After the New Hampshire Democratic debate on Friday night, MSNBC host Chris Matthews uttered high heresy against the Bernie Sanders movement by remembering the Cold War and the threat of socialist and communist executions. He warned that if Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and the Reds had won the Cold War, “there would have been executions in Central Park, and I might have been one of the ones getting executed.” As if to demonstrate the truth of this statement, Bernie Bros got #FireChrisMatthews trending on Twitter.
“The Democratic Party has to figure out its ideology,” Matthews warned. He said he was part of the Liberal Party in Britain, but that party was “overtaken by the socialist party [Labour]” and Winston “Churchill went back to the [conservative] Tories.” Indeed, Churchill rejected the Liberal Party in 1924, warning that Liberals should support the Conservatives to stop Labour and ensure “the successful defeat of Socialism.”
“A lot of this will be sorting this out if the Democratic Party runs a socialist candidate. That’s a change to the Democratic Party,” Matthews continued. He did not condemn the expansion of social programs, which he firmly distinguished from socialism. “The Democratic Party’s been to the left of the Republican Party on the issue of mixed capitalism, more social programs. They push Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, enormously popular programs. I think ACA/Obamacare, I wish they’d follow through with it, make it work. I think most Americans would be happy with … a public option” in health care.
Yet the MSNBC host also remembered the Cold War.
“I have my own views of the word socialist, and I’ll be glad to share them with you in private. They go back to the early 1950s, I have an attitude about them. I remember the Cold War,” he said. “I have an attitude towards Castro. I believe if Castro and the reds had won the Cold War, there would have been executions in Central Park, and I might have been one of the ones getting executed, and certain other people would have been there cheering.”
“So I have a problem with people who took the other side,” he continued. Matthews feared Sanders would be in this category. “I don’t know who Bernie supports over these years. I don’t know what he means by socialism. One week, it’s Denmark. ‘We’re going to be like Denmark.’ Okay, that’s harmless. That’s basically a capitalist country with a lot of good social programs.” (Ironically, Denmark has been hard at work reforming its social programs in a more free-market direction.)
Matthews later brought up the question, “What does he think of Castro?” He noted that many Americans were originally excited to see Castro rise to power in Cuba, “and then he became a communist and started shooting all of his enemies.”
Video: Watch Chris Matthews GO OFF like a boss (no, I'm not joking) about the dangers of socialism re; Bernie, the pure evil of communism, the legitimate fears of a Red Scare in the Cold War, and how "there would have been executions in Central Park" if they won pic.twitter.com/2XxmZbsJTc
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) February 8, 2020
Bernie Bros were not happy to see a liberal host speak the truth about the Cold War — and Sanders’ dalliances with the oppressive Soviet communist side. After a few prominent liberals expressed disgust and blamed Matthews of anti-Semitism, #FireChrisMatthews started trending on Twitter.
Liberal writer and activist Shaun King suggested that any mention of Castro’s murderous thugs in discussing Bernie Sanders would constitute anti-Semitism because Sanders is Jewish. He called Matthews’ history lesson “one of the single most ignorant moments I’ve ever seen on [MSNBC].”
This is one of the single most ignorant moments I've ever seen on @MSNBC.
I'm damn near speechless.
And Chris Matthews is also sliding into anti-Semitism here. https://t.co/SuDHm0lsdZ
— Shaun King (@shaunking) February 8, 2020
Krystal Ball chimed in, “Because we all know the inevitable outcome of universal healthcare is assassinations in Central Park. Seriously what is wrong with these people??”
Because we all know the inevitable outcome of universal healthcare is assassinations in Central Park. Seriously what is wrong with these people?? https://t.co/mqTym0MoaH
— Krystal Ball (@krystalball) February 8, 2020
The Nation‘s Tim Shorrock said it was “perfect that #FireChrisMatthews is trending. [Chris Matthews] has exposed himself as a 21st century version of Joe McCarthy. As the great Army lawyer told the vile senator in 1954, to much applause, ‘have you no sense of shame, sir, at long last?’ That was the end of his career.”
Perfect that #FireChrisMatthews is trending. @HardballChris has exposed himself as a 21st century version of Joe McCarthy. As the great Army lawyer told the vile senator in 1954, to much applause, "have you no sense of shame, sir, at long last?" That was the end of his career.
— There are no kings inside the Gates of Eden. (@TimothyS) February 8, 2020
There is an immense difference between Matthews raising concerns about socialism by citing the Cold War and the character accusations of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. When McCarthy accused people of being closet Soviets, he was accusing them of treason (and ironically adopting a feature of communist governments). Matthews was merely warning about the dangers of this kind of big government ideology, and noting Sanders’ very public support for the Soviets and their allies during the Cold War — he honeymooned in the USSR in the 1980s and worked with various Marxist political parties during his time as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He endorsed Socialist Workers Party candidates for president in the 1980s when that party was pointing to Soviet-aligned countries like Nicaragua and Cuba as inspirations for policies in the U.S.
So yes, it is entirely fair to ask Sanders what he thinks of Fidel Castro.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.