Bernie Sanders, the socialist from Vermont from Brooklyn, has stepped in it and stepped in deep with his praise of Fidel Castro’s brutal dictatorship in Cuba and its fictitious advances in, among other things, literacy. Republicans must be looking forward to watching him defend that in Florida in front of audiences composed of the friends, family, and survivors of those whom the Castro regime murdered, imprisoned, tortured, disfigured, repressed, and terrorized — which, it bears remembering, it continues to do, to this day, under Raúl Castro. The Cuban people desperately need our help, not Senator Sanders making excuses for the men who murder and oppress them.
The analogous cases are, as a rhetorical matter, obvious enough: Mussolini had a really strong public-works program. Hitler was a patron of the arts. Franco was . . . pretty fashion-forward, even for a generalissimo. Etc.
Conservatives are as vulnerable to flights of ideological fancy and political passion as anybody. Even the great F. A. Hayek (who rejected the label “conservative” even though he plainly was a conservative as Americans use the word) found himself hostage to excessive enthusiasm, in his case for the repressive rightist government of Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet’s government did make critical reforms to economic policy in Chile. It also committed horrendous atrocities. “Yes, but what about his entitlement-reform program?” is at the very least morally and intellectually insufficient. And the attraction to the strongman form of government always must be resisted, because there is, finally, no such thing as a benevolent dictator. Hayek was gently chided by Margaret Thatcher for his excessive affection for the Chilean regime. Her advice to him is wise counsel for conservatives today: “Our reform must be in line with our traditions and our Constitution. At times the process may seem painfully slow. But I am certain we shall achieve our reforms in our own way and in our own time. Then they will endure.”
It is not true that the American Left has no interest in “our traditions and our Constitution.” The Left is very interested in our traditions and our Constitution — it hates these and wishes to see them destroyed. The Left’s war on the Constitution goes back to the foundation of American progressivism under Woodrow Wilson, who considered the Constitution outmoded and a hindrance to intelligent administration. The line of thinking extends straight into modern progressivism: Harry Reid’s attempt to gut the First Amendment in order to put political speech under government control, a proposal endorsed by every Democrat in the Senate; other related progressive attempts to destroy the Bill of Rights, beginning with the First and Second Amendments but by no means limited to these; the contention by progressives, typified by Ryan Cooper, that “the American Constitution is an outdated, malfunctioning piece of junk”; Senator Sanders’s call for “revolution”; etc.
The Democrats may shed a few crocodile tears over President Donald Trump’s supposed assault on the Constitution (Trump’s assault mainly has been on American manners, the importance of which is generally overlooked and misunderstood), but assaulting the Constitution is the foundation of their politics and their jurisprudence: Assaulting the Constitution — reshaping it to better fit progressive political preferences — is what Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were put on the Supreme Court to do. The intellectual and constitutional position that this is impermissible — that the Constitution must be treated as though it says what it actually says rather than as though it said what people invested with transient political power wish it said, which is all the “textualism” of Clarence Thomas et al. actually amounts to — is denounced as dangerous “extremism.” Whatever it is the American Left is on about, it is not the Constitution — not the actual one that has been written down, in any case.
Rather, the Left advocates a new constitutional covenant, one in which the law is written on our hearts — or at least on the hearts of a cabal of left-wing law professors. Senator Sanders is not an intellectual. He is not a scholar of law or economics or intersectionality studies, and he is not a member of the new administrative class that the American Left has been building since Woodrow Wilson. He is only their John the Baptist, a voice crying in the wilderness and announcing the coming of the new kingdom.
What kind of kingdom is it to be?