Bernie spends $575,000 on vacation home: Can socialists do that?

Last week, the Sanders family spent nearly $600,000 on their third home, a new lakefront vacation house in Vermont.

John Minchillo/AP/File
Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I) of Vermont (r.) and his wife Jane O'Meara Sanders hug as they walk through downtown in Philadelphia, Thursday, July 28, 2016, during the final day of the Democratic National Convention. The Sanders bought a vacation home last week on the shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vt.

Supporters and critics of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont united Monday when the independent Vermont periodical Seven Days confirmed that Mr. Sanders bought his third home last week, a four-bedroom, beachfront vacation house on Lake Champlain.

People went to Twitter to voice their concerns, many asking how a socialist could spend so extravagantly. The vacation home cost Sanders $575,000. Some worried that their campaign contributions had gone toward the purchase.

Supporters, however, can rest easy knowing that the money came instead from the sale of the Maine family home of Sanders’s wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders. “We finally let go of it and that enabled us to buy a place in the [Champlain] islands – something I’ve always hoped for,” Ms. O’Meara Sanders told Seven Days in a written statement. The Federal Election Commission has stringent rules about where remaining campaign funds can go, and these would definitely prohibit allowing any to end up in the senator's pockets. But critics may be correct in claiming that Sanders is not a veritable socialist.

“I think Bernie Sanders’s use of the word ‘socialism’ is causing much more confusion than it is adding value,” Lane Kenworthy, a professor of sociology at the University of California at San Diego, told The New York Times. He said “democratic socialist capitalist” fits the bill.

When asked by Chuck Todd of "Meet the Press" whether he was a capitalist, however, Sanders said, “No, I’m a democratic socialist,” which Mike Konczal, an economic policy expert at the left-wing Roosevelt Institute, told the Times “implies a very active role for capitalism in the frameworks.”

Others would simply call Sanders “very liberal,” which Mr. Kenworthy said is practically the same as democratic socialist.

It’s no wonder people are confused about how to peg the Vermont senator.

While Sanders says he isn’t a capitalist, the former Democratic presidential candidate discussed economic topics such as job creation, a living wage, and improving the rural economy during his campaign. “Capitalism does a number of things well: it helps create an entrepreneurial spirit, it gets people motivated to come up with new ideas and that’s a good thing,” he said in a video for The Huffington Post.

“But on the other hand, especially since the Reagan era, what we have seen in this country is an unfettered type of cowboy capitalism, and the result of that has been that the people on top have made out like bandits and many of them are bandits. Today in America we have a situation that is quickly moving out of control,” Sanders continued.

As a democratic socialist, then, Sanders does not claim to be anti-spending. Instead, he calls for moderation. A four-bedroom summer home is not necessarily an excessively large home for the Sanders family, which includes Sanders’ son from a previous relationship, his wife’s three children from a previous marriage, their spouses, and seven grandchildren.

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