Harvard Student Whose Family Fled Communism Challenges Bernie Sanders on Socialism’s Failures

“How do you rectify your notion of democratic socialism with the failures of socialism in nearly every country that has tried it?”

Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was challenged by a Harvard student whose family fled communist Russia on the shortcomings of socialism in various countries that have implemented the economic ideology.

“Hi, Senator Sanders. So my father’s family left Soviet Russia in 1979 fleeing from some of the very same socialist policies that you seem eager to implement in this country. So my question is, how do you rectify your notion of democratic socialism with the failures of socialism in nearly every country that has tried it?” Samantha Frenkel-Popell asked Sanders during a Monday night CNN town hall event.

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Sanders, who seemed visibly flustered while Frenkel-Popell was asking the question, started out by denying he advocates for Soviet-era socialism.

“Thank you for asking that question. Is it your assumption that I supported or believe in authoritarian communism that existed in the Soviet Union? I don’t and never have,” Sanders answered.

But Sanders did say he thinks Americans deserve “economic rights,” before criticizing the top 1 percent of wealthy American elites.

Sanders explained how his brand of “democratic socialism” is different than Soviet-era socialism.


“What do I mean when I talk about democratic socialism?” Sanders said. “It certainly is not the authoritarian communism that existed in the Soviet Union and in other communist countries.”

“So, Samantha, let me be very honest with you. I believe in a democratic, civilized society, health care is a human right. Government should make that happen,” Sanders added, before elucidating his definition of “democratic socialism.”

“What democratic socialism means to me is we expand Medicare, we provide educational opportunity to all Americans, we rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. In other words, government serves the needs of all people rather than just wealthy campaign contributors. That’s what that means to me,” he said.

Many of Sanders’ liberal supporters were unimpressed with Frenkel-Popell, snarking about her wealthy background.

In a since-deleted tweet that received thousands of likes, one Twitter user dug into Frenkel-Popell’s background, claiming that she “grew up in a $9 million mansion.”

Sanders is himself a millionaire who owns three homes.


“Bernie’s face represents all of us when rich, entitled, white women say, ‘MY FATHER!’ wrote another commenter.

The Harvard Undergraduate Centrist Society, for which Frenkel-Popell serves as vice president, deleted a tweet praising her for asking the question after receiving a deluge of attacks from commenters.


While Sanders is seen by many as a front-runner in the crowded 2020 Democratic field, many have questioned the famed progressive firebrand’s history of supporting extreme left-wing ideologies.

For his part, Sanders has refused to back down from his support of socialist policies.

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