James Freeman:

As. Sen. Bernie Sanders runs for President again, he keeps trying to persuade voters that his governing socialism would be the soft Scandinavian kind, not the hard Soviet kind. There’s immediately a problem with his Scandinavian analogy, since the countries of that region have been running away from Sanders-style economics and in recent years have become champions of corporate tax rate-cutting. The larger problem is his ongoing commitment to an abusive regime.

The candidate understands that he needs to find a way to spin Marxist central planning as voter-friendly. Mr. Sanders tells National Public Radio in an interview broadcast this week:

I think what we have to do, and I will be doing it, is to do a better job maybe in explaining what we mean by socialism — democratic socialism. Obviously, my right-wing colleagues here want to paint that as authoritarianism and communism and Venezuela, and that’s nonsense.

What’s far worse than nonsense is for Mr. Sanders to pretend that he hasn’t been a long-time backer of Venezuela’s socialist rulers. Mr. Sanders recently attracted criticism from Democrats for refusing to call Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro the dictator that he is. It’s just the latest episode in an appalling history.In January of 2003 Mr. Sanders signed a letter of support for Maduro predecessor Hugo Chavez. That month a Reuters report described what was happening in the country:

Venezuelan troops fired tear gas on Sunday to drive back tens of thousands of anti-government protesters as President Hugo Chavez ordered a crackdown against a six-week-old opposition strike that is bleeding the economy…

He condemned his opponents as “fascists and coup mongers” and described them as desperate. “They don’t know what to do next,” said Chavez, who survived a brief coup in April. He himself attempted a botched coup bid in 1992.

Chavez, who has already sacked 2,000 striking state oil employees, repeated threats to send troops to take over private factories and warehouses if they hoarded food supplies.

He also threatened to revoke the broadcasting licenses of private TV stations that criticize his rule, describing their hostile programming as “worse than an atomic bomb.”

That same month the Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady noted “property confiscation at gunpoint, politically motivated arrests and state-sponsored gang violence” in Venezuela. She wrote prophetically:

Economic neanderthals are forever breaking eggs in search of the elusive egalitarian omelet, but if Mr. Chavez’s aggression against his people continues unrestrained the poor will get poorer, Venezuela’s natural environment will be trashed and even minimal human-rights protection will become a dim memory.

Mr. Chavez’s brigades appear to be caught up in the adrenaline rush that confiscatory power produces. The military general who chugged the Coca-Cola in front of the bottling plant his troops had raided and then burped for the cameras is a case in point. So is the National Guardsman who, in the same locale, viciously threw an unarmed woman to the pavement, rendering her unconscious…

Among the more disturbing cases is that of 24-year-old university student Jesus Soriano. Mr. Soriano was illegally detained by Venezuela’s secret police, known by its Spanish initials Disip, and badly beaten. He appeared on Venezuelan television late last week, his face disfigured, barely able to speak.

Whether Mr. Sanders wants to call the humanitarian disaster he encouraged in Venezuela socialism or “democratic” socialism, the press should not allow him to escape accountability.

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