Bernie Sanders has reason to wish he’d never visited Alan Gross six years ago when Mr. Gross was a political prisoner in Cuba.
Mr. Sanders recently praised Fidel Castro’s literacy program but insisted that he never sympathized with the Cuban dictatorship. That’s not how Mr. Gross remembers the February day in 2014 when the Vermont senator stopped to see him during his Cuban detention.
The story is worth retelling because it goes to the heart of who Mr. Sanders is and why his bitter class-warfare rhetoric frightens even Democrats. The latter became evident in the South Carolina primary, when Mr. Sanders’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Joe Biden, made a dramatic comeback that rolled on through Super Tuesday. An endorsement of Mr. Biden by South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn was a sign of the spreading fear that Mr. Sanders’s hard-left ideology makes him unelectable in November.
Mr. Sanders has tried to refine his definition of socialism so as not to scare people. But he has two big problems. First, he hasn’t effectively distanced himself from his long admiration of the Castro regime. Second, his efforts to style himself as a peddler of benign Swedish-style socialism run headlong into the fact that the Swedes had to abandon the idea because it was wrecking their country.
Mr. Sanders’s brand of socialism makes sweeping promises of freebies that can be had only with the surrender of economic rights and of equality under the law. If the goal is to beat President Trump in November, that can’t be a good proposition.
Mr. Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor, was arrested in Cuba in 2009 and accused of spying because he was caught bringing satellite-communications hardware into the country. He maintained that he was helping a small community of Jewish Cubans connect with the Jewish diaspora. Cuba maintained that he was part of a U.S. democracy project for the island. In either case Mr. Gross, then 60, was engaged in humanitarian work.
Multiple efforts to free him from his miserable plight over more than four years had failed when three U.S. senators, including Bernie Sanders, called on him. After Mr. Sanders’s recent interview on “60 Minutes”-in which the candidate praised literacy gains under Fidel Castro-Mr. Gross felt compelled to share on Facebook a few details about that visit. He wrote that Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana, both Democrats, “sat on my right” and “Sanders, appropriately on my left. Heitkamp and Tester were very engaging, and both seemed to have a solid grasp on the realities of Cuba. Sanders did not engage much in conversation until the end of our meeting time when he said, ‘I don’t see what’s so wrong with this country.’ From my vantage point then and now, Bernie Sanders simply does not have a grasp on reality. Period.” Mr. Sanders denies the remark.
Mr. Gross is no hard-liner. In the past he has been critical of both U.S. policy toward Cuba and the Castro regime. Yet he was clearly astounded by the lack of empathy on the part of Mr. Sanders, who was apparently still clinging to Soviet ideals he held in the 1980s. The political prisoner was finally rescued by the Obama administration. In December 2014, it negotiated his release in exchange for three convicted Cuban spies serving time in the U.S.
The socialism that Mr. Sanders is hawking doesn’t replicate Cuba’s police state. But it has little respect for minority rights. America’s founders feared the tyranny of the majority and emphasized laws designed to protect the civil rights of all-including property rights.
Democrats seem worried that Mr. Sanders and his views won’t stand up to closer scrutiny. Take the myth of the Swedish socialist model as a success. It has already been debunked.
If Mr. Sanders succeeds in turning the U.S. into Sweden, Swedish author and historian Johan Norbergwrites in a January/February 2020 Cato Policy Report, it would translate into “more free trade and a more deregulated product market, no Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the abolition of occupational licensing and minimum wage laws.” A “Swedish” America would have “to abolish taxes on property, gifts, and inheritance” and “would still have to slightly reduce its corporate tax.” Social Security would go from “defined benefits to defined contributions and introduce private accounts” and there would be “a comprehensive school voucher system where private schools get the same perpupil funding as public ones.”
Mr. Norberg writes that Sweden’s experiment with socialism in the 1970s “was an aberration in Sweden’s history-an aberration that almost destroyed the country.” In the early 1990s the Social Democratic Minister of Finance Kjell-Olof Feldt concluded, “That whole thing with democratic socialism was absolutely impossible. It just didn’t work. There was no other way to go than market reform.”
If Mr. Sanders were really following the Swedish model, he would be to the right of Donald Trump.
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