The Democratic presidential primary is becoming a soul-check referendum: Do Dems want to give into billionaires who buy elections and rig the game, or do voters want to reject the dominance of money in politics?
I don’t think most Democratic voters would prefer the former — the entire party more or less considers Citizens United a horrible blow to American democracy and would like to see it overturned. But because that doesn’t look to be happening any time soon, Democrats have looked for a Koch-like billionaire savior of their own. Right now, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is positioning himself as exactly that.
Bloomberg is shelling out an unfathomable amount of cash in his quest to buy the Democratic nomination, betting that voters’ fears of a second Trump term will overshadow his very, very troubling record as both a mayor and businessman. That fear is being stoked by a media that is obsessed with “electability,” a nonsense word that is really just code for a moderate-to-conservative white male who makes rich pundits feel comfortable about their tax bills. When Democratic voters internalize that message, they subsume their actual beliefs and policy preferences and decide to support candidates like Joe Biden and Bloomberg.
After Biden’s epic flop in the first two primary contests, eyes are turning to Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg. I’m no fan of Buttigieg, but Bloomberg is especially disturbing to me. I don’t mind that he only recently registered as a Democrat as much as the fact that he governed like an imperial, racist Republican in New York for over a decade. He also spent years supporting Republican candidates (all the way up through 2018!), and is still actively hurting down-ballot Democratic campaigns.
Bloomberg pretends to be a moderate but he’s actually an ideologue. He fought against raising the minimum wage, including vetoing minimum wage increases in NYC and gave the city away to wealthy developers. As a New Yorker, I can tell you that living here has become overwhelmingly expensive, and much of that is down to Bloomberg. His record on education is no better.
It’s also crucial to understand what actually makes Democrats electable: Motivating and turning out people of color to the polls. We should not and cannot take them for granted yet again. Bloomberg’s record on stop & frisk, harassing young black men, spying on Muslims, and turning NYC into a gentrified billionaire’s playground cannot be buried, no matter how many millions he spends on TV ads and memes. There is no world in which the people who make up the vast majority of the Democratic coalition would ever truly be motivated to turn out en masse for a guy who was still defending stop & frisk just last year.
Here’s what the NY Times’ Charles Blow wrote about it this week:
No amount of Democrats’ anti-Trump fear and panic will ever erase what Bloomberg did. Democrats have a field of fascinating candidates. Many have some crime and justice issues of their own, but nothing approaching the scale of Bloomberg’s racist policy.
If Democrats cast aside all of these candidates in favor of Bloomberg and his wealth, I fear they will be making it harder to defeat Trump in November.
It’s not just Bloomberg’s horrible record with minorities, either. For decades, women have been accusing Bloomberg of being misogynistic, a toxic boss, and quick with sexist quips and casual harassment. There would likely be far more accusations against him if his employees weren’t forced to sign nine-page NDAs that protect him from those kinds of public allegations. Women make up a majority of the Democratic voter base; why would they turn out to vote for him?
This is a guy who really does not even pretend to speak the language of economic populism; he embraces his own elitism, as you can see here:
Democrats can’t push the message that corrupt billionaires should not be able to buy elections if they nominate a corrupt billionaire who wants to buy an election. If we fall for his money out of paranoia, we’re not just making a big mistake in 2020, but blessing the full-on takeover of our government by old rich white guys with super-massive egos and private jets.