superstars, has expressed support for ex president Lula, possibly the biggest criminal in the history of Brazil and who, by no coincidence is one of the few who still supports the Maduro regime.

    That alone should make clear where Sanders’ ideology stands.

    • L. Davis says

      There was an old saying when I was young …..” if you’re not a communist before you are 25 you have no heart and if you are still a communist after 25 you have no brain”. Of course this no longer applies as we know too much now but a number of Labour politicians in the UK were communists in their adolescence.

  9. ADM64 says

    The record of socialism, whether democratic or authoritarian, nationalist or internationalist, is crystal clear. More than 100 years of practical experience have demonstrated beyond any reasonable point that it is both immoral and impractical. It is immoral because it holds out to people the possibility of an existence without effort or risk, something that cannot except lead to disaster. It is impractical for exactly the same reason. Split hairs all you like, but Sanders, a man who never held a paying job until he was 40, and then on the government’s payroll, is a parasite even within the ranks of other politicians.

    • “This time it will be different” … until it isn’t.

    • You cannot be either intelligent or educated if you still believe that any criticism of the free market makes you a socialist. It’s intellectually bankrupt.

    • salvador says

      socialist policies got us out of the great depression you illiterate simpleton. dont be such an absolutest.

  10. Kessler says

    I find this article admirable. During the election I dismissed arguments about Sanders advocating for Venezuelan style socialism as clearly false. However, I felt somewhat apprehensive about what he was actually arguing for – adopting economic models from Sweden and Norway, with vague notion that it won’t be that easy. Later, as I’ve started to pay more attention to conservative sources of information, I’ve found reasoned arguments, for why Scandinavian social democracy may not work in USA. Saying Bernie Sanders wants Venezuelan system is political cheap shot, and I think most people would recognize it as such and dismiss it as manipulation. A reasoned critique of person’s actual positions has actual shot at changing minds.

    • Softclocks says

      Socialist democracies of Denmark, Sweden and Norway would work just fine in the US I imagine because they’re all mixed economies. There is no thing as a purely capitalist or socialist society/economy, is there?

      Why continue demonizing either train of thought in their entirety? Wouldn’t it be better for people to tackle individual policies instead?

  11. Great piece, the error that those putt-off by the PoMo left make is in conflating social democracy with socialism. Honestly, Bernie Sanders is not half as radical as people like Ben Shapiro pretend he is. Bernie Sanders is a capitalist – he supports a capitalist economy. He just wants to supplement it with a stronger social safety net and more public benefits. Instead of buying bombers and massive ships that would only be used in an apocalyptic third world war, we should instead be funding those at the bottom of society who have next to zero upward mobility, otherwise they have no hope, no future, and no dignity. Sanders is a pretty uncontroversial compromise between capitalism and the need for some benefit to the working class.

    • Single payer healthcare is not a safety net. It’s making private health insurance, private clinics illegal. This is the case in Canada (I’m Canadian). Many countries have a strong social safety net of healthcare services while keeping the private option open. Denmark, for example, still has private healthcare options. But Bernie has made it clear he wants single payer, not universal healthcare in a market oriented way.

      • Tedz says

        “Single-payer healthcare is a healthcare system financed by taxes that covers the costs of essential healthcare for all residents, with costs covered by a single public system (hence ‘single-payer’)”

        Britain’s NHS fits this definition.

        And private healthcare there is not illegal. It’s thriving.

        • L. Davis says

          Not only does private health care flourish in the UK, the insurance premiums are significantly cheaper than in the US.

        • Bob says

          I’m assuming that it is acceptable for you to wait 10 hours ( or more ) before a doctor comes to see you in the hospital emergency room. I live in Canada and that is our reality.

    • It’s a difference of degree, not kind. Only delays the inevitable collapse longer.

    • Alexander, I will gladly stand corrected if you can do this.

      Please show me any instances you can find where Bernie Sanders has praised capitalism or free enterprise or has credited it with the wealth and prosperity that they have led to around the world. If he is, as you say, a “capitalist–he supports a capitalist economy” shouldn’t it be easy to find quotes from him praising it?

      And if you have a hard time finding such quotes, what does that imply? I have the impression from his interviews and speeches that he has nothing but resentment, ingratitude, economic ignorance and invective aimed towards free enterprise. But I’d be very happy to be wrong.

    • Sean says

      Sanders either does not know the differences between socialism, democratic socialism, and social democracy, or he is deliberately obfuscating. Or both. Probably both.

  12. “Cuba is, of course, an authoritarian, undemocratic country and I hope very much, as soon as possible, it becomes a democratic country,” Sanders said.

    “But on the other hand it would be wrong not to state that in Cuba they have made some good advances in healthcare, they are sending doctors all over the world.

    “They have made some progress in education.”

    Bernie in 2016 when asked about comments praising Cuba and Fidel Castro in 1985. Just glosses over the fact of the thousands of political murders, machine gunning of homosexuals, imprisonment of dissidents to get to praising them about healthcare.

    He also spent his honeymoon in 1988 in the USSR. Bernie is not a democratic socialist, he just pretends to be one because no one can pretend anymore that communism is anything but a murderous political philosophy that leads to hell on earth.

    He never said anything bad about Chavez and had the quote praising their income equality. He is a clown and a fraud.

  13. Interesting article. I’m definitely guilty of linking Bernie and Venezuela too closely in my mind, and political forces probably played a part in that.

    What I would like to see from Bernie is more clarification on how far to the left he’s willing to go. If he admires Denmark – is it only the leftist elements of the country that he admires, or is he also open to their more centrist, pragmatic side? Denmark is a small country, more similar in size to a US state – does he support federalism and decentralized government? They are restrictive of immigration, taking out ads in Arabic newspapers encouraging people not to come. They have strong intellectual property rights and a healthy private sector pharmaceutical industry. I would like to know his thoughts on that.

    Most politician are vague, so I can’t really blame him. But Hiliary Clinton at least was willing to put some distance between herself and the far left. I remember Sanders took a more centrist position on guns in the past but seems to have abandoned it.

  14. Focusing on peripheral issues and missing the huge threat to human well being that socialism, of which Bernie is a proponent, is. Feel free to go to hell by yourself and don’t try to take us with you.

  15. Angie Davis says

    Sweden’s immigration policies are likely to make Sweden far more like Venezuela than most Swedes will like. The end is the same. It is only a matter of the particular route and the timing.

  16. Andrew_W says

    The Scandinavian countries do not have socialist economies, they’re market economies that are as free or freer in terms of economic freedom as the US (Based on the Heritage Foundations ranking in their Index of Economic Freedom).

    So it’s a puzzle why Sanders calls himself a Socialist rather than a Social Democrat – the term the Scandinavian’s use to describe their system, perhaps it’s because in the US, amongst Democrat voters “socialism” has a different meaning to that in an economics text book or in a dictionary and Sanders calling himself a “Social Democrat” wouldn’t give him the same political appeal?

    • Sean says

      I agree. The original meaning of democratic socialist is someone who advocates full socialism but attained through the standard democratic process, in contrast to revolutionary socialism, which sought the same end but through revolutionary actions as in Russia. I am not sure how different democratic socialism and social democracy are in practice over a longe period of time, but they are not the same thing. Sanders rhetoric is certainly not matched by the facts of European social democracies. He never mentions that lower income people in such European countries pay a far greater share of their own income to fund a greater share of the total tax burden–the US tax system being more progressive than it is in Europe. He does not mention the value added taxes that exist in Europe, taxes which are as to their incidence regressive in nature, since the lower in income you are the higher percentage of your income goes to paying the tax. The upshot is that Sanders is far more “hate the rich make them pay for everything” than are the actual systems in Europe, even if in Europe wealthy people pay more of their income in taxes.

  17. Jeff York says

    Mr. Butler, I’m not as smart or articulate as you are but Bernie Sanders is still a certified kook.

    Yesterday, 11 March, The Washington Post had an article endorsing socialism entitled _Let’s have a good-faith argument about socialism_ by Elizabeth Bruenig. I commented:

    “Ms. Bruenig, I understand fully that you’re not advocating for the extreme forms of socialism. People advocating for the European/Scandinavian model inevitably fail to acknowledge the role that America has played in making their systems possible. America has done the heavy-lifting of defending Europe and keeping the sea-lanes open for 73 years now. In addition, America has created infrastructure like the world-wide air-traffic-control system, GPS, weather & communications satellites and the internet that Europe benefits from. America does a disproportionate amount of the world’s R&D and funding the UN. America played a major role in creating NATO, the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO. (For Asia the Pacific Tsunami Warning System).

    “Without America, Europe’s parasitic cradle-to-grave-nanny-states, partially built on the backs of U.S. taxpayers, either wouldn’t exist or would be no where near as elaborate as they are. (Or would’ve happened but under Soviet auspices).

    “Socialism doesn’t create new wealth, it (forcefully) redistributes existing wealth and inhibits the creation of new wealth. As demonstrated numerous times in the past century, and most recently Venezuela, a socialist system eventually “eats itself” and destroys the engines of wealth-production. Only American largesse has delayed this in Europe.

    “Free Market Capitalism, which should actually be called Free Enterprise, combined with the Industrial Revolution has created *immense* wealth and has lifted *billions* of people out of poverty with more and more uplifted each and every day. I’ve read the figure 150,000 to 200,000 daily.

    “You don’t like inequality? There are two systems in which there is, for all intents & purposes, no wealth/income inequality: hunter-gather and subsistence-agriculture. In those systems everyone is equal in their poverty. In every higher system wealth always concentrates in the hands of a few. That’s not a bad thing, we’re all richer because of it.”

  18. The narrative connection drawn between Bernie Sanders and Venezuela is not specious, but a natural conclusion from Sander’s strong socialist and communist rhetoric over a long political career. Populace rhetoric decrying the rich as greedy, Fidel Castro as a positive political leader, admiration for communist Soviet Union, and silly comments about how many brands of deodorant are reasonable (for government to allow?), are all in-line with the socialist dogma leading to Venezuela. I find it risible that the author would work so diligently to provide a Sander’s defense with regards to a narrative connection that, in the political environment, are routine assumptions on policy direction voters are seeking for both right and left politicians. To imply that Sanders would seek a more powerful central government, with higher taxes, less economic freedom, calls for regulation on new industries (internet/UBER/etc) and more government intervention similar to the countries he admires is no stretch and a responsiblity of Sanders’s to vigorously deny. Divining what a politician may do when they seek the presidential powers is no easy task and can one honestly say that the socialist policies that have led to the Venezuela disaster are so very different from Sander’s rhetoric and sympathies?

    Equally important as what is said by politicians is what they don’t say and when they don’t say it.
    If Bernie Sanders had staked out positions against Chavez when others were raising their voices against what loooked like a very straight repeat of horrors that have occurred elsewhere this last century, then I might be willing to grant Sanders more leeway. Let’s all remember, that the writing was on the wall the moment Chavez nationalized the oil resources, and yet, it was crickets from the left and Sanders.

  19. David says

    I don’t think it is as clear cut as this author maintains.

    For example, Leon Krauze of Univision asked Sanders explicitly about the collapse in Venezuela during the 2016 primary campaign — and Sanders refused to answer the question.

    Krauze: So you don’t have an opinion about the crisis in Venezuela?

    Sanders: Of course I have an opinion, but as I said, I’m focused on my campaign.

    If it were so simple as his supporting Scandinavian socialism, not Latin American socialism, why didn’t he just say so?

    Why did he refuse to answer?


    In 1985 he implied that the Castro regime was popular in Cuba, neglecting to say that Cubans regularly risked their lives to escape.


    In 1991 he spoke before the Democratic Socialists of America, who say in their constitution: “We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production.”


    He writes in his 1997 book Outsider in the White House about how he accepted an invitation to visit Managua for the seventh anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution.


    Whether he wants to be the next Fidel Castro or Daniel Ortega, his record of supporting socialists and his refusal to opine about Venezuela tells me that he doesn’t see the issue clearly.

    At worst he is too much of a socialist; at best he is what Mark Schmitt called “the Windows 95 of progressive politics.”


  20. Chris Martin says

    I will make sure to correct this when I see it, so thank you.

    On the other hand, I don’t like the Scandinavian system either, so it doesn’t change much. Bernie continually pushes the “the rich are too rich” as if somehow Bill Gates being rich is why poor people are poor. He also loves saying that the rich do not pay enough taxes which is absurd. The top 1 percent paid a greater share of individual income taxes (39.5 percent) than the bottom 90 percent combined (29.1 percent) in 2014.

  21. David says

    I don’t think it is as clear cut as this author maintains.

    For example, Leon Krauze of Univision asked Sanders explicitly about the collapse in Venezuela during the 2016 primary campaign — and Sanders refused to answer the question.

    Krauze: So you don’t have an opinion about the crisis in Venezuela?

    Sanders: Of course I have an opinion, but as I said, I’m focused on my campaign.

    If it were so simple as his supporting Scandinavian socialism, not Latin American socialism, why didn’t he just say so?

    Why did he refuse to answer?


    He has a long record of supporting socialists.

    For example, he writes in his book Outsider in the White House about how he accepted an invitation to visit Managua for the seventh anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution.

    He doesn’t seem to be as extreme as Fidel Castro or Daniel Ortega, but his record of supporting socialists and his refusal to opine about Venezuela tells me that he doesn’t see the issue clearly.

    At worst he is too much of a socialist; at best he is what Mark Schmitt called “the Windows 95 of progressive politics.”

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