Of all the important issues in the 2020 campaign, how much money each of the Democrats has should not be on any list.
But now that Bernie Sanders has released his tax returns he is being singled out for the sin of having too much dough. Not more money than most of his colleagues and opponents mind you, just more than some on the right and in media think is acceptable for a politician who fixates on taxing the wealthiest 1 percent.
The criticism is way off base. Ten years of tax returns provided by Sanders and his wife Jane confirm that the couple has no exotic investments or loans. Together they earned $561,293 last year. California Sen. Kamala Harris and her husband made $1.89 million. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and her husband made $846,394. So what?
What seems to have riled Sanders’ critics is that in 2016 and 2017 his income exceeded a million dollars as a result of his best-selling book “Our Revolution,” along with two other books that he and his wife produced. Some of the book revenue went directly to charity and was not claimed as a tax deduction.
You want to fuss about book deals? Sen. Harris made $732,500 for writing “The Truths We Hold” and a companion children’s book. She claimed $412,000 in expenses directly related to the books, which sounds like quite a trick.
Bernie Sanders has no beef with Americans who become millionaires. What angers him is that they aren’t asked to pay enough in taxes and that some of the wealthiest among them exert undo influence on our government.
Sanders says the rich, himself included, should pay more as “both an obligation and an investment in our country.” He pledged to “continue to fight to make our tax system more progressive so that our country has the resources to guarantee the American Dream to all people.”
To Sanders’ credit, on the day he released his returns he agreed to be questioned in a town hall setting on Fox News, a conservative cauldron that most Democrats won’t dare enter. President Trump tweeted, “So weird to watch Crazy Bernie on @FoxNews.”
Confronted by host Bret Baier about his millionaire status, Sanders said he was fortunate to have a college degree, to be a U.S. senator and to have written a best-selling book.
Acknowledging that not everyone is so lucky, he stressed, “I want everybody in this country to be able to have health care, to have education, to, when they turn on the water, have drinking water, not toxic water.”
The Fox hosts noted that the Vermont senator had benefited from the Trump tax legislation, but Sanders was quick to point out that he voted against it.
Anyone who claims Sanders is hypocritical for suggesting that the wealthy pay more taxes because he is among them has it completely upside down. The more someone earns the more powerful their argument. The billionaire Warren Buffett is among the more outspoken, and credible, advocates of tax reform. Imagine if self-described billionaire Donald Trump had demanded that rich people pay more, rather than designing tax breaks from which he presumably benefited handsomely.
Voters might conclude that Bernie Sanders is too progressive to be president. But there’s no basis whatsoever to suggest that he’s too rich.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.