The reason was simple. Wealth inequality is a big deal to large group of people and those who get in bed with corporations are seen as corrupt. At a speaking event Nancy Pelosi tried to discuss the issues of wealth inequality and faced heckling from a person asking her "what is your net worth Nancy?" At a town hall on Medicare for All, Dianne Feinstein was heckled about her support for profit making insurance companies and big pharma rather than being for the people. The growing requirement of progressive democrats to distinguish themselves from establishment Democrats in not taking corporate money is a distinct marker of this divide.
Progressives associate wealth to corruption. This is Bernie's mantra and is exactly why the mainstream media, establishment Dems and Republicans all joined forces to try and make Bernie into "just another rich politician". Bernie's wealth became a target for those wanting to eliminate him from the conversation. The same was true of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and her blunt force attack on wealth inequality which made her a hero of the poor and a target of the wealthy of both parties.
All of these candidates force the examination of why some see money as the root of all evil while others don't. If we start with the premise that simply being rich makes a person somehow a bad person, then we would have to agree that all poor people are virtuous, which is a ridiculous argument to make. So what specifically is it about the rich then that we have come to despise? Is it simply wrong to have more than someone else, is it only wrong if the disparity between the richest and the poorest is huge or it is because we assume that having money gives one privilege that is unjust?
It is now self evident that there is huge wealth disparity and that this disparity expresses itself in our society in such a gross way that it impacts every aspect of our lives from how much justice a person gets in court to whether they live or die for lack of health care.
Likewise our country has a well established history of wealth disparity being the direct result of exploitation. From its very inception our country has exhibited a bipolar nature in its expresseed idealism of opportunity while in its operation strives to maintain a class system which ensures the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. This dichotomous quality being the result of an importation of conflicting ideologies at the very start. Our founding fathers wrote that all men were created equal while exploiting slave labor to build the nation.
These competing narratives are part of the fiber of America. The intense focus on balance of powers, check and balances and the rule of law being contrasted with the very real influence that money provides the wealthy to circumvent these checks and with glaring consistency allows them undue control over government to favor their interests at the expense of the masses.
So it would generally be accepted that it isn't the money itself that makes a person evil. The assumption is that the extremely wealthy have gotten that way through exploitation and that those having such wealth will use the position to maintain the system which allows continued exploitation and favoritism.
So back to Bernie's money. There is nothing in Bernie's history to suggest that any of his money came from the exploitation of others. He has not used his wealth to avoid or exempt himself from any checks and balances. In fact when asked in a Fox News town hall about benefiting from Trump's tax break because of his income level, Bernie was quick to say that he voted against the tax breaks for the wealthy. When the host, Martha, challenged this response with the suggestion that he could "give back" the additional taxes. Bernie reminded her that she could give back what she had gotten in excess as well adding "you probably make more money than I do." The other host's response revealed the bold truth about their different perspectives, "Well she's not advocating for a wealth tax, you are. And she's not running for president."
It was both defensive and revealing. Both hosts were advocating for the current system which promotes inequality yet were trying to cast responsibility on Bernie, as both an individual and a presidential candidate, to subject himself to penalty while exempting themselves from it as proof of his moral authority. You can't ask a person to prove their moral authority by promoting a system that subjects only certain people to a rule.
Bernie's answer was perfect. He said he wants a system where everyone is held to account. Merely giving up his extra in taxes does nothing to create a more fair system.
In respect to the comments made by many who criticized Bernie's wealth I find myself amazed that they can so easily dismiss those in the establishment on both sides who seem to have no qualms about existing within a system where wealth buys influence. I found it quite revealing that in light of Joe Biden's long awaited announcement it seemed a fairly small bump in the road that he held an event with large donors including Comcast to raise money.
He then went to get an endorsement from a firefighters union which is highly publicized making him look like a man of the people. But how many times have we seen that the cost of corporate support is to work against the people? How is it that Bernie's wealth which has not corrupted him is a problem, but the same is not true of Biden and the other establishment Democrats?
This hypocritical treatment is often due to the perception of Bernie as a "purist". So let's examine it from that perspective. There are some people who would argue that just "being" wealthy is unethical. Obviously, there is political ideology that extols an idea that private property itself is just the first step on the way to a class system. So even if Bernie's wealth is not exorbitant and it wasn't gained through any exploitation of others, as a purist, does it make him corrupt simply because he is not spreading it around? To some extent I can understand and agree with the argument when you have as much money as Jeff Bezos or the Koch brothers, one might argue that you can't possibly use all of that money and if other people's immense suffering could be alleviated by you spreading your wealth around but you don't, it becomes a character issue to that extent. If you have wealth and hoard it while other suffer, that is immoral.
For many there is a certain line at which we expect redistribution just because we feel that this vast disparity violates a fundamental sense of fairness. The problem with this concept is the subjectivity of the word fairness. To many who would complain that Bernie can't argue for fairness when he is a millionaire then I pose this question - what is "fair".
Fairness in this comparative scenario leads to problems. If you have a car worth $20,000 dollars and your neighbor can't afford a car, should you be forced to sell your car and then find two $10,000 cars and give one to your neighbor? What if you only have a $500 junker car that barely runs, but your neighbor doesn't have one, should you be forced to sell it and give your neighbor $250 and then neither of you have a car? Of course this could go on endlessly and sounds absurd. We don't live and exist in a communist society where everyone is expected to share everything and yet we do want things to be more "fair". So we have created these imaginary lines dividing people into classes ourselves so that we can decide who should be subject to having their wealth be redistributed and who is "rich enough" to be "one of those people".