How left-wing is NPR? On Monday, it unspooled this opener: “It will be Indiana's turn tomorrow to vote in the presidential primaries, and that gives us the opportunity to remember one of the state's most famous politicians.”
Dan Quayle? Birch Bayh? President Benjamin Harrison? Nope. “Eugene V. Debs ran for president as a Socialist five times in the early 1900s, once in 1920 from prison.” The online headline was “Eugene V. Debs Museum Explores History Of American Socialism.” (NPR.org also honored Debs as a Sanders role model last fall.)
Reporter Will Huntsberry toured the Eugene Debs Museum in Terre Haute with guide (and Debs fan) Ben Kite:
WILL HUNTSBERRY: Debs spent two years in prison on sedition charges for urging people to resist the draft in World War I. He also organized a nationwide railroad strike which led to violent clashes and railed against the robber barons, the One Percent of that era. The museum has lots of posters from his Socialist presidential campaigns.
So let's see. Here's an interesting phrase, right? This could apply to Bernie right now. On the Socialist almanac - (reading) “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want and get it.”
BEN KITE: When it comes down to it, especially in the primary, I feel like you've got to vote for, you know, your heart. And then you can be more pragmatic in the general.
HUNTSBERRY: For Kite, voting your heart means voting for Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist.
KITE: Sanders is, you know, is well-known, I think, for being a big fan of Eugene V. Debs. He has a big picture of Debs in his office.
HUNTSBERRY: Kite believes Debs paved the way for the New Deal, and he thinks Sanders could have a big impact on the future, too.
KITE: Part of it is creating the political room for politicians sometimes to do what they already believe in but don't believe that they have the public support to do.
In other words, “making America safe to be Sweden.” Or worse. Last fall, Stanley Kurtz at National Review reported Bernie Sanders made his own documentary on Debs: "Sanders’ documentary lacks any hint that Debs might have either made mistakes or taken positions that may seem troubling in retrospect. Debs is Bernie’s hero and Bernie clearly wants Debs to be your hero too." And:
Sanders’ treatment of Debs’ support for Russia’s communist revolution of 1917 is particularly striking. Here, at least, you might expect a bit of distancing or criticism from a truly “democratic” socialist. Yet Sanders obviously admires Debs’ decision to give “unqualified support to the Russian Revolution which had just taken place under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky.”
When Sanders turns to explaining the decline of Debs’ Socialist Party after 1917, he attributes it to the party’s opposition to World War I and to fear of persecution. Nowhere does Sanders suggest that the Russian Revolution and its aftermath may have raised legitimate concerns about socialism. Sanders’s honeymoon in the Soviet Union and his trips to Cuba and Nicaragua make a lot of sense in light of his documentary on Debs.
HUNTSBERRY: Kite takes me up to the attic. Murals of Debs' life cover the walls. There's a picture of police, batons raised against protesters, as well as one that's more metaphoric.
KITE: I especially like the hands reaching for progress and reaching for a better life, reaching for the sun.
HUNTSBERRY: See, Ben Kite is like Eugene Debs and maybe even Bernie Sanders. He's an unapologetic idealist. Will Huntsberry, NPR News.