Sanders does not appear to be an anti-capitalist in the strictest sense — his brand of social democracy is compatible with capitalism, even as it seeks to regulate it and loosen its grip on the American worker — but even if he were, his wealth wouldn’t make him a fraud. Socialism does not demand asceticism. As the old labor slogan says, workers need bread and roses, too — small luxuries that make life more tolerable. The point isn’t to accumulate excess, but to elevate the human dignity of the worker — a radical shift from the current the political reality. When the U.S. government does offer help to low-income people, it typically does so under punitive conditions. People who need welfare have to prove they’re looking for work, as if they’re lazy bums who must be goaded into productivity. Similarly, there’s no real financial reason for the Women, Infants, and Children food aid program to ban beneficiaries from purchasing herbs or spices, but it does. One F-35 fighter jet can buy a lot of dried basil, and only one of these items works as advertised on a regular basis. (It’s not the jet.) The government could improve the material circumstances of vulnerable Americans with relative ease, if it chose to do so — that’s the core argument Sanders, and like-minded politicians, have put forward.
So Sanders owns too many roses. If he suddenly promoted Trump’s tax cuts, his detractors would be right to call him a hypocrite. The proof is in his policy. Sanders should have released his tax returns long ago. But whatever his faults, he is no Smaug, defending his horde from all comers. He has repeatedly endorsed higher taxes on wealth to fund an expansion of the welfare state, and though he isn’t the only Democratic candidate to do so, his consistency is a point in his favor. His recent wealth may even make him more credible to voters as he offers it up in the name of progress. Even as a millionaire, Sanders stands in sharp contrast to Trump.