Anderson Cooper’s Claim About Bernie Sanders’ Soviet Union Honeymoon Was Redbaiting and Deceptive

Cooper’s implications were dishonest.

Timothy LangeOctober 14, 2015


This post first appeared at Mete­or Blades.

In his fol­low-up ques­tion to Bernie Sanders Tues­day night, after the can­di­date had explained what he views as demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ism,” CNN’s Ander­son Coop­er returned to the mat­ter of elec­tabil­i­ty and not­ed, You hon­ey­mooned in the Sovi­et Union.”

This despi­ca­ble red-bait­ing was a means of sug­gest­ing that Sanders is a com­mie with­out actu­al­ly say­ing the word. Here’s a guy, the impli­ca­tion runs, who’s a secret Bol­she­vik — so in love with Amer­i­ca’s arch-ene­my that he took his new bride to the USSR instead of Nia­gara Falls or the Bahamas for their hon­ey­moon. It was a ran­cid attempt to gin up out­rage and do Repub­li­cans’ dirty work for them. It’s also deceptive.

The hon­ey­moon sto­ry began at Bre­it­bart in late May, then moved on to oth­er right-wing venues, final­ly get­ting play in George Will’s August 7 col­umn in the Wash­ing­ton Post. Most of his col­umn was devot­ed to praise for ex-com­mu­nist Robert Con­quest, who had writ­ten about the pris­ons and oth­er atroc­i­ties of the Stal­in era and had just died at age 98. Will con­clud­ed:

Con­quest lived to see a cur­rent U.S. pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, a sen­a­tor, who had cho­sen, sure­ly as an ide­o­log­i­cal ges­ture, to spend his hon­ey­moon in the Sovi­et Union in 1988. Gulags still func­tioned, prob­a­bly includ­ing some of the cold Auschwitzes” in Siberia, described in Conquest’s Koly­ma.’ The hon­ey­moon­er did not mind that in 1988 polit­i­cal pris­on­ers were — as may still be the case — being tor­tured in psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tals.” Thanks to the unblink­ing hon­esty of peo­ple like Con­quest, the Sovi­et Union now is such a reced­ing mem­o­ry that Bernie Sanders’s moral obtuse­ness — the obverse of Conquest’s char­ac­ter — is con­sid­ered an amus­ing eccentricity.

Will, of course, is a decid­ed­ly una­mus­ing eccen­tric­i­ty. His sure­ly as an ide­o­log­i­cal ges­ture” implied — giv­en the con­text of the rest of the col­umn — that Sanders is a sneaky sup­port­er of gulags and polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed famines and oth­er Stal­in­ist depre­da­tions. But in fact, Sanders’ trip to the Sovi­et Union was part of his offi­cial duties as may­or of Burling­ton, Vermont.

In 1956, Pres­i­dent Eisen­how­er launched the pro­gram that a decade lat­er would be called Sis­ter Cities Inter­na­tion­al, a pro­gram still in exis­tence today. The idea was to pro­mote peace and under­stand­ing through con­nec­tions between cities in the Unit­ed States and, at first, West­ern Europe. The pro­gram soon spread. In 1973, Seat­tle became a sis­ter city of Tashkent, the cap­i­tal of Uzbek­istan, then under Sovi­et rule. Oth­er U.S.-Soviet sis­ter cities soon fol­lowed despite the ten­sions of the Cold War.

In 1988, Burling­ton sis­tered with Yaroslavl, a city 160 miles north of Moscow. That was the same year Sanders mar­ried his sec­ond wife, Jane. In fact, the day after they mar­ried, they head­ed out to Yaroslavl. So, one could call it a hon­ey­moon, and the pair have both done so, but jok­ing­ly or sar­cas­ti­cal­ly. The rea­son for that is that they did­n’t go alone. There were 10 oth­er peo­ple from Burling­ton who went with them. It was a trip dot­ted with diplo­ma­cy, offi­cial meet­ings and numer­ous inter­views. Not most peo­ple’s idea of a hon­ey­moon getaway.

As the Tam­pa Bay Times Pun­dit Fact fea­ture report­ed:

In a 2007 inter­view, Jane Sanders also recalled the pecu­liar tim­ing: The day after we got mar­ried, we marched in a Memo­r­i­al Day parade, and then we took off in a plane to start the sis­ter city project with Yaroslavl with 10 oth­er peo­ple on my honeymoon.” …

Will made it sound as if Sanders was vis­it­ing to con­done Sovi­et tor­ture prac­tices, but the Burling­ton trip was more of a dia­logue-build­ing exchange pro­gram. The Ver­mont week­ly news­pa­per Sev­en Days report­ed in 2009 that the sis­ter-city rela­tion­ship helped local res­i­dents who sought to ease ten­sions between the Unit­ed States and Sovi­et Union by ini­ti­at­ing cit­i­zen-to-cit­i­zen exchanges with a Russ­ian city.” …

Par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Burling­ton-Yaroslavl pro­gram has waned over the years, though it was viewed as a glam­orous endeav­or” by many in Burling­ton at the time, pro­gram leader Howard Seaver said in 2009.

George Will is a hope­less case of arrest­ed polit­i­cal devel­op­ment, stuck unbudg­ing­ly in a past era. But why did Ander­son Coop­er slip this sneak attack with its bogus impli­ca­tions into the ear­ly min­utes of the first Demo­c­ra­t­ic debate? Slop­py research? A bogus attempt to prove jour­nal­is­tic tough­mind­ed­ness? Or mal­ice aforethought?

Tim­o­thy Lange blogs as Mete­or Blades at DailyKos.
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