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Republicans have long attacked U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, as an ultra liberal, but now one of Brown’s hopeful Republican challengers has cast the incumbent as someone who is so far to the left that he likes communism and Marxism.
Gibbons said that Brown "majored in Russian studies at Yale University and when he majored in it -- because he would have been in (the same year as) my class -- Russia was a communist country. So he studied communism, and apparently he liked it, because a lot of his policies reflect that interest in Marxism."
Gibbons, who was the finance co-chair for a joint committee for Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee in 2016, has made comments about Brown studying Marxism or Russian multiple times on the campaign trail. He is one of many candidates, including U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, competing in the May 8 Republican primary.
Gibbons’ claim is disingenuous. We found that Brown does speak up for American workers, as communists often do, but that doesn’t mean that Brown likes communism. In fact, for decades Brown has been critical of communism, particularly in China.
Brown did receive a bachelor of arts in Russian and Eastern European studies from Yale in 1974. (Brown later earned master's degrees in education and public policy from Ohio State University. )
Brown’s Yale degree included courses in a broad range of disciplines, including studying the language, although Brown is not a fluent Russian speaker, his campaign spokesman Preston Maddock said.
Maddock said Brown’s studies were not out of fondness for communism, and he pointed to several conservatives who also studied Russian or Russian studies, including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham.
In the 1970s, Russian studies was an important area of knowledge because people were developing expertise to help combat the USSR, a major Cold War opponent, said Mark Smith director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University.
"For sure, some in those programs may have been true believers in Marxism or communism, but there is no evidence of this in Brown's background," Smith said. "Nothing I am aware of would cause me to question his commitment to the United States, our form of government, or the Constitution (which he has sworn to uphold and defend)."
The same year Brown graduated Yale in 1974, he won his first elected office to the Ohio House of Representatives. He later served as Ohio secretary of state and was elected to Congress in 1992. He joined the U.S. Senate in 2007.
Gibbons campaign’s main piece of evidence is a 2012 article in Breitbart, a conservative publication, which cited several examples linking Brown to "undue influence" from the Communist Party USA.
Breitbart linked to a 2003 editorial written by Brown when he was in the House. Brown criticized Congress for taking many votes on important topics, such as veterans benefits, tax cuts and money for the Iraq war, between midnight and 3 a.m.
"Always in the middle of the night," Brown wrote. "Always after the press had passed their deadlines. Always after the American people had turned off the news and gone to bed."
There’s nothing about communism or Marxism in what Brown wrote, but Breitbart objected that it was re-printed by the People’s World, a publication that includes Marxist and communist opinions.
But Brown’s op-ed was also published in mainstream publications such as the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the Lorain Morning Journal in Ohio.
Breitbart also pointed to the People’s World celebrating Brown’s win in 2006; however, the editorial only briefly mentioned Brown and generally celebrated the national Democratic sweep when voters were mad about the war in Iraq.
That fact that the People’s World supported Brown doesn’t show that Brown supported communism.
Brown is best known in the Senate for his longtime opposition to trade agreements and his support for labor, beginning when he was a freshman House member in 1993 and voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"Brown’s position on trade is rooted in fighting for American industry and workers and has been consistent throughout his career," Maddock, Brown’s spokesman, said. "If support for fair trade deals makes Senator Brown a communist, what does the Gibbons campaign have to say about the fact that Brown and President Trump frequently agree on how to deal with trade?"
Brown has steadily earned high scores from the AFL-CIO as well as the liberal organization Americans for Democratic Action and League of Conservation Voters. Despite his liberal record, he has found common ground with the Trump administration.
Brown agreed with Trump’s decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He has said he will work with the Trump administration to help Ohio’s steel and manufacturing sectors, and in 2017 Brown praised Trump’s administration for asking the trade office to look into whether China had stolen U.S. technology and intellectual property
University of Akron political science professor David B. Cohen noted the similarities on trade between Brown and Trump.
"Brown’s position on trade is not much different than President Trump’s position, yet Gibbons is a huge public supporter of Trump. Are Trump’s economic views Marxian?" he said.
Brown has spoken against communism for decades.
After Brown lost the secretary of state re-election in 1990, he taught at Ohio State University and then worked with the Polish Ministry of Education to help rid its curriculum of Marxist-Leninist courses after the fall of the country's communist government in 1989, the Athens News reported in 2006.
"This is a communist country that has made some nods to free enterprise, but still has the same oppressive communist regime," Brown said. "It's almost nonsensical."
In 2015, he opposed giving the Obama administration renewed Trade Promotion Authority known as "fast track."
In noting that Brown studied Russia as a college student, Gibbons said, "apparently he liked it, because a lot of his policies reflect that interest in Marxism."
We found no evidence to suggest Brown supports Marxism or communism. Brown does favor American workers and opposes many free trade policies, but those are policy positions he shares with President Trump.
We rate Gibbons’ statement False.
Republican Liberty Caucus of Ohio, Interview with Mike Gibbons, Feb. 20, 2018
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Interview, Mark Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University March 19, 2018
Interview, David B. Cohen, University of Akron political science professor, March 19, 2018
Interview, Thomas C. Sutton, Director, Community Research Institute Burton D. Morgan Chair in Entrepreneurial Studies Professor, Political Science Baldwin Wallace University, March 20, 2018
Interview, Anita Waters, organizer of the Columbus chapter of the Communist Party USA and a member of the national and state committee, March 20, 2018
Interview, Chris Schrimpf, Mike Gibbons campaign spokesman, March 16, 2018
Interview, Preston Maddock, Sherrod Brown campaign spokesman, March 20, 2018
Interview, Michael Corsetti, Assistant University Registrar Yale, March 20, 2018
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