National Review Attack on Sanders Insulting and Uncalled For

Yesterday, the conservative magazine National Review published a piece on presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders that went far beyond the boundaries of a normal political critique. Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress writes:

[Kevin] Williamson’s article, “Bernie’s Strange Brew of Nationalism and Socialism,” which was published two weeks ago but became available on the conservative magazine’s website on Monday, is not a model of clarity. It bounces between criticism of Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ trade policies and quotes from some of Sanders’ least thoughtful supporters. Yet, as the title of the article suggests, Williamson does come to a bold conclusion — Bernie Sanders is a literal Nazi who is leading a literal Nazi movement in the United States.

Williamson lays this thesis out in one paragraph:

"In the Bernieverse, there’s a whole lot of nationalism mixed up in the socialism. He is, in fact, leading a national-socialist movement, which is a queasy and uncomfortable thing to write about a man who is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and whose family was murdered in the Holocaust. But there is no other way to characterize his views and his politics. The incessant reliance on xenophobic (and largely untrue) tropes holding that the current economic woes of the United States are the result of scheming foreigners, especially the wicked Chinese, “stealing our jobs” and victimizing his class allies is nothing more than an updated version of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s “yellow peril” rhetoric, and though the kaiser had a more poetical imagination — he said he had a vision of the Buddha riding a dragon across Europe, laying waste to all — Bernie’s take is substantially similar. He describes the normalization of trade relations with China as “catastrophic” — Sanders and Jesse Helms both voted against the Clinton-backed China-trade legislation — and heaps scorn on every other trade-liberalization pact. That economic interactions with foreigners are inherently hurtful and exploitative is central to his view of how the world works."

The crux of Williamson’s paragraph laying out his Sanders-is-a-modern-day-Hitler theory, however, appears to be that Sanders’ opposition to open trade relations with China marks him as an adherent to the philosophy of government that murdered six million Jews and millions of others that the Nazi regime deemed undesirable. Williamson leads up to this point by noting that many of Sanders’s supporters describe the senator (as Sanders also describes himself) as a socialist. And Sanders, Williamson claims, is also a nationalist. Therefore, in Williamson’s calculation, Sanders is a “national-socialist.”

The official name of the German Nazi Party, of course, was the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, which translates to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. So the comparison between Sanders’ governing philosophy and Nazism makes perfect sense if one limits their inquiry to the kind of linguistic arithmetic that drives Williamson’s conclusion. It is a harder comparison to make, however, once one understands that Sanders does not believe that the United States should pursue a militarized policy of Lebensraum while simultaneously seeking to exterminate particular racial and religious minorities.

Just a few months into the campaign, we have already seen Sen. Sanders face offensive questioning due to his Jewish faith. Now, the Vermont senator is forced to face accusations of being a member of the party that took his relatives' lives. Despite whatever claims the author of the piece might make, it is abundantly clear that he is directly linking Sen. Sanders to the Nazi Party. And this is, on any number of levels, wholly unacceptable.

Far, far too often, we have seen political pundits or elected officials turn to the Holocaust to make an inevitably inappropriate comparison. If we are now seeing Jewish officials being linked to the Nazi regime - Jewish officials who lost family members in the Holocaust - we may have found ourselves moving into uncharted territory. This sort of rhetoric cheapens the pain felt by millions of Jews across the world and serves only as an insult to the memories of those who were lost. Kevin Williamson and the National Republic owes an apology to Sen. Sanders and the Jewish community. It is long past time for this sort of insulting rhetoric to come to an end.