Pink Bernie’s Useful Idiocy
The New York Times reports on a trove of documents in Russian archives revealing the extent to which Bernie Sanders, as the socialist mayor of Burlington, Vermont, reached out to the Soviets — and the ways in which Soviet officials saw him as useful to their propaganda efforts. It had to do with Sanders’s successful efforts to establish a sister city relationship between Burlington and the Russian city of Yaroslavl. Excerpts:
The New York Times examined 89 pages of letters, telegrams and internal Soviet government documents revealing in far greater detail the extent of Mr. Sanders’s personal effort to establish ties between his city and a country many Americans then still considered an enemy despite the reforms being initiated at the time under Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet general secretary.
They also show how the Kremlin viewed these sister city relationships as vehicles to sway American public opinion about the Soviet Union.
“One of the most useful channels, in practice, for actively carrying out information-propaganda efforts has proved to be sister-city contact,” a Soviet Foreign Ministry document provided to Yaroslavl officials said.
The documents are part of a government archive in Yaroslavl, Russia, which became the sister city of Burlington. The files are open to the public, though archivists there said that, until now, no one had asked to see them.
But the trip wasn’t enough to cinch the sister-city relationship. Mr. Sanders still had to convince Soviet officials in Moscow to grant their approval and allow Yaroslavl representatives to travel to Burlington. He offered glowing reviews in public and ratcheted up his lobbying effort in private.
“People there seemed reasonably happy and content,” Mr. Sanders told reporters in Burlington about Yaroslavl, a city of about 600,000. “I didn’t notice much deprivation.”
Two days after returning to Vermont, Mr. Sanders wrote to the Soviet Embassy in Washington, asking for help in setting up the sister-city program.
He didn’t notice much deprivation. Of course not; he saw what they wanted him to see — and what he wanted to see. This was standard lefty useful-idiocy. More:
The sister city program was something of a capstone to nearly a decade’s worth of foreign policy activism in Burlington City Hall. As mayor, Mr. Sanders championed a range of international causes that often aligned him with left-wing movements and leaders in other countries, and against the Reagan administration, which he described as pursuing a strategy of military escalation that risked setting off a nuclear war.
Mr. Sanders pressed the city government to take positions against American intervention in Nicaragua and El Salvador, and against the invasion of Grenada. In 1985, he visited Managua for the sixth anniversary of the Sandinista revolution and met with its leader, Daniel Ortega.
Truth to tell, there are no real smoking guns here. This doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know. It cannot be a surprise to anybody that the Soviets saw Sanders and leftist Americans like him as helpful to their propaganda efforts.
Why is this important, then? Because it says something about Sanders’s judgment. His gullible, sentimental leftism caused him to seek out opportunities to aid totalitarian governments, for the cause of “peace.” I am not aware that he attempted to establish a sister city relationship with, say, Johannesburg. What Bernie did is pretty much what you would expect if a left-wing nut were mayor of your city. Right-wingers don’t try to establish foreign policies for their cities. That is a leftist conceit. It doesn’t appear to have done much harm, but this is exactly the kind of thing that the Republicans will have a ball exploiting should Sanders be the Democratic nominee. If you are a Sanders supporter, it’s actually better to have this out there now, rather than later.
Remember on the excellent FX series The Americans, how the Soviets took advantage of the sentimental leftism of Pastor Tim, the peace activist? This is that, except with Mayor Bernie.