As the 2020 Democratic primary season is in its early stages, one of the major fault lines is between those who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016 and continue to do so today and those who oppose him. And on Monday, the two sides were arguing over a silly controversy involving old footage of Sanders.
A Twitter user by the name of Top Rope Travis, whose bio identifies him as the “Director of Veterans Outreach” for an effort to draft Rep. Beto O’Rourke for a presidential campaign, posted video of a shirtless Sanders, in 1988, with a group of people singing Woody Guthrie’s folk standard “This Land is Your Land.”
The tweet recalls the spreading earlier this month of a video of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing in college, which most supporters of the freshman congresswoman thought was cool rather than damning, and indeed, Top Rope Travis even includes that video in a follow-up to the tweet. It is then followed by footage of his own candidate, O’Rourke, performing with his band. But then the tread pivots to conspiracy.
“Is getting drunk & singing on your honeymoon bad? No,” he writes. “But why do it in the USSR, during the Cold War & then want to know why we’re concerned Bernie joined Republicans in voting to remove sanctions from a Russian who attacked our elections?”
NEW: Recently discovered footage from 1988 reveals a shirtless Bernie Sanders with his wife, Jane, on their honeymoon in the USSR, drunkenly signing “This Land Is Your Land” with a group of presumed Soviets.
— TOᑭ ᖇOᑭE TᖇAViS (@TopRopeTravis) January 28, 2019
The video appears to be genuine, as Sanders indeed visited the Soviet Union in the summer of 1988 as part of an official delegation when he was mayor of Burlington, VT. But rather than an act of Cold War subversion, the trip came as part of a “sister city” exchange a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall at a time when tensions between the two superpowers were far from their height, as Politifact pointed out in 2015, following a George Will column that made insinuations about the trip.
If we are serious about reducing income and wealth inequality and creating good paying jobs, we have to substantially increase the number of union jobs in this country. We must make it easier, not harder, for workers to join unions. https://t.co/cmWRYgXH1q
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 23, 2019
Sanders is a known fan of “This Land is Your Land,” the folk song written by Woody Guthrie in 1940. Despite some lyrics thought to be politically incendiary, it is one of the more beloved songs in the American folk canon and long taught in elementary schools. Sanders actually recorded a version of the tune in 1987 as part of a spoken word album, and Sanders made a point of visiting the Woody Guthrie Center in Oklahoma during the 2016 campaign. Sanders went on to sing a version of the song with the band Vampire Weekend at a rally that year, which is posted on YouTube.
Rather than see it as red-baiting, supporters of Sanders and others appeared to like the video.
“The campaign ad writes itself: ‘The only other world leader not afraid to go shirtless in Putin’s Russia…’ journalist Will Bunch wrote on Twitter.
“Woah i always knew bernie was cool but i didn’t realize he was *this* cool,” podcaster Matt Binder said.