In a grainy video, a shirtless Bernie Sanders sings “This Land Is Your Land” at a crowded table during a honeymoon visit to the Soviet Union in 1988. In a press conference held afterwards, he praises the Moscow metro system and Soviet arts programs. In a recording from the early 1970s, Sanders says, “I don’t mind people coming up and calling me a Communist.”
The candidate’s affinity for big red has been on more recent display, too, such as when he praised certain Cuban social achievements. “It’s unfair to simply say everything is bad,” he told Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes last month. “When Fidel Castro came to office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”
Until recently, these comments wouldn’t have been divisive: They would have led to near-universal condemnation, and might even have torpedoed his presidential candidacy. The American public was solidly, ardently anti-communist, informed by the realities of the Cold War. Not so much today, as Sanders tries to solidify his position as the Democratic front-runner in part by dominating the youth vote. (In South Carolina, where he finished second on Saturday, he still won a comfortable majority of voters under 30.) A striking generational divide has emerged. Older people still see socialism and communism as dangerous, authoritarian political systems, whereas younger people are more likely to see them as economic systems, and to care far less one way or another. For millions of potential voters, the red scare is no longer so scary.
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