Appearing on Fox News in a town-hall style event, Sanders defended his wealth as the honestly earned result of a popular book that he wrote.
“If anybody thinks I should apologize for writing a best-selling book,” he said, “I’m not going to do it.”
But he did not directly answer the question, asked by an audience member, about whether he himself should pay more in taxes now that he is a member of the “1%,” from whom he has spent years calling for greater contributions.
Then Bret Baier, one of the Fox moderators, asked Sanders, “When you wrote the book and you made the money, isn’t that the definition of capitalism and the American dream?”
“No,” Sanders replied. “I mean, you know, what we want is a country where everybody has opportunity. You know, I have a college degree. I’m a United States senator. But a lot of people don’t have a college degree. A lot of people are not United States senators. I want everybody in this country to be able to have health care, to have education, to, when they turn on the water, have drinkable water, not toxic water.”
The message appeared to be that his financial success had been possible because he had systemic advantages that many other Americans did not. “So what we are fighting for, Bret,” he said, “is a society not where just a few people can make a whole lot of money, but a society where everybody in this country has the opportunity to live in security and dignity.”
Sanders’ tax returns showed that he earned $561,293 in 2018 and paid an effective tax rate of 26%. Last week, in an interview with The New York Times, the senator acknowledged that his book earnings had made him a millionaire.
Sanders is the first Democratic candidate to appear on a 2020 town hall event on Fox News, known for conservative prime time hosts and their forceful defenses of President Donald Trump. The Democratic National Committee has said it will not hold any 2020 debates on Fox, citing troubling ties between the network and the president.
Sanders occasionally sparred with Baier and his co-host, Martha MacCallum, and at points was noticeably defensive, pushing back on questions. For instance, while he reiterated that wealthy people and corporations should pay more in taxes, “whether it’s me or you or anybody else,” he did not directly answer when asked whether he would personally be willing to pay a top marginal tax rate of 52 percent, as he proposed for high-income Americans during his 2016 campaign.
Instead, in a tone of frustration if not outright agitation, he tried to turn the question on the moderators, saying Baier and MacCallum surely made more than he did.
When the moderators noted that Sanders had benefited from the tax legislation that the Republican-controlled Congress passed in late 2017, he emphasized that he had voted against it.
Sanders, who is Jewish and lost many family members in the Holocaust, also defended Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who has come under fierce attack from Trump for her comments about 9/11 and Israel. Sanders said that while she perhaps needed to improve her communication with Jewish Americans, he did not believe she was anti-Semitic.
“It is not anti-Semitic to be critical of a right-wing government in Israel,” he said to applause.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.