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Challenges of living as a true progressive

Posted June. 15, 2019 07:34,   

Updated June. 15, 2019 07:34


“Gangnam leftist” in Korea and “limousine liberal” in the U.S., these are the terms used by conservatives to denounce hypocritical progressives who criticize economic inequality and seemingly represent a lower-income group but actually ride a limousine and enjoy riches themselves. The U.K. also has a similar term, “champagne socialist.” U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders who has presented himself as a “democratic socialist” is under attack by conservatives calling him a limousine liberal after his tax returns of the past 10 years were released in last April.

Sanders who has made a name for himself as a harsh critic of millionaires by proposing higher taxes on the wealthy turned out to be a top 1% millionaire himself, having earned about two billion won in the recent two years. “The returns show that the adjusted gross income for Sanders and his wife, Jane, in 2018 was 561,293 dollars, which is nine times more than the median income of the U.S. households during the same year (61,000 dollars),” reported The Hill, a U.S. political newspaper. The couple earned 1,131,925 dollars in 2017, the year following the U.S. presidential election. The U.S. senator said “he got lucky,” but it wasn’t the luck that brought him this level of riches. He has diligently followed the success formula of the top 1 percent in the winner-takes-all society that he himself has torn apart.

Senator Sanders has become a star politician across the nation after the last presidential election in 2016. He has successfully differentiated himself from the rest of the candidates by taking the side of democratic socialism, which is rare in the U.S. political circles and met the requirements to become a superstar – scalability and differentiation. Riding the momentum, the U.S. senator has published multiple hugely popular books, including best-seller “Our Revolution,” following the 2016 election. “Mr. Sanders reported receiving about $840,000 in book income in 2016 and about $856,000 in 2017,” said the New York Times.

One’s income – regardless of how much it is – does not deserve criticism if earned fairly. Senator Sanders also said, “I don't apologize for writing a book that was number three on the New York Times bestseller.” He also said in an interview with the New York Times, “If you write a best-selling book, you can become a millionaire, too.” Easier said than done. Only the very few chosen ones can earn that much. It is confusing that he justifies his income standing on top of the “pyramid of the winner-takes-all” while he has harshly denounced the monopoly by the top 1%. “Considering his invective against hard working people who earn their way to the top, perhaps Sanders should also consider that it is not a crime to make a good living through other means than his own,” said progressive columnist Kristin Tate in her contribution to The Hill.

On the billionaire investor who pledged to pay off debt for 400 graduates, Sanders said, “What he did was very generous, but it must be addressed by governmental action.” He himself donated 19,000 dollars, about 3.4% of his total income last year, as well as some of his book royalties. However, his donation seems a bit mediocre in comparison to his wealth, taxes that he paid last year, and his advocacy for drastically increased taxes on the wealthy. Sanders paid 145,840 dollars in taxes last year, with the effective tax rate of 26%. Progressives use this as a ground for the argument that Sanders should be elected to impose higher tax rates on the rich while conservatives condemn him as a typical socialist who hides his own money while spending others’ carelessly.

A political commitment and vision to stand with the socially and economically marginalized should be respected. However, failure to give confidence through actions and deeds while fiercely attacking others will be under strict judgment. There must be a reason why Sanders, a second-time presidential candidate, is behind moderate former Vice President Joe Biden, called “Middle-Class Joe,” and even chased closely by progressive Elizabeth Warren in a public opinion poll. Living as a true progressive is indeed a difficult task.

Yong Park parky@donga.com