Bernie Sanders is the most popular political figure in the United States. His approval ratings have long been through the roof and it’s left many politicians and pundits wondering what is so infectious about his appeal. Bernie Sanders is honest and consistent, he says what he thinks, people genuinely appreciate that about him. Do not underestimate the power of authenticity in this political moment. Even some conservatives view him as an honest straight shooter (Glenn Beck’s words not mine). Bernie’s long record and popularity make him a prime target, but the same things that put him in the crosshairs make him incredibly hard to take down. Which is why the talking points conservatives commonly use to do just that are pretty laughable.
Whether it’s a comment about “Bernie tweeting from his third house by the lake” or “driving his Audi” or even the most recent about “paying less taxes than Trump” they are all blatant lies from people grasping at straws while trying to attack one of the most consistent political records in American history.
Bernie’s has a Condo in D.C. and Inherited a Vacation Home, Who Cares?
It’s long been a line of attack against Bernie Sanders to point out he and his wife own three houses. Since he has announced memes about campaign contributions buying his fourth house have become common place (even though that’s not possible). The truth is, he’s got a house for work and a retirement home he and his wife roundabout inherited. For a guy who works in D.C. and comes home to Vermont each week, that doesn’t seem so unreasonable. It’s just their family home and an apartment in D.C.
Bernie’s vacation home is not a symbol of excessive hypocrisy, but instead a well deserved place to retire, purchased after years of tireless work and selling a family home on his wife’s Jane side of the family. It’s a modest lakehome, to accompany Bernie’s modest family home in Burlington. Even then, it must be noted, compared to people in congress worth upwards of a $100 million (I’m looking at you Nancy Pelosi) both of Sanders homes are incredibly modest and placed in the context of a congressman with decades in Washington they are stunning shows of frugality. Additionally his net worth is one of the lowest in the senate, so three houses or not, it’s not really a mark against his character given he’s been a national political figure for over 30 years. At least that’s my view, there is nothing hypocritical about advocating for structural change while not forgoing every single luxury that structure has afforded you.
Another show of frugality and modesty is Bernie Sanders car, a red Chevy Cruze.
Bernie Drives a Chevy Cruze Not an Audi R8
Since 2015 rumors have bounced across the internet about Bernie Sanders and “his Audi R8” sports car. Bernie’s opponents pointed to his imaginary sports car as a sure sign of hypocritism. “Bernie challenged the rich, but laughed his way to the bank in a candy red sports car” is a Facebook comment from a conservative acquaintance that is now etched into my memory. Largely because of the gusto with which he echoed it repeatedly with little regard for simple fact checking. If he did a quick google search before commenting it would have been abundantly clear that Bernie Sanders car is in fact not a $200,000 sports car, but instead it cost something closer to $20,000. The candy red paint was pretty spot on, but Sanders certainly looks a lot less luxurious rolling around in his ford focus, a car adored by frugal drivers concerned with both trunk space and fuel economy everywhere.
(Gullible 4Chan user spreading misinformation)
The fact that there is still some portion of the population that believes Bernie Sanders drives a candy red Audi sports car is troubling. Not because what people think Bernie Sanders drives matters, but because it shows an insane willingness to air on the side of confirmation bias at all costs. Bernie Sanders is viewed favorably by a significant portion of Republicans, but for some a socialist being an honest and trustworthy politician is simply a bridge too far. To some people there is no way someone like Bernie Sanders can call himself a socialist and be an honest man of the people. Which is probably why talking points about three houses and sports cars stick so well, because it fits their narrative of socialism being a system to take their tax dollars and funnel it to big shot hypocritical bureaucrats. It’s too perfect to be true, but that doesn’t stop anti-Sanders folks from spouting these talking points or creating new ones whenever possible.
Bernie Does Not Pay Less in Taxes Than Donald Trump
The newest anti-Sanders line of attack that fits a little too neatly into the conservative narrative is the idea that Bernie Sanders pays less income tax than Donald Trump. Which if we are looking at Trump’s recently released 2005 tax return and the tax documents released by Bernie Sanders during the primary campaign is actually true. Unlike the other two there is a nugget of truth to the idea Trump pays more in taxes than Sanders. It’s a fact, but it’s a fact that intentionally misinterprets the United States tax code to make Trump look good.
When Rachel Maddow leaked Trump’s 2005 tax sheet it was largely viewed as an overhyped flop because it was billed as controversial, but it was far from scandalous. In fact it might have even helped Trump. Instead of showing ties to Russian financiers, or an out of touch billionaire paying no tax at all, it showed Donald Trump paid “25%” in taxes, which is indeed the tax bracket every dollar he makes over $91,000. Every dollar Trump made over $415,051 was taxed at 39.6% so to pay 25% in taxes Trump was still being fairly generous to himself.
Bernie Sanders on the other hand doesn’t make nearly as much as Donald Trump does so none of his income even reaches the upper brackets. Bernie’s net worth is only around $750,000, 100x less than Donald Trump’s profits in 2005. In 2014 he only made $140,994. So from the beginning the numbers are significantly smaller. Bernie Sanders then had numerous tax deductions which significantly lowered the effective tax rate he paid. On Bernie’s 2014 tax return he deducted $22,946 on home mortgage interest, $14,843 on real estate taxes, $9666 in state and local taxes, $8,000 in monetized gifts to charity, $350 in gifts to charity other than cash or check, $572 for work expenses, and $6,932 of social security income was not taxable.
Bernie Sanders has significant mortgage debt which impacts the amount of taxable income he has. All of these deductions bring his original 25% tax rate down to 13% which is only a 12% shirking of tax responsibility based largely on a large mortgage and charity. Compared to Trump’s 15% largely on the back of crafty accounting and real estate. However that percentage when applied to Trump’s income loses the United States far more money. Bernie Sanders only made $140,994 in 2014, 100x less than Trump.
The idea that Bernie Sanders paid less taxes than Donald Trump is true if you look at the percentage as a number and that alone. Which people do so the whole line of attack banks on a fundamental misunderstanding of the American tax code to be used as an anti-Bernie talking point. Which is an understandable leap for people desperate to fit the world into a neat, socialism is bad, sort of box, to make. Which is true of all three talking points, they fit a narrative pretty well, but they aren’t based in fact and to be honest they’re laughably stupid.
All three of these comments can be found all over the internet wherever confirmation bias lurks. Political debates online are largely pointless, but even more so when the trolls on the other side simply retreat into their factless universe where their political enemies are just caricatures so they fall for tailor made narrative after tailor made narrative meant to play into the comfortable cognitive dissonance created by painting your enemies as hypocritical and untrustworthy as possible. They all rely on a blind hatred of American leftism and a sheer lack of fact checking. A quick google search and a tiny bit of critical thinking can go a long way, but unfortunately judging by how pervasive these three lines of reasoning are it seems that is expecting too much from far too many people.
Ironically, given the critique in the article, a previous version of this article stated Bernie drives a Red Ford Focus, but he in fact drives a Chevy Cruze, the article has been edited accordingly.