We are told that the Democratic Party’s rising young socialists are gentler than their name suggests — that they are more in the mold of Europe’s social democrats than Marxist apparatchiks.
But hard-left Democrats wouldn’t have to keep drawing this distinction if it were evident in anything other than rhetoric. When forced to choose between “democratic” and “socialist,” the new hard-liners opt for the latter.
Consider their response to the crisis in Venezuela. As the regime of socialist despot Nicolas Maduro teeters, our “democratic” socialists race to its defense.
In a coordinated effort with most nations of the Western hemisphere, the US endorsed the legitimately elected National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó’s interim claim to the presidency over the dubious one clung to by Maduro. To hear US democratic socialists tell it, however, America has staged a “coup.”
“The United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries,” said the democratic socialists’ patriarch, Sen. Bernie Sanders, in a statement. “We must not go down that road again.”
Newly elected Rep. Ro Khanna of California, meanwhile, insisted that “the US should not anoint the leader of the opposition in Venezuela during an internal, polarized conflict.” Khanna also urged Washington to “end sanctions” against the Venezuelan regime. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez re-tweeted Khanna’s sentiment.
Though not an avowed democratic socialist herself, Rep. Ilhan Omar tweeted: “A US-backed coup in Venezuela is not a solution to the dire issues they face. Trump’s efforts to install a far-right opposition will only incite violence and further destabilize the region.” Guaidó’s far-right affinities must be news to him and the center-left party he leads.
A statement from the elected leadership of the Democratic Socialists of America reads like an effort to mimic the hysterical tone familiar to students of Soviet diplomacy. If the red nostalgia weren’t already thick enough, the DSA alleges that US sanctions on Caracas are intended to “make the economy scream” — an expression attributed to Richard Nixon in his effort to squeeze the Allende government in Chile.
This “US-driven coup is totally unacceptable,” the statement continues, “and just the latest in a long history of US-backed coups in the region showing blatant contempt not just for democracy but national sovereignty.”
The only people showing contempt for democracy are these self-described democrats. They hope to rest their case for Maduro on the notion that he is Venezuela’s legal president and Guaidó is not, but that is a flimsy claim.
Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, spent more than a decade throttling the country’s democratic institutions. In 2015, when the opposition won two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly, Maduro simply created a new legislature and packed it with loyalists. When the Assembly balked, Maduro had Venezuela’s rubber-stamp Supreme Court strip the Assembly of its powers — a move that led most of the region to break off relations with the rogue regime.
In 2017, 8 million Venezuelans turned out in an unofficial referendum to overwhelmingly reject changes to the constitution to codify Maduro’s power grab, but they were approved anyway in a fraudulent plebiscite disputed by opposition figures and observers alike.
The idea that US sanctions on regime officials exacerbate a humanitarian crisis is also dubious. Poverty and starvation in Venezuela are rampant. Basic goods are rationed, where they can be found at all. Venezuelans suffer from preventable diseases. Access to regular power and clean water is a luxury — one enjoyed only by the well-connected. Crime is a way of life for those unfortunate enough not to have fled this open-air prison.
Narcotics trafficking is so rampant that even Maduro’s vice president is a well-known drug kingpin. The idea that international sanctions on these criminals are somehow responsible for Venezuela’s dystopian condition is both intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt.
We are left to conclude that the democratic socialists have made a simple calculation: They like Maduro. And why shouldn’t they? He is the successor to a regime that exemplified socialism.
For the young democratic socialists, too much pride is at stake to blame socialism.
Noah Rothman is the author of “Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America” and an associate editor of Commentary, from which this essay was adapted.