Politics

OPINION: Bernie’s Castro Worship Insults the Millions Who Learned to Read Under Right-Wing Dictators

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has come under fire for his inability to stop praising authoritarian communist regimes.

"When dictatorships, whether it is the Chinese or the Cubans, do something good, you acknowledge that," Sanders said during the Democratic debate in South Carolina on Tuesday. The socialist septuagenarian has been particularly enamored of late with the "massive literacy program" implemented in Cuba under Fidel Castro, citing them as evidence that it's "unfair to simply say everything [in Cuba] is bad."

Regrettably, the candidate's narrow focus on the educational achievements of his fellow communists is an insult to the millions of hard-working citizens who learned to read under the direction of right-wing dictators.

In Chile, for example, the right-wing administration of Gen. Augusto Pinochet oversaw a substantial decline in the country's illiteracy rate—from 11.7 percent in 1970 to just 4.5 percent in 1992—a remarkable achievement that, despite Sanders's expressed philosophy on authoritarian accomplishments, the candidate has yet to applaud on the campaign trail.

Sanders has similarly refused to acknowledge educational achievements under the bold right-wing leadership of Gen. Francisco Franco in Spain, where female literacy climbed from 72 percent in 1940 to 88 percent in 1970. Nor has Sanders remarked upon the dramatic increase in literacy among Portuguese children—from just 33 percent in 1930 to a whopping 97 percent in 1960—under António Salazar's Estado Novo in Portugal.

Indonesian dictator Suharto oversaw a violent anti-communist purge in the 1960s but is also "credited with greatly improving the country's economy, literacy rates, and public health," according to what is presumably Sanders's most trusted source of news (NPR). Millions were lifted out of poverty during Suharto's 30-year reign, yet Sanders maintains a deafening silence with respect to these achievements and those of other right-wing dictators. Sanders has similarly neglected Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, under whom the literacy rate increased from 60 percent in 1960 to 90 percent in 1990.

By refusing to acknowledge the full spectrum of dictatorial achievements, Sanders is not only betraying his own philosophy. He is also actively erasing the lived experience of millions worldwide who owe their educations to the benevolence of right-wing autocrats.

Teaching a child to read is always a noble endeavor, not just when a communist decides to do it. Sanders can't have it both ways. If the members of our media establishment weren't so hopelessly corrupted—and similarly inclined to praise communist tyrants as "reformers"—they would insist on holding him to account.

The Democratic Party certainly isn't up to the task. House Democrats on Thursday unanimously blocked a resolution condemning Sanders for his ostentatious Castro worship.