Mulhall column: Bernie’s Dickensian orphanage

Mitch Mulhall
Mitch Mulhall.

It’s fair to say many Bernie Sanders supporters have never heard the term “Sandanista,” or, if they have, perhaps they’re old enough to remember the Iran-Contra scandal of 1986.

Maybe it wasn’t dropping $400 million in foreign currency on the tarmac of Tehran’s Mehrabad airport, but Reagan administration officials sold arms to Iran and used the proceeds to fund the Nicaraguan Contras, a loosely organized rebel group who opposed the Sandanista Junta de Gobierno de Reconstrucción Nacional, a Marxist revolutionary government led by Daniel Ortega.

If the purpose of war is to kill people and break things, the Contras were so impressive that the 99th U.S. Congress wouldn’t fund them. So, the Reagan administration secretly sold surplus war parts to Iran and routed the proceeds directly to the Nicaraguan Contras on the sly.

This went on until Oliver North and Fawn Hall, who may have single-handedly set the 1980s big-hair standard so high that it gave way, broke a paper shredder destroying White House records.

To be fair, as hesitant as D.C. was to support the Contras, no one liked the Sandanistas, either.

Still smarting from Vietnam, D.C. wasn’t about to get mixed up in another ideological power struggle, even one just down the block. You had to look far and wide to find a U.S. politician who didn’t avoid the Nicaraguan version of Communist revolution like the coronavirus.

Maybe the highest-ranking politician willing to speak out — a virtually unknown New England ski town mayor with a particularly thick Brooklyn accent named Bernie Sanders — showered affection not on the Nicaraguans, or the Contras, but on Sandanistan socialism.

Nicaragua’s Sandanistan government started in 1979 and continued until 1990, but it was effectively over in 1988 when Ortega invoked austerity measures to curb runaway inflation.

Even with an annual inflation rate of about 13,000%, at least one narrative says Ortega’s austerity measures had Nicaragua’s socialism back on a fast-track to success. Then, hurricane Joan cut a swath across Nicaragua and erased that track, or so the narrative goes.

About that time, a reporter asked then-Burlington-Mayor Sanders about food shortages caused by the austerity measures. Sanders replied that bread lines are a sign of a healthy economy.

On Super Tuesday, Bernie Sanders won the Colorado Presidential Primary with 36.2% of about 750K votes, and why not? If nothing else, Bernie’s consistent.

Once an unapologetic supporter of Nicaraguan Marxism, now Bernie’s running for president on a platform of Medicare for all, free college and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ Green New Deal.

Overtly socialist Democrats are rare. George McGovern ran on the class warfare idea that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” but he got thoroughly pummeled by Richard Nixon in 1972, and socialism went dormant for a time.

But socialism’s back now, asking perhaps for another ballot box showdown. With it comes other developments, like increasing hostility toward theology and metaphysical thought in our culture, for one, and this really gives some folks pause.

But not me.

To the extent metaphysics studies the more ephemeral relationships between ideas and reality, some on the Colorado left have simply replaced it with support for Sanders’ socialism.

What’s more metaphysical than the idea of free health care and the reality of covering the cost?

Bernie Sanders certainly comes across as though he knows how to make it all work, and if taking him at his word isn’t a matter of faith, it does make him a prophet of some worldly utopia derived from a 19th century economic theorist’s materialistic fairness ethic.

As an order made to fill the void left by eschewing traditional theology, it’s maybe not worth writing home about.

No, Colorado’s Sanders supporters haven’t abandoned theology and metaphysical thought. Not at all.

Rather, they’ve just stepped to the front of Bernie Sander’s presidential bread line and held their plates out in front of full bellies, saying, “Please, sir, I want some more.”

Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at

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