Is Bernie Sanders a 'hypocrite' because he's a millionaire?

Is Bernie Sanders a 'hypocrite' because he's a millionaire?
Bernie Sanders/Shutterstock

Leading up to Tax Day, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reported that under Trump’s new tax plan the number of corporations paying effectively zero in taxes, or even less than zero, had doubled. Let me repeat that. Huge billion dollar corporations like Amazon, Netflix, and pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly are not paying any taxes. And Trump’s tax plan is making it worse.

But instead of covering the real story—how the wealthy and large corporations shift the cost of running our country onto those who can afford it least—the headlines read, “Bernie Sanders’ tax returns reveal he’s a millionaire!” Pundits called him a “hypocrite” and a few even defended the billionaires who Bernie has criticized, saying that “Getting rich is not a form of theft.”

There’s nothing wrong with being successful. Bernie never said there was. The problem is that some corporations and the ultra-wealthy are using their outsized influence to subvert our one-person, one-vote democracy and tilt the playing field further in their favor.

They do this by giving hundreds of millions a year to Super PACs and corporate lobbyists to push their narrow self-interests. They make large political “donations”—otherwise known as legalized bribery—directly to politicians who pass laws to further enrich those same donors at the expense of everyone else. As a result, the rich get richer and the gap between rich and poor gets perpetually wider. It’s a vicious cycle and it has got to stop.

Let me repeat: there’s nothing wrong with being successful. But there is something fundamentally wrong with a democracy in which political campaigns are largely funded by corporations and extremely wealthy individuals. Because of this, most politicians today don’t represent the people. They represent the elites who finance their campaigns and secure their reelections.

In 2016, Bernie upset the political complacence and conventional wisdom by running a campaign financed exclusively by small donors. Nobody thought it would work. But it did, and he wrote a book about it. The royalties from that book made him a millionaire—a minor millionaire in the scheme of things. And somehow that makes Bernie a hypocrite? I don’t get it. Ironic maybe, but not a hypocrite.

Bernie recognizes that the issue is not how much money you have. The issue is greed—using your money to enrich yourself at the expense of others.

That’s why he called out the Sackler family—who made a fortune selling OxyContin, despite knowing it was highly addictive. He did not call them out just because they’re rich.

He’s gone after the Koch Brothers for dumping toxic waste, corrupting our democracy, and trying to cut Social Security and Medicare.

He exposed Jeff Bezos and the Walton family for making billions while paying their workers starvation wages.

When we started Ben and Jerry’s in 1978, the salary ratio between CEO and the average worker was 30 to 1—and even back then, we thought that was too high. That was before Americans were told that cutting corporate taxes and getting rid of regulations and the public sector would generate so much wealth that it would trickle down to everyone.

Today corporate CEOs make over 300 times their average worker while millions of Americans have to work two or three jobs just to survive. Now, as one in five children in America live in poverty and people are sleeping on the street, the three wealthiest people in the country own more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of all Americans.

It’s clear that we need a new set of rules by which both business and working people can thrive.

That means rebuilding government agencies that protect workers, consumers, and the environment. It means passing a fair tax system, and doing away with government incentives, loopholes, and other advantages that accrue only to those at the top. It means expanding access to affordable housing, health care, education, and a dignified retirement.

In short, it means implementing Bernie’s progressive agenda.

But businesses must also do their part. Ben and Jerry’s is just one example of a company that works to limit its impact on the environment, offers good wages and benefits, and participates in programs to help lift local communities.

We have found that treating employees as a valued resource and not as expendable commodities pays off. Happier employees make for better customer service and reduce employee turnover. As near as we can tell, these practices have helped to increase our profits and sales while not compromising our values.

In our experience, and the experiences of the burgeoning list of Benefit Corporation businesses, an enlightened capitalism driven by social responsibility does not have to be a zero-sum game. The idea is pretty simple: as your business supports the community, the community supports your business. It’s the opposite of “more for me, screw you.” And it works.

Right now, we have a profoundly greedy and irresponsible president who sees the world plainly in terms of us vs. them and winners vs. losers. A Sanders presidency would be a win-win for our country. He understands that by harmonizing the interests of businesses, workers, and government we can bring about a sense of shared purpose, mutual responsibility, and lasting prosperity for all.


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