Michael Bloomberg has made clear he doesn’t care about missing the next Democratic debate, or any that may come after that. Confronting his remaining primary opponents, at least those who meet the DNC’s qualifications, doesn’t seem to mean much when he can use a personal fortune well in excess of $50 billion to buy his way if not into the hearts of Americans, then into our attention spans. Even fellow rich guy Tom Steyer is daring Bloomberg, who speaks of not collecting voter donations as if that’s a good thing, to actually go out and meet the very people who he is asking to hire him for arguably the biggest job in the world.
Bloomberg, who did away with term limits during his time as New York City’s mayor, spent more in his first two weeks than newly departed candidate Kamala Harris did during her entire campaign. Despite his denials, he is, in effect, trying to buy the Democratic nomination. Sadly, we political journalists have obliged Bloomberg with whatever attention that he has not been able to purchase for himself, even as his eponymous media organization announced in a memo that they will not do any “in-depth investigations” of its owner or any of his fellow Democratic candidates. The latest of these interviews occurred Friday morning, when CBS This Morning anchor Gayle King asked Bloomberg, who recently released a detailed agenda to confront gun violence, about the increasingly monochromatic (and monied) Democratic field.
To note this, King cited a remark from Cory Booker, the senator from New Jersey who seems at this point unlikely to qualify for the December 19 debate in Los Angeles. (The quote actually came from his national press secretary, Sabrina Singh, who remarked, correctly in my view, that “It’s troubling that a field of candidates that began as the most diverse in history has gotten to the point where there are more billionaires in the 2020 race than there are black people.”)
Bloomberg would have agreed, had he been smarter. After all, he is ostensibly trying to win the nomination of a party whose most loyal voters are African Americans. And he has been a staunch supporter (until recently, surprise) of the racist policing tactic known as “stop-and-frisk.” So it would stand to reason that he has some ground to make up with voters in that demographic. But instead, he dipped into the shallowest well of compliments handed out to black folks and called Booker “well spoken.” Booker could have been a Rhodes Scholar with two graduate degrees, which he is, or a custodian with a GED. Either way, a political consultant in 1992 could have told Bloomberg that “well spoken” damns us black folks with the faintest of praise.
Ironically — in this and in an earlier interview in which he refused to call China’s Xi Jinping a dictator and spun some fanciful nonsense about climate change — Bloomberg is proving that he is not all that articulate. Nor, it seems, is in touch with reality.
Bloomberg offered a mealy-mouthed non-explanation for why minority candidates haven’t been successful in this election cycle — “why they aren’t there as you narrowed it down, you have to talk to other people who are experts.” Then he got defensive when King brought up the possibility that people may want someone other than an old white man to represent them as president. That once out of 45 times wasn’t enough.
“But lots of people can enter!” Bloomberg said in protest, as if the presidential race were a sweepstakes. “If you wanted to enter, you could have done that! But don’t complain to me that you’re not in the race! It was up to you.”
When Bloomberg was saying this, I should note that he saw King opposite him through his through his money-tinted lenses, and was pointing his hands directly at her — a very successful anchor and television personality whose dear friend, Oprah Winfrey, has been rumored in the past to give it a go. But ironically, such remarks echo what nonwhite people and women have been told in this country since time immemorial, whenever they have faced discriminatory barriers.
Speaking specifically of the challenges facing candidates of color, they must prove (even to black voters) that they can sustain a constituency, and on the primary calendar they must do so first in two of the whitest states in the Union. That’s a test Bloomberg won’t face.
Then there is the wealth test. Yes, anyone can run for office, but perhaps not that office unless they are fairly wealthy. Most people who are at that level of politics are at least making a good living, so the notion that anyone can just hop in the proverbial pool is, to be kind, oblivious when coming from a man worth more than $50 billion.
But the worst part of Bloomberg’s interview is that it revealed, under the guise of his seeming desire to democratize the process, his true disinterest in representing people so much as his own interests.
A candidate aspiring to be the president for all constituents would seek to ensure that we all have a voice in this democracy. In this sick politics we’re compelled to continue, that means being able to speak with our dollars to keep candidates we like viable in races. Citizens United, Buckley v. Valeo, PAC money, and the fear within political parties engendered by those nefarious forces has perverted voters’ ability to communicate their preferences. Harris won’t be on the ballot in New Hampshire, but Bloomberg will. Is that truly what the voters have demanded?
Americans love to claim that we have a democracy, but what we have is a pay-for-play system that enables extraordinarily wealthy men — and it is mostly men — like Bloomberg to buy power. Most, if not all, of them are white. And that’s just in the Democratic Party. It’s even worse in the GOP, the party Bloomberg belonged to until rather recently.
It is not wrong to dream of another black president, and certainly not a black woman as president. Harris could and should probably run again. But the money barrier will always be there. The color barrier isn’t going away, either — especially no thanks to men like Bloomberg. And no matter how much rich guys like him think life is just like a crystal stair because they can afford for it to be, that doesn’t make it so.