Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Bernie Sanders did not affirmatively say in an interview with the New York Times editorial board that Chinese President Xi Jinping is a dictator. This version has been updated.

The New York Times editorial board published on Monday a lengthy transcript of an interview with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), as part of its series of interviews with presidential contenders. Parts of that interview deserve attention.

First, Sanders again praises dictator wannabe Evo Morales. “In terms of Evo Morales [of Bolivia], his record was a pretty good record. He went a long way to limit or to cut back on extreme poverty in a very poor country," he said. “Give a voice to the indigenous people of that country. Should he have run for another term although they made it legal? Probably not." (In November, the Times reported that Morales, "who came to power more than a decade ago as part of a leftist wave sweeping Latin America, resigned on Sunday after unrelenting protests by an infuriated population that accused him of undermining democracy to extend his rule.”)

Sanders’s softness on left-wing dictators is not isolated to Bolivia. While he does condemn China’s human rights record, he has a peculiar response when asked if President Xi Jinping is a dictator. He notes, “I’m not the world’s greatest authority on China, and B, it is a long and complicated issue to deal with a country the size of China.” (If President Trump had said that, progressives would have had a field day.) He then continues:

We can say about China, to their credit, that they have come a very long way. It wasn’t so many decades ago that there was mass starvation in China. All right?
There is not mass starvation today and people have got — the government has got to take credit for the fact that there is now a middle class in China. No one denies that more people in China have a higher standard of living than use to be the case. All right? That’s the reality.
On the other hand, China is a dictatorship. It does not tolerate democracy, i.e., what they’re doing in Hong Kong. They do not tolerate independent trade unions and the Communist Party rules with a pretty iron fist. So, and by the way, in recent years, Xi has made the situation even worse. So, I mean, I’ll give, you give people credit where it is due. But you have to maintain values of democracy and human rights and certainly that does not exist in China.

The question was whether Xi is a dictator. After saying “Yeah, I do,” he then rambles on, repeating his well-known tendency to avoid outright condemnation of leftist dictators.

Finally, Sanders had a confusing and somewhat incoherent exchange on economics and immigration. He began by equivocating on whether immigration has the effect of depressing wages for Americans already here, seeming to contradict statements he made on Lou Dobbs’s TV program in 2007, which Sanders said was “250 years ago.” The conversation continued, with the editorial board’s annotations in brackets:

Binyamin Appelbaum: But you don’t think that that exploitation results in lower wages for domestic workers?
Sanders: Sure it does. Right now, we have people who are being exploited. If you’re undocumented, and you’re being paid five bucks an hour, why am I going to pay her $12 an hour? [The prevailing view of economists is that immigration increases economic growth, so it is not tethered to lower wages or less employment for American workers.]
BA: So, I’m confused about what has changed about your position.
Sanders: What did I just say again?
BA: You said that the exploitation of undocumented workers results in lower wages for domestic workers.
Sanders: Yeah, if you’re being paid $5 — If you’re being paid $5 an hour, now of course it’s going to lower wages. Why would I hire at a higher wage?
BA: But just a minute ago you said that was no longer your position. Is it your position that immigration, and exploitation ——
Sanders: I didn’t say “immigration.” I said that if you are paid, anybody is paid, exploited and illegally paid low wages, of course that’s going to lower wage standards in America.
BA: And that’s what’s happening right now?
Sanders: You said that. I didn’t say that. I don’t know how big a deal it is, but if people are being exploited by their employers, of course it lowers wages in America. Why do I — If I can get you for cheap labor, why do I pay her a living wage? Do you deny that? I mean, I don’t know. That’s ——
BA: I just wanted to understand your position. Thank you.
Sanders: Do you disagree with that?
BA: I think that there’s a lot of research suggesting that that’s not actually the case, yes. [Even George Borjas, the Harvard economist cited by the Trump administration in efforts to argue that immigration drives down wages, has said there is no economic justification for restricting skilled immigration.]
Sanders: That if I pay you five bucks an hour, it doesn’t have an impact on her wages.
BA: That immigration ——
Sanders: I didn’t say immigration.
BA: The immigration under current circumstances, which is substantially under ——
Sanders: Buh-buh-buh-buh-buh. Hold on. You’re misstating me. All I am saying is that if for whatever reason, I’m paying you $5 an hour, O.K.? You don’t think that’s going to lower the wages that she gets?
BA: There’s a lot of economic research suggesting that it does not.
Sanders: Not that I have seen.
BA: O.K.
Sanders: I mean I think that’s kind of common sense. It’s called a race to the bottom.

Sanders seems unwilling to recognize that his argument about exploitation applies in the immigration context, is widely disputed and is the one made by immigration exclusionists. Moreover, his difficulty in responding authoritatively and crisply to questions that require more than platitudinous attacks on Republicans should disturb Democrats looking for a sharp contrast with the rambling, unfocused and often ignorant president.

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