• Socialism Comes Ashore

  • I looked out the window and immediately thought, “I’m not supposed to be here.” It was January 2019, just four days after I returned from a trip to the more opulent parts of the Middle East – Oman and the United Arab Emirates – and I was in Havana, Cuba, passing by a giant poster emblazoned with Fidel Castro’s face and the words “Socialism or Death” written in imposing block letters. I couldn’t help but think each taxi was mandated to drive Americans by this sign as a reminder that while only 90 miles from the border of freedom, we were in a much different place.  

    What I saw that weekend left an indelible impression on me. I saw with my own eyes the drab and lifeless food rationing outposts where Cubans stand in line to get the small amount of chicken, rice, beans and other staples the government divvies up to them each month. I saw with my own eyes the crumbling and decaying infrastructure along the coast where the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet, further torn apart by Hurricane Irma two years prior. And I heard with my own ears how Cubans are practically forbidden to eat beef and seafood, luxury items that are instead sold directly to foreign visitors for mere pennies on the dollar to shape our perceptions of the island nation. 

    All this came back to me in vivid detail as I walked up and down the bare aisles of my local grocery store this week. Gone was the ground beef. There was no chicken to be found. Bread was only available in bun form. And toilet paper? Forget about it. Although rationed to only two packages per customer, there was not a square to spare. 

    Is this what Bernie Sanders finds so appealing about Cuba? Although the Vermont senator is effectively out of the race for president, the debate over socialism continues because for the Democratic Party, many of the young voters they need to secure victory in November are entranced with the idea and won’t vote for former Vice President Joe Biden unless he plays along.This is a problem for their party and for our country. 

    Rather than address the true fate of socialism – a despondent reality met by one nation after another – and correct the record, Sanders contorts himself to praise Castro for, among other things, launching a literacy program following the revolution. But what good is literacy if citizens are nevertheless defenseless against their government? Reading and writing is a necessary life skill, but if the citizens have no rights to petition their government or to use their education to better their lives, then they might as well be illiterate. 

    Political punditry scoffed at President Donald J. Trump when he declared in his 2019 State of the Union address that the United States would “never be a socialist country.” Well, it turns out he was more prophetic than analyzed. The battle lines being drawn will determine whether we fully embrace the fact that the free market, while not perfect, has been the catalyst for worldwide growth that has lifted millions from poverty and into the middle class. Or if we give up on ourselves and allow the government to control the rights of access and the means of production. 

    This all may sound far-fetched, but Joe Biden, as safe as he may seem to some, will be unable to ignore the demands of the “Bernie Bros” who will refuse to cast their ballots unless they hear some Sanders-esque language. Biden’s path to the White House includes amassing a coalition that includes young people. Without them, without those who live and breathe by every word uttered by Sanders, Biden can’t win. 

    Nominee or not, Sanders has left an indelible mark on the Democratic Party over two runs for president. And while he has yet been unable to bring the change he desires through legislative means, he is well positioned to color outside the lines of the party’s platform and force a further lurch to the left. Because of that, there is a real chance that some elements of his plan will come ashore if the election goes blue in November. That could make a lot of us look around and say, “I’m not supposed to be here.”  

    Pete Seat is a vice president with Bose Public Affairs Group.