In right-wing media outlets, reporting on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ use of the word “socialist” is often painfully devoid of context: the Vermont senator has made it abundantly clear that his idea of “democratic socialism” is Sweden, Norway and Denmark — not Cuba under Fidel Castro or the People’s Republic of China under Mao Tse Tung. But one needn’t read Breitbart News or Infowars to find red-baiting on Sanders.
Media Matters’ Matt Gertz was highly critical on Friday of a Sanders-related article about the Vermont senator that the New York Times published this week.
The Times article, written by Anton Troianovski, discussed Sanders’ visit to the Soviet Union in 1988. Sanders’ critics have been pointing to that the 1988 visit — as well as his comments on Castro’s anti-illiteracy program in Cuba in the early 1960s — as evidence of communist sympathies on the senator’s part. But Gertz, in Media Matters, criticizes the Times’ article for painting that trip as something more sinister than it was.
In 1988, Sanders was the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and he hoped to establish a sister-city relationship between Burlington and Yaroslavl in what was still the Soviet Union but wouldn’t be for much younger. By that time, Mikhail Gorbachev was leading the Soviet Union and pushing his “glasnost” program of reforms (“glasnost” means “openness” or “transparency” in Russian).
“The implication of wrongdoing on Sanders’ part does not stand up to the slightest scrutiny,” Gertz asserts. “The then-mayor worked to establish a sister-city relationship in December 1987. At that time, Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s reform policies of glasnost and perestroika had been underway for years. The year before, President Ronald Reagan had encouraged such cultural exchanges, with the White House calling sister-city initiatives ‘an important part of our effort to expand and broaden contacts and communications between the people of the United States and the Soviet Union.’”
In other words, Sanders didn’t visit the Soviet Union to promote communism: he saw it as a diplomatic mission. And Sanders’ motives were no more sinister than when First Lady Nancy Reagan had tea with her Russian counterpart, Raisa Gorbachev, in 1985 at the Geneva Summit.
Gertz says of Sanders’ communications with Soviet officials, “Of course, Soviet officials believed they were getting something out of these cultural exchanges; both countries did, which is why both governments supported them. But faulting Sanders for pursuing this relationship only makes sense if you think (Ronald) Reagan had been duped.”
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