During the third Democratic debate on Thursday, ABC News ran an obnoxious ad from the Sinclair Media Group. The ad opened with the face of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) getting lit on fire, revealing the skulls of people killed under Pol Pot’s horrific regime in Cambodia. While the ad’s imagery deserves to be condemned, it aimed to make an important point about command and control big-government regimes.
Rather than addressing the concerns that socialism gives way to communism and government tyranny, AOC attacked the ad as racist.
“Know that this wasn’t an ad for young conservatives of color – that was the pretense. What you just watched was a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist [base],” AOC tweeted.
Know that this wasn’t an ad for young conservatives of color – that was the pretense.
What you just watched was a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist case. https://t.co/zvp1EB02c5
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 13, 2019
Setting AOC’s face on fire is incendiary rhetoric, and it comes at a time when both liberal and conservative politicians have faced threats to their lives. But the optic was not about racism — it was about ideology. In fact, Cambodian-American Elizabeth Heng, a woman of color whose father almost died in the horrors of Pol Pot’s regime, narrates the video.
Heng took offense at AOC’s suggestion that she was abetting white supremacy.
“Not Republicans. Me. Are you really calling me a racist [AOC]? I’m calling all Democrats out for supporting an evil ideology. Or are you just in Congress to hang out with celebrities and tweet out ridiculous ideas like the green new deal?” the Cambodian American tweeted.
Not Republicans. Me. Are you really calling me a racist @aoc? I’m calling all Democrats out for supporting an evil ideology. Or are you just in Congress to hang out with celebrities and tweet out ridiculous ideas like the green new deal? https://t.co/w985LYjIZd
— Elizabeth Heng (@ElizabethHeng) September 13, 2019
Heng later claimed that AOC’s “response is the Democratic party in a nutshell. They are more offended by truthful words than the acts of their political ideology that has killed millions of innocent victims. I don’t care about [AOC’s] feelings – I care about stopping her lies about the lies of socialism.”
.@aoc response is the Democratic party in a nutshell. They are more offended by truthful words than the acts of their political ideology that has killed millions of innocent victims. I don't care about @AOC feelings – I care about stopping her lies about the lies of socialism.
— Elizabeth Heng (@ElizabethHeng) September 13, 2019
During the debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who pioneered the “proud democratic socialist” argument that AOC has embraced, claimed that his view of democratic socialism is entirely different from the socialism practiced by Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro.
“Anybody who does what Maduro does is a vicious tyrant. What we need now is international and regional cooperation for free elections in Venezuela so that the people of that country can make — can create their own future. In terms of democratic socialism, to equate what goes on in Venezuela with what I believe is extremely unfair. I’ll tell you what I believe in terms of democratic socialism,” Sanders said.
“I agree with what goes on in Canada and in Scandinavia, guaranteeing health care to all people as a human right. I believe that the United States should not be the only major country on earth not to provide paid family and medical leave. I believe that every worker in this country deserves a living wage and that we expand the trade union movement,” he added.
Yet Sanders historically embraced the communism of the Soviet Union. He and his wife took their honeymoon in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. As for Bernie’s constant refrain about America falling behind every other “major country son Earth” — by which he means OECD countries, excluding Russia, China, and India, among others — America’s poorest 20 percent consumes more resources than the average person in 64 percent of OECD countries.
The U.S. is not a tiny, largely culturally and ethnically homogenous country like those in Scandinavia. Ironically, Scandinavian countries like Denmark are reforming in the direction of free markets, moving away from socialism. Furthermore, America has a unique role in the modern world, providing protection for Europe — a position that affords European countries the ability to spend more money on social programs.
If America were to become a socialist country, with its tremendous military apparatus, it would be less like European socialism. In order to mandate government control of industry, the government may have to use force. Democratic socialists like AOC and Bernie Sanders do not have anywhere near the evil radical agenda of Pol Pot, but power corrupts — and liberals are already trying to redefine American history as a story of evil rather than of expanding liberty.
Nationalization of industries in the style of Venezuela would arguably result in poverty like Venezuela currently experiences. Worse, America has the world’s largest economy, so derailing the U.S. economy with socialism would have a ripple effect across the world.
Most importantly, Americans take our unprecedented freedom and prosperity for granted. We easily forget that the natural human condition is poverty and tyranny. Governments abused their monopoly of force, using it to force subjects to construct monuments to the glory of kings rather than allowing the people to live as they pleased. We easily forget that conveniences like running water, central air and heat, refrigeration, and microwaves represent a level of wealth unimaginable even just 200 years ago. The institutions of liberty, free markets, and limited government grew up over time, and can be lost quickly.
In the 20th century, totalitarian ideologies like Nazism, Soviet communism, and the communism of Pol Pot reared their ugly heads — proving that modern humans are still susceptible to the same forces of tyranny that dominated the pre-modern world. In the 1920s, some of these command-and-control tyrants were seen as pioneers of the future. They grew from socialist movements that aimed to bring back state control and a pre-modern collectivism seen as the answer to modern angst.
The fact that these totalitarian governments fell should not give lovers of liberty and prosperity a false hope. China has embraced a new form of communism, and even after the death of the Soviet Union, the college professors Russia aimed to indoctrinate are teaching American youth about the virtues of big government.
Bernie Sanders and AOC are no Pol Pot. But the big government socialist “Revolution” they seek to bring to America would open the path for a communist tyranny to prevail even in this country.
The very fact that AOC rushed to connect Elizabeth Heng’s video to white supremacy shows just how insistent liberals like her are in their efforts to redefine America’s past and present. If a Cambodian American woman of color can be accused of supporting white supremacy, then white supremacy has lost its meaning. Heng did not attempt to set up a system of government where whites are in control over other races — she attempted to warn against the threats to liberty and prosperity that big government movements like socialism really do pose.
Heng’s imagery went too far, but it had nothing to do with white supremacy. AOC’s rush to those terms suggests the kind of totalitarian insistence on redefining everything according to a power-seeking ideology. Pol Pot erased Cambodia’s history using such an ideology, and the left’s tactics are eerily similar.
Rather than just rightly complaining about the optics, AOC had to link the video to white supremacy — even though the woman behind the video is a woman of color.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.