Michael Bloomberg has rocketed up the polls thanks almost entirely to his deluge of political ads and overall political spending. The former New York mayor—and fairly recently former Republican—has shelled out around $350 million so far, part of the $1 billion he's already floated spending on the 2020 contest. That's chump change to someone worth $62 billion, a state of affairs which is itself an indictment of American political economy at a time when more than 11 million American children live in food-insecure homes and 40 million people live below the federal poverty line.
And yet Bloomberg is gaining ground within a Democratic Party that has for years talked up the dire issues of wealth inequality and corruption in campaign finance. Apparently, the spurious notion that Bloomberg is the candidate to beat Donald Trump—a notion that seems to have originated almost solely in Bloomberg's own ads—outweighs any of that. Also, it seems to outweigh his extensive record of anti-black racism, anti-Muslim discrimination, unconstitutional policing tactics, numerous accusations of sexual misconduct and harassment at the company he ran, his vociferous support for the Iraq War and U.S. militarism more generally...the list goes on.
One way he's gained ground is by picking up support from Democratic leaders, including prominent black Democrats. That group seems to include Stacey Abrams, one of the breakout stars of liberal politics coming out of her narrow (and fairly suspicious) loss in the 2018 Georgia governor's race. Abrams has not endorsed Bloomberg, but she did choose to defend his huge and unprecedented campaign spending Monday on The View. This may have something to do with the fact Bloomberg gave $5 million to Fair Fight Political Action Committee, the massive voter registration and voting-rights protection initiative Abrams is spearheading. The hosts asked about all of that, and ABC News recapped the exchange:
"I am grateful to any person who contributes to Fair Fight. We have more than one hundred thousand contributors. His check just had a few more zeros on it," [Abrams] said. "We appreciate that because as I said, I'm not endorsing anyone ... My job is to make sure no matter who shows up, that they get to vote for who they want." ...
Abrams defended Bloomberg's colossal campaign spending, saying, "I think that for once we actually know where the money is coming from."
"Every person is allowed to run and should run the race that they think they should run, and Mike Bloomberg has chosen to use his finances. Other people are using their dog, their charisma, their whatever," she added. "I think it's an appropriate question to raise. But I don't think it's disqualifying for anyone to invest in fixing America."
This is absurd. Bringing your dog on the campaign trail is not the same as spending $350 million on ads, some of which seem to deceptively suggest you've got the backing of the party's previous standard-bearer. Spending huge sums of your own money to blanket the airwaves with information viewers can't or won't readily verify is not just another political tactic, it is a threat to democracy that Democrats used to rail against when it was the Koch Brothers doing it. Yes, the Kochs set up a network of dark-money groups to shield themselves and their cronies from transparency and accountability, but the transparency of Bloomberg's spending will not likely lead to accountability.
For instance, Bloomberg came out with some plans for Wall Street reform Tuesday that seem geared towards attracting the interest of progressive fans of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. As the New York Times pointed out, it seems to be a reversal of his previous stance towards strengthening financial regulations, including his suggestion that ending the policy of racial discrimination in housing known as "redlining" somehow caused the 2008 global financial meltdown rather than Wall Street recklessness and greed. Maybe Bloomberg has had a genuine change of heart, despite the fact his social network is crawling with finance bigwigs and his company is completely intertwined with the industry. Or maybe he's putting this forward out of political expedience.
If indeed it is the latter, and he were to win the nomination, he could easily reverse his new stance or shove it down the rabbit hole. He did not rise to prominence as the head of any kind of movement based on defined and solid principle—he's astroturfed it, just like the Kochs did with the Tea Party. He does not run on small-dollar donations from millions of people who believe he represents them based on an extensive record of consistent advocacy, he just ran a bunch of anti-Trump ads over a couple months. But that strategy has allowed him to get a foothold in the Democratic primary despite an actual decades-long record as a big-business Republican. The money is the reason he's there, and if he does squeak across the line to get the Democratic nomination, he could easily reverse himself and present people with a new choice: Trumpism or Rockefeller Republicanism.
Granted, Bloomberg treats the climate crisis with appropriate urgency, and he has gone after gun violence in a big way. But, as Jeff Bezos commits $10 billion to climate action—around 7.7 percent of his wealth—we are threatening to enter an age of Billionaire Benevolence. The premise of Bloomberg's campaign is that he would be a more benevolent oligarch than the current (maybe-)billionaire president, a chance for the United States to be Singapore rather than Hungary. But neither of those are democratic republics, and that's something we used to care about.
And besides, the chances are still good that Bloomberg will not win, at which point he can turn his warship's guns on whomever he wants. Maybe he'll decide Trump's authoritarianism is preferable to a Bernie Sanders presidency, because there's nothing worse than paying slightly higher taxes when you already have more money than you could spend in 10 lifetimes. Maybe he'll blanket the airwaves with anti-Sanders ads. Maybe he'll run as a third party, syphoning votes from professional-class liberals who might otherwise hold their noses and vote for the New Deal Democrat who calls himself a democratic socialist.
All of these things are possible, and nearly impossible to stop, when you hand over your elections to the highest bidder, and all this has the knock-on effect of sapping whatever faith Americans have left in our system as presently constituted. When the system is already so obviously set up to benefit the rich, and you are forced to watch various rich guys bid for the chance to run the system, it is unlikely to breed hope and optimism that the system will serve the interests of the non-rich at any point in the near future. At least Tom Steyer has pledged to get the money out of politics if he succeeds in his big-money campaign, another absurd iteration of the Benevolent Billionaire. Will Bloomberg do the same? Is there no man rich enough to buy our democracy back?
You Might Also Like