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Should '70s, '80s Nicaragua Matter to NYC Voters? Two Writers Make the Case

Why is Bill De Blasio’s 1988 trip to Nicaragua something New York City voters should consider when casting their ballot for mayor next November? After all, the major issues facing the city are its increasing debt from union contracts; whether businesses will be welcomed and allowed to flourish or be met by increased taxes that cause them to flee the city; and, of course, De Blasio’s commitment to put an end to the successful “stop and frisk” policies used by the city’s police force, which have led to less crime -- especially in urban minority areas of the city.

So, why is it even being discussed? I raised the issue myself for the city’s voters in op-eds that appeared in the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Now, two other important articles have appeared that spell out why De Blasio’s defense of his pro-Sandinista activities in the '80s is important, and worth reconsidering.

The first appears in today’s Wall Street Journal, and is written by their Latin American affairs editor, Mary Anastasia O’Grady. She points out that his old trip “should further enlighten New Yorkers as to the politics of the man who is the front runner in the race.” She points out that by the time he traveled to Nicaragua, the Sandinistas had been in power for almost an entire decade. 

By then, any honest observer should have had no doubts about what they were up to.

O’Grady runs through the entire trajectory of the Sandinistas' so-called accomplishments. For example, in 1980 -- a short time after taking power in an armed coup -- the Sandinistas assassinated a democratic opponent who had opposed the authoritarian Somoza regime that had been overthrown. They then moved to purge the first “directorate” of all moderate elements, leaving only committed Marxist-Leninists in power. O'Grady notes:

The crackdown that followed was ruthless. Cuban enforcers were brought in to help. Houses, farms, ranches and businesses were confiscated, and the independent media were muzzled. Central planning meant price controls for everyone. Even rural women carrying produce to market were arrested as speculators.

With blunt sarcasm, she asks how De Blasio could not know about this, since, after all, “he had only completed graduate studies of the region” at Columbia University.

She suggests that he nevertheless probably did know the truth, but thought that the "brutality could be explained away with good outcomes," since to this day he still defends and approves of the Sandinistas. That his comrades "turned out to be greedy totalitarians who stole the spoils of the war for themselves doesn't seem to matter."

An even more important, though unfortunately little read, open letter to Mr. De Blasio appeared on the webpage of The New Republic, written by an outstanding American intellectual of the Left, Paul Berman. Paul Berman is the author of major books critical of the Islamists, and in particular he has been the most vociferous of the critics of Tariq Ramadan, the academic so many liberals and leftists regard as a man of moderation who should be taken seriously. Berman has shown him to be a slippery defender of radical Islam.

In his first open letter, titled “Bill de Blasio should Embrace Democratic Socialism in New York City,” Berman tries to establish his leftist credentials with De Blasio, obviously in the hope that he will go on to the second part. It is a silly and foolish choice. He makes it clear that he is a proud democratic socialist, and he argues that democratic socialism once had “an honored place” in the city’s history. To establish that, he goes back decades to the '30s, '40s and to the early '60s, when anti-Communist social democratic unions had some political clout and, he notes, built institutions that lasted, such as cooperative apartment houses.

This is more of Berman’s romanticism, reflected in his early enthusiasm for Occupy Wall Street. It is too cute by half. He must realize that the kind of socialists he remembers and celebrates would be called “social fascists” by the kind of Left that De Blasio and his generation are part of. They have all but disappeared from sight, save for a few intellectuals like Berman who sit alongside him at Dissent magazine. Berman says little about the disastrous economic policies that De Blasio supports and that could bring the city to ruin.

His second open letter, titled “Why De Blasio’s Nicaraguan Work Worries Me,” shows Berman at his best.

Berman reveals just how he, in the same years De Blasio went to Nicaragua, came to learn what the Sandinistas were really about. His powerful article stands as a singular accomplishment, an example of how even a man of the Left, when honestly looking at reality, can ditch his early enthusiasms and think twice about the forces he was supporting.

Berman once was a Sandinista supporter. His first somewhat critical articles actually appeared in Mother Jones, an act for which its then editor, pre-filmmaker Michael Moore, fired Berman from the magazine. Hence Berman begins by writing that the international support for the Sandinistas “was earnest and sincere,” although some was “fanatically arrogant and shrill.” However, Berman is hoping to get De Blasio to read on, so he writes that he knows the future mayor’s “commitment to the Sandinista cause” and reveals that he was once “bold and adventurous and idealistic.” Hence he writes: “I salute you.”

Conservative readers, please do not stop at that paragraph. Berman is getting ready for the kill.