Bernie is taking flak for being a millionaire while simultaneously attacking millionaires with much of his rhetoric over the past decade or so. Well, millionaires and billionaires, but wealthy individuals, nonetheless. As Democrats continue to look for ways to use Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns against him, the pressure has mounted on Bernie to release more of his returns since he only released a 2014 return during the 2016 presidential cycle.
Reuters reports on the details of Bernie’s returns which he released starting with 2009 when his adjusted gross income was $314,742:
Sanders, a U.S. senator who routinely rails against the “millionaires and billionaires” he says have rigged the system to protect their wealth and power, had an adjusted gross income of $561,293 in 2018, $1,131,925 in 2017 and $1,062,626 in 2016, the returns showed.
Sanders augmented his Senate salary with book royalties in each of those years, particularly in 2016 and 2017 when he made more than $800,000 each year in royalties. Sanders has published three books since the start of his first White House run, including bestsellers “Our Revolution” and “Where We Go From Here.”
In 2009, the first year of returns Sanders released on Monday, he had an adjusted gross income of $314,742.
Sanders had faced mounting pressure to release his taxes, with critics saying the democratic socialist’s millionaire status undercut his populist economic message. He made no apologies for his financial well-being, telling the New York Times recently that “if you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too.”
Bernie’s done well in the past decade. What’s wrong with that? Well, nothing, unless you spend a lot of time attacking the capitalist system lobbing grenades at the “wealthy” and selling a message of a rigged system that benefits a select few while keeping the masses stuck under the capitalist boot.
That may be harsh, though, does Bernie really deserve criticism? His tone has changed a little bit as he’s had to respond to this line of attack from critics:
On Monday, Sanders took a more measured tone in releasing his returns, making reference to his upbringing in a Brooklyn family of limited financial resources.
“These tax returns show that our family has been fortunate. I am very grateful for that, as I grew up in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck and I know the stress of economic insecurity,” Sanders said in a statement accompanying the returns.
His message has become more nuanced in saying that he appreciates the wealth he has amassed now and understands that it didn’t come easy and that his upbringing gave him a greater empathy to what it means to suffer under economic insecurity.
It will be up to voters in the Democratic primary to decide if his increasing wealth undercuts his message about the capitalist system. In truth, Bernie has benefitted quite handsomely from a system which has provided a great opportunity in book sales and speeches since his popularity has risen in recent years.
Perhaps tailoring a message which is lighter on attacking the wealthy heavier on attacking the system itself which makes it harder for some families and individuals to get ahead would help placate critics.
As CNN reports further, Bernie is pushing back against his critics, arguing that his wealth does not undercut his message:
“I didn’t know that it was a crime to write a good book which turns out to be a bestseller,” Sanders said at a community meeting in Gary, Indiana.
“My view has always been that we need a progressive tax system which demands that the wealthiest people in this country finally start paying their fair share of taxes. If I make a lot of money, you make a lot of money, that is what I believe,” Sanders added, defiant and plainly frustrated by the line of questioning. “So again, I don’t apologize for writing a book that was number three on the New York Times best seller, translated into five or six languages and that’s that.”
Then I suppose the question is what does Sanders define as “fair share?” Back to the Reuters story, Sanders paid at most 35% on his earnings:
The tax returns released on Monday showed Sanders paid a 26 percent effective tax rate on his adjusted gross income in 2018. His effective tax rates in 2016 and 2017, his other high-earning years, were 35 percent and 30 percent, respectively.
This will be an ongoing discussion throughout the Democratic primary as the field wrestles with how to attack Donald Trump on this issue without taking incoming fire at the same time.