The Corner

Elections

Bernie’s Houses

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders campaigns in Richmond, Calif., February 17, 2020. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Mike Bloomberg scored a hit — a palpable hit — in the debate this week when he pointed back at Bernie Sanders and said: “What a wonderful country we have, the best-known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses.” Many conservatives laughed and cheered and wondered why Bernie Sanders hasn’t been called out on this more before. And it is true that at some point, Bernie Sanders dropped the “millionaires” as a rhetorical punching bag to focus on the billionaires. It is also true that Sanders has done well enough in American life that you might fairly ask whether the whole system really does need repeal.

I know some conservatives dislike that he has worked in public life most of his career. But I wonder if conservative pundits tagging him are inadvertently giving readers a financial miseducation.

The Sanders’ main Vermont residence was purchased for around $400,000 a decade ago. That amount will get you a great deal of house in Vermont. Sanders’s job as senator is what requires his second residence, the one-bedroom apartment in D.C., which is worth roughly three quarters of a million dollars. By Washington, D.C.’s standards, this is not all that far above the median home price. And the two residences together would put Sanders near the bottom of the scale for senatorial opulence.

So really this is about the lake house in Vermont, which was purchased in 2016. The purchase seems to have been preceded by his wife receiving a generous “golden parachute” package from her employer, and the proceeds from an inheritance. Sanders has also said proceeds from his book went into this house. And it’s a nice one. Sanders’s net worth doesn’t extend all that far beyond his real estate portfolio.

When I look at this, I don’t see a great deal of “capitalism for me, but not for thee” behavior. Despite a few years of living down and out, Sanders has had steady employment for 40 years. He has been in federal office for a little over thirty years.

Most people who have that kind of career invest a substantial amount of money in the market. Many legislators have suspiciously good timing in the market and make substantial fortunes as investors. Sanders hasn’t done that. Instead, he and his wife have pursued jobs with good benefits and pensions — the kind of benefits they’d like to see extended to all workers — they’ve lived modestly for their class, and Sanders has been blessed with unusual longevity and energy.

If you look at his life as a series of financial decisions, Sanders has consistently traded present comfort for long-term security. That’s consistent with his political instincts. So, no, I don’t see a great deal of hypocrisy.

But, when you consider that such wealth can accrue to a life with Sanders’s downs and ups, and his low-risk, low-reward behavior, I also don’t see a need to completely and utterly replace the American economic model with a utopian dream.

Most Popular

Film & TV

America’s Favorite Movie

For more than a decade, readers volunteering their ratings on the movie site IMDb have declared The Shawshank Redemption (1994) their favorite film of all time. (Number two is The Godfather). Unlike the unholy tablets that are the box office charts, which are strongly linked to marketing budgets and show a ... Read More
Film & TV

America’s Favorite Movie

For more than a decade, readers volunteering their ratings on the movie site IMDb have declared The Shawshank Redemption (1994) their favorite film of all time. (Number two is The Godfather). Unlike the unholy tablets that are the box office charts, which are strongly linked to marketing budgets and show a ... Read More
Media

The Media Owe Senator Tom Cotton an Apology

One of the biggest issues people have with the mainstream press these days is that some of its members are so insulated that they end up buying into and promoting false narratives without actually checking these narratives' veracity. That seems to be exactly what happened in mid February, when major outlets ... Read More
Media

The Media Owe Senator Tom Cotton an Apology

One of the biggest issues people have with the mainstream press these days is that some of its members are so insulated that they end up buying into and promoting false narratives without actually checking these narratives' veracity. That seems to be exactly what happened in mid February, when major outlets ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Welcome Back, Plastic Bags

Single-use plastic bags are a miracle of modern technology. Cheap, light, convenient, and ubiquitous, they provide an elegant solution to a problem. If you recycle them, as most people do, and put your rubbish in them, that creates a net reduction in carbon emissions compared with buying the heavier, thicker ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Welcome Back, Plastic Bags

Single-use plastic bags are a miracle of modern technology. Cheap, light, convenient, and ubiquitous, they provide an elegant solution to a problem. If you recycle them, as most people do, and put your rubbish in them, that creates a net reduction in carbon emissions compared with buying the heavier, thicker ... Read More
U.S.

Some Good News Going into the Weekend

It’s Friday -- although I know it’s getting harder and harder to tell these days. You deserve a respite from yesterday’s gloom. (If you’re hungry for more gloom, there’s always the most recent edition of The Editors podcast -- and thank you, dear readers, for checking on me.) Today’s newsletter ... Read More
U.S.

Some Good News Going into the Weekend

It’s Friday -- although I know it’s getting harder and harder to tell these days. You deserve a respite from yesterday’s gloom. (If you’re hungry for more gloom, there’s always the most recent edition of The Editors podcast -- and thank you, dear readers, for checking on me.) Today’s newsletter ... Read More

The Didactic Plague

There are two Christian concepts on my mind on this Palm Sunday. One is theodicy, the other is the sin of presumption. “Theodicy” means “the vindication of God,” referring to a seeming conundrum that has vexed Christian thinkers since the beginning: How can evil coexist with an all-good, all-loving, ... Read More

The Didactic Plague

There are two Christian concepts on my mind on this Palm Sunday. One is theodicy, the other is the sin of presumption. “Theodicy” means “the vindication of God,” referring to a seeming conundrum that has vexed Christian thinkers since the beginning: How can evil coexist with an all-good, all-loving, ... Read More