Roger L. Simon

Watching Bernie at the Fox News Town Hall: Memories of the Soviet Union

Bernard Sanders, mayor of Burlington, Vt., told students at the University of Connecticut's West Hartford campus that his tenure as a Socialist mayor is evidence people are willing to accept radical change, April 12, 1983. (AP Photo/Bob Child)

Strange as it may seem, watching Bernie Sanders on the Fox News town hall Monday night brought back memories of the Soviet Union for me. I went there for the first time in 1987, one year before Sanders went to the communist country. I was on a cultural exchange arranged for crime writers; Bernie was there to get married.

Although I was more or less still on the left, I found what I saw horrifying. Bernie took off his shirt and sang ”This Land Is Your Land.

In other words, although we were in the USSR at basically the same point, we apparently visited different countries. I can remember spending much of my time talking to Soviet writers, listening to their tales of oppression, and their desperate desire to leave the country for freedom in America. In several cases, they asked my help to get out, which I had no way of giving them. As they made their pleas, my schoolboy Marxism drained out of me.

I also noticed the sparse prison-like conditions as we moved across the country from Leningrad to the Crimea, how we were followed everywhere, how the stores were empty, how everyone seemed depressed or drunk or both. Well, almost everyone. Some high party officials seemed to be living well. Paradoxically, if you were looking for income inequality, nothing beat the USSR.

In all, the Soviet Union was a vast jail and only an extreme true believer of the most blinded sort could have seen it otherwise. (Remember, this was the late eighties—long after Stalin, the Gulag, the show trials, the refuseniks, everything—not 1919 when Lincoln Steffens and others went starry-eyed to see the “future.”)

So I was thinking about that when I watched Bernie in that clumsily-handled Fox News town hall Monday. Here was a man who went to the Soviet Union in 1988 and thought it was a great place. Wow. I also felt the same way when I watched Sanders speak live in DesMoines during the previous election cycle.

The tragedy of all this is that he is such a true believer he seduces our youth with his babble, inculcating them with socialism that has been an economic disaster everywhere—when it wasn’t a mass murder machine. But what do the kids know of Venezuela, Cambodia, Cuba, etc., given what they are taught in school? (Bernie, of course, loved Chavez and excused Castro. Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum didn’t ask him about that and a fair number of other obvious things. Why? Maybe because they wanted to make him feel welcome on Fox. There’s no business like cable news business.)

Because he is such a true believer in the classic Eric Hoffer sense, Sanders can be an effective campaigner. He never shows, probably never even experiences, doubt, even when the facts are radically against him. The ends justify the means, don’t you know? It’s mean to say this, but by repeating this long-discredited socialist cant until he is blue in the face, Bernie Sanders is a kind of child abuser, injecting his meretricious swill into our all-too-gullible youth who have nowhere near the education to analyze it. We saw that in action on Monday night.

If he becomes the Democratic nominee, which, even at this early date, doesn’t seem unlikely, Trump will have his hands full contradicting Bernie’s fervor. Like a good neo-Stalinist, he will stop at nothing for his “ideals.” The Fox town hall should be a good training ground for Trump. He should pay close attention to it, keep it close by as a training video.

Roger L. Simon—co-founder and CEO emeritus of PJ Media—is an award-winning novelist and an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter.