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The Worst Story on Bernie Sanders Ever Written

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The New York Times decided to go all-in on redbaiting yesterday with a supposed exposé that Bernie Sanders was supporting Soviet propaganda when he visited the country in 1988, part of a “years-long” effort by the Soviets to undermine the nation. Given that the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, that was a pretty stupid thing to say to begin with.

By 1988, Reagan and Thatcher were already moving toward close relationships with Gorbachev. I hate to give Reagan credit for anything, but his moves toward Gorbachev were in the face of hard-liners that wanted nothing to do with it. The world was already moving toward the end of the Cold War. So what is the Times on about? Well, the details weren’t better than the headlines. I think I will outsource this to a site that is no friend to Bernie Sanders: Wonkette.

In a “blockbuster” “story” yesterday, the Times offered us the lowdown on Bernie Sanders’s 1980s efforts to set up a sister-city connection between Burlington, Vermont, where he had been elected mayor in 1980, and the city of Yaroslavl in Russia. There’s nothing scandalous in the story, unless you consider the news that even under Mikhail Gorbachev, the USSR still thought a lot about the propaganda value — in this case more like PR value than propaganda, which implies falisity — of having Americans say they preferred peace with the Soviets over nuclear war.

Finally: the redbaiting Glenn Greenwald is always complaining about, except real.

One good thing about this piece, though: We didn’t realize until reading it that when wingnuts (and your harder anti-Berners in general) talk about Sanders’s “honeymoon in the USSR,” they’re referring to his trip to arrange the sister-city agreement. Some commie tourism, huh?

Yeah, the Times discovered old Soviet documents about pushing the message that peace, through sister-city arrangements and other efforts, is better than imperialist warmongering. Shocking! But while the piece goes into exhaustive detail on how Russian archives recorded the Burlington-Yaroslavl connection, and how Sanders, as mayor, pushed to finalize the arrangement, it mostly ends up making us feel a bit nostalgic for the late-’80s optimism that maybe the Cold War could end in something other than nuclear fireballs.

And a much darker time, as the Times adds, immediately after noting Sanders was nothing special to the Rooshians: “But the documents do show the Soviets’ intensive preparation to use Mr. Sanders’s interest in their country to their advantage.”

Ooh, intensive preparation to use him to their advantage? You mean, exactly like every other American who made nice with the USSR at the time? Well then, that’s exactly equivalent to how post-communist Russia sought to get every possible advantage from possible business relationships with an American real-estate and entertainment mogul who wanted to pursue big projects in Moscow, except for how Sanders didn’t play along. But he was targeted, so clearly a Russian dupe.

We also loved the bit where the Sanders campaign “didn’t dispute the documents’ authenticity,” as if there were anything particularly terrible in them. The whole piece is like that, suggesting darkly that Americans who objected to nuclear war were mere useful idiots because the USSR sought to gain a propaganda advantage against Reagan’s anti-communist rhetoric. The anti-antiwar tone sounds at moments like an amalgam of Pat Buchanan columns from the mid 1980s, though perhaps with some of the larger globs of spittle wiped off.

The piece does at least include some context, though usually framed as the foolish thoughts of a naive dreamer who failed to prop up the wisdom of Mutually Assured Destruction.

Two days after returning to Vermont, Mr. Sanders wrote to the Soviet Embassy in Washington, asking for help in setting up the sister-city program.

“It is my strong belief that if our planet is going to survive, and if we are going to be able to convert the hundreds of billions of dollars that both the United States and the Soviet Union are now wasting on weapons of destruction into areas of productive human development, there is going to have to be a significant increase in citizen-to-citizen contact,” Mr. Sanders wrote.

Good lord! Bernie Sanders didn’t want America to be treated to a live-action roleplay of The Day After! Can he possibly be trusted with the nuclear codes now?

Sometimes, the New York Times is very, very, very bad. This is one of those times.

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