Sociology professor Heather D. Gautney, a senior adviser to Sen. Bernard Sanders’ presidential campaign, is no fan of the U.S., which she has called a “predator” nation.
She is, however, a fan of regimes like those in Tehran, where she said she’s never felt so welcomed, and Caracas, where she heaped praise on Venezuela’s late strongman Hugo Chavez. Repeatedly, she has said that capitalism and democracy, cornerstones of the American experiment, cannot coexist.
“Today’s neoliberal capitalist system has become utterly incompatible with the requisites of democratic freedom,” she said in Caracas in 2006, a sentiment she has voiced and written about on several occasions since.
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said both Ms. Gautney’s anti-American stances abroad would make her a ripe target for President Trump should Mr. Sanders be the Democratic presidential nominee next year.
“This is something the Trump team would likely magnify,” Mr. O’Connell said. “Here you have a full-blown socialist who hates America. It’s the classic case of someone making a concerted effort to smear the U.S. at home and in other countries.”
Mr. Sanders has always surrounded himself with a colorful cast of characters, and as he makes his second bid for the White House, those advisers are drawing new scrutiny. Venezuela appears particularly attractive to the Sanders team.
Speechwriter David Sirota, for example, wrote about “Hugo Chavez’s Economic Miracle” in 2013, as food shortages were beginning to surface in Caracas and the countryside.
In the piece, published on Salon.com, Mr. Sirota argued Mr. Chavez’s policies provided a lesson for how the U.S. should organize its economy.
“In the United States that has become more unequal than many Latin American nations, are there constructive lessons to be learned from Chavez’s grand experiment with more aggressive redistribution?” he asked rhetorically.
Mr. Sanders’ political director, Analalia Mejia, has compared time she spent as a girl in Venezuelan shantytowns favorably with that she spent impoverished in New Jersey.
Ms. Gautney, who did not return phone calls, is on leave from Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus where she is an associate professor of sociology.
Similarly, the Sanders 2020 campaign did not reply to a request for an interview with Ms. Gautney or several questions asking her to elaborate on her stated positions.
Ms. Gautney’s ties to Mr. Sanders go back years, including a stint on his Senate office staff from 2012 to 2013 — about the same time she returned from Iran and told Fordham’s college newspaper she had “never been treated so well in our lives.”
“You had people who were really focusing quite heavily on the United States as an imperialist country going back to Christopher Columbus and really hammering in a powerful, rhetorical way that America is a predator,” she said.
High unemployment is actually good, she said on an Iranian television show, because it gives people more down time to engage in protest movements.
In the Obama years, she said, “we’ve had high unemployment, and when you have unemployed people, they have the time and the ability to protest. And when people are kept working and entertained, they don’t.”
After that first foray with Mr. Sanders, Ms. Gautney would return in 2016 as a researcher on Mr. Sanders’ first presidential bid, then became executive director of Our Revolution, a political action committee that sprang from Sanders campaign alumni.
The group says its mission is to “transform American politics to make our political and economic systems once again responsive to the needs of working families.”
Our Revolution is what critics of campaign spending, like Mr. Sanders, call “dark money,” which means donors and activities do not have to be publicly disclosed.
Ms. Gautney gained some national attention last month when she took to Twitter to boost Mr. Sanders’ idea of wiping clean the student loan slate, while linking to his campaign’s Twitter accounts — a ploy with such naked self-interest Mr. O’Connell thought it too would be the sort of thing opposing campaigns like to highlight.
“I am $180K in debt,” the Fordham professor tweeted on June 24. “I have a PHD and am a tenured professor — my students are in the same boat, sinking in debt. I pay $1100/month in student loan debt, half of my rent. We MUST #CancelStudentDebt. Wall St got bailed out, what about us?!”
• James Varney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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