On February 24 2020, the Facebook page “The Hodgetwins” shared the following video purportedly showing presidential candidate Bernie Sanders praising breadlines, framed with text about it being “the one video that Bernie Sanders doesn’t want you to see”:
Although the highlighted content was framed as something recently uncovered, the remarks that Sanders had purportedly made were long-known and have been repeatedly covered by the popular media. A longer version of the “breadlines” comment appeared on Bernie Sanders’ Wikiquote page:
What has to be understood is the economic problems of Nicaragua are not unique in Central America or in the third world. In fact, as poor as Nicaragua is, one of the nice things that I saw is that as a result of government policy, direct government policy in terms of the distribution of food, people are not hungry, by and large. I think it’s fair to say. You know, it’s funny, sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is, that people are lining up for food. That is a good thing! In other countries people don’t line up for food: the rich get the food and the poor starve to death.
On Reddit’s r/politics, a thread about Sanders’ purported “breadlines are good” remarks appeared in April 2016:
Over on r/Libertarian, the remarks were discussed that same month:
Two commenters decried the original post (OP) as misleading and out of context. The first explains that Sanders was referencing a binary choice between lines for bread and no bread at all (i.e. starving to death), drily adding that was “probably true”:
“Even in the cherry-picked clips he says bread lines are good…. compared to starving to death. Which is probably true.”
“I would say the title is misleading. He is saying This is a good country because our citizens can afford food. “Breadlines” implies your talking about soviet Russia where citizens where lining up for the government to give them their weekly loaf of bread, bottle of vodka, and pack of cigarettes.”
A third expressed some weariness with Sanders’ basic tenets, but chastised what they characterized as the original poster’s laziness in mischaracterizing his remarks:
Bernie is complaining about wealth inequality, and water is wet. He isn’t advocating bread lines. He isn’t advocating becoming a third world mess. He is advocating we become Sweden.
I don’t think misrepresenting folks you disagree with is all that effective. If you want to talk folks out of Bernie, you need to convince them either that Sweden sucks, or that the US can’t do a good Sweden impression. Trying to convince people that Bernie gets a hard-on when he sees a bread line will not work and is pure circle jerk fuel.
A day later, Donald Trump, Jr. called Sanders “Breadline Bernie” on Twitter, and shared a different clip from 1988:
Again during that same month — February 2019 — Mediaite reported that the video interview “originally aired on August 8, 1985 on Vermont’s Channel 17/Town Meeting Television,” adding that it had “resurfaced during the last presidential campaign when Buzzfeed posted it in June of 2015, and given Sanders’ decision to run again in 2020, will likely be circulated again … indeed, it already has.” (BuzzFeed featured the video in a June 2015 piece with the headline “Sanders In 1985: Sandinista Leader ‘Impressive,’ Castro ‘Totally Transformed’ Cuba.”)
As noted by Mediaite, the clip aired in August 1985 on Vermont’s Town Meeting Channel 17; the entire clip can be viewed here.
Mediaite also placed some of the video’s portions in context, such as elements during which Sanders took aim at then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan:
“Way back in, what was it, 1961, they invaded Cuba,” Sanders said, “and everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world and all of the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro. They forgot that he educated their kids, gave their kids healthcare, totally transformed the society.”
“Not that Fidel Castro and Cuba are perfect, they certainly are not,” Sanders added, “but just because Ronald Reagan dislikes these people doesn’t mean that people in their own nations feel the same way.”
As for what the Hodgetwins described as the “one video that Bernie Sanders doesn’t want you to see,” the entire video was referenced during a March 2016 Univision debate featuring Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. During that widely-watched event, the excerpt above was played as a clip by a moderator.
The second portion (emphasis ours, above) was left out by the moderator. Sanders addressed the clip, and he and Clinton debated his 1985 remarks:
[MODERATOR]: In 1985, you [Sanders] praised the Sandinista government and you said that Daniel Ortega was an impressive guy. This is what you said about Fidel Castro. Let’s listen.
SANDERS: You may recall way back in, when was it, 1961, they invaded Cuba, and everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world. All the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro. They forgot that he educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed their society.
[MODERATOR]: In South Florida there are still open wounds among some exiles regarding socialism and communism. So please explain what is the difference between the socialism that you profess and the socialism in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela.
SANDERS: Well, let me just answer that. What that was about was saying that the United States was wrong to try to invade Cuba, that the United States was wrong trying to support people to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, that the United States was wrong trying to overthrow in 1954, the government — democratically elected government of Guatemala.
Throughout the history of our relationship with Latin America we’ve operated under the so-called Monroe Doctrine, and that said the United States had the right do anything that they wanted to do in Latin America. So I actually went to Nicaragua and I very shortly opposed the Reagan administration’s efforts to overthrow that government. And I strongly opposed earlier Henry Kissinger and the — to overthrow the government of Salvador Aliende (ph) in Chile.
I think the United States should be working with governments around the world, not get involved in regime change. And all of these actions, by the way, in Latin America, brought forth a lot of very strong anti-American sentiments. That’s what that was about.
[MODERATOR]: Senator, in retrospect, have you ever regretted the characterizations that you made of Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro that way?
SANDERS: I’m sorry. Please say that…
[MODERATOR]: In retrospect, have you ever regretted the characterizations of Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro that you made in 1985?
SANDERS: The key issue here was whether the United States should go around overthrowing small Latin American countries. I think that that was a mistake…
[MODERATOR]: You didn’t answer the question.
SANDERS: …both in Nicaragua and Cuba. Look, let’s look at the facts here. Cuba is, of course, an authoritarian undemocratic country, and I hope very much as soon as possible it becomes a democratic country. But on the other hand…
…on the other hand, it would be wrong not to state that in Cuba they have made some good advances in health care. They are sending doctors all over the world. They have made some progress in education. I think by restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba, it will result in significant improvements to the lives of Cubans and it will help the United States and our business community invest.
[MODERATOR]: Thank you, Senator. Your time is up on that.
Moderators turned to Secretary Clinton, who in turn pivoted briefly to discussion of Puerto Rico. Clinton then returned to the topic of Cuba, leading to another exchange with Sanders about his 1985 remarks:
CLINTON: [Puerto Ricans] deserve to be treated as citizens and to be given the opportunity to get back on their feet economically. And I just want to add one thing to the question you were asking Senator Sanders. I think in that same interview, he praised what he called the revolution of values in Cuba and talked about how people were working for the common good, not for themselves.
I just couldn’t disagree more. You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, you imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere.
SANDERS: Well, as I said earlier, I don’t believe it is the business of the United States government to be overthrowing small countries around the world. And number two, when you get to Puerto Rico, there’s an issue that we have not talked about. That little island is $73 billion in debt and the government now is paying interest rates of up to 11 percent.
And many of the bonds that they are paying off were purchased by vulture capitalists for 30 cents on the dollar. And what I have said in talking to the leaders of Puerto Rico, we’ve got to bring people together. And it’s not the people of Puerto Rico, or the children or the schools.
[MODERATOR]: Senator, OK
SANDERS: But maybe some of these vulture capitalists who are going to have to lose a little bit of money in this process.
[MODERATOR]: We need to move on to another topic.
A post shared by the Hodgetwins on Facebook as “the one video that Bernie Sanders doesn’t want you to see” was decontextualized on two levels. First, the August 1985 clip referenced here had been widely discussed since at least June 2015, when BuzzFeed reported on it; then it came up during 2016 debates involving Sanders and appeared on social media platforms with regularity from 2016 on. Donald Trump, Jr. called Sanders “Breadline Bernie” in 2019, and that term had its own KnowYourMeme page.
In context, Sanders said “… as a result of government policy, direct government policy in terms of the distribution of food, people are not hungry, by and large” and that “sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is, that people are lining up for food.” But immediately thereafter, he noted that was preferable to scenarios in “other countries,” where “people don’t line up for food: the rich get the food and the poor starve to death.” Sanders only “praised breadlines” as an alternative to death by starvation.