Bernie on being a millionaire: I didn't know it was a crime to write a bestselling book

I realize he’s made this point before but I still can’t believe this is what he came up with to explain his wealth after having had literally years to think about it. He leads a movement that believes rich people shouldn’t hoard money that could be given to the state to help the poor. He knew reconciling his personal net worth with the principles of that movement would be an issue if he ran for president again. There are things he could have done to defuse the issue — given the money to charity or to the Treasury, invested it in “progressive” causes or companies, plowed it into his own campaign. If he couldn’t bear to part with it, he had better excuses available to him than this. “I might need it to help fund my campaign,” he could have said, however unconvincingly given his stellar fundraising numbers. “I’m planning to donate heavily to progressive groups next year to ensure total Democratic control of government, whether I’m the nominee or not,” he might have added. Even “I’m leaving it all to the poor when I’m gone” would have been something.


His preferred justification instead, essentially, is “Sorry for being successful.” Which literally every self-made millionaire in the United States — and most millionaires are self-made — could also say.

I didn’t know it was a crime to start a successful business.

Karol Markowicz can’t believe it either:

Only in America!

Other millionaires and billionaires can explain their riches like Bernie does. “I started a website that sold books, and now we sell everything.” “I invented a way to search the internet with ease and accuracy.” “I invested in companies and helped them grow.” “I run a pharmaceutical company that cures diseases and produces medication so sick people can live better lives.”

Bernie’s book-writing, in other words, isn’t any nobler than the paths taken by other millionaires.

He clearly does mean to suggest that it’s nobler. Not because anything he might do to make money is necessarily noble, but I think he’s implying that book-writing is a special exception to the general rule that Private Wealth Is Bad. Whether that exception applies to all forms of art or just literature; whether it applies to all forms of literature or just political polemics; whether it applies to all political polemics or just left-wing ones, only Bernie knows. I’m guessing he doesn’t think Rush Limbaugh is entitled to his money because he’s been a fantastically successful right-wing polemicist.


Or maybe he means to imply that private initiatives that aren’t designed to make money but end up making money anyway are pure in intent, without the original sin of profit-seeking, and therefore the lucre they produce may fairly be kept. He may not have written his book hoping/expecting he’d make bank off of it but rather to spread the gospel of wealth-sharing. The fact that so many readers shelled out their cash for it — well, that’s really on them, not on Bernie.

Although good luck convincing anyone that a figure with a cult following as devoted as Sanders had no clue that a book he wrote might earn some serious scratch. If the book wasn’t designed to make him rich, why didn’t he eschew royalties? Or have his royalties assigned to Justice Democrats or whoever?

Precisely because he has no good excuse for all this and he knows it, he’s touchy about being criticized for it — especially by Democrats:

Senator Bernie Sanders, in a rare and forceful rebuke by a presidential candidate of an influential party ally, has accused a liberal think tank of undermining Democrats’ chances of taking back the White House in 2020 by “using its resources to smear” him and other contenders pushing progressive policies…

“This counterproductive negative campaigning needs to stop,” Mr. Sanders wrote to the boards of the Center for American Progress and its sister group, the Center for American Progress Action Fund. “The Democratic primary must be a campaign of ideas, not of bad-faith smears. Please help play a constructive role in the effort to defeat Donald Trump.”


The letter was inspired by the Think Progress video I posted last week noting that Sanders’s long disdain for “millionaires and billionaires” had shifted in public statements recently to “multi-millionaires and billionaires.” The Times calls the letter “a warning shot to the Democratic establishment that Mr. Sanders — who continues to criticize party insiders on the campaign trail — will not countenance a repeat of the 2016 primary, when he and his supporters believe party leaders and allies worked to deny him the Democratic nomination.” Right, and that’s the real spin Bernie’s going to use to try to steer critics away from attacking his wealth. “Sorry for writing a good book” is just a check-the-box reply he offers when he’s forced to comment. The way he’ll keep true believers in line and off his back is by claiming that this entire line of inquiry is some disingenuous plot by Hillaryites to try to splinter the glorious socialist movement. It’ll probably work.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on September 22, 2023