Monday, February 17, 2020

#48 / Beguiled By Billionaires?

I am a Bernie Sanders' supporter, so I didn't really need the advisory that Ross Douthat provided in his column in yesterday's New York Times. The column was titled (in both the online and hard copy versions) "The Bloomberg Temptation." I am not a regular fan of Douthat's columns, probably mainly because he is a "conservative," or at least that is how Wikipedia labels him. I am sort of on the other side of the political spectrum. 

Nonetheless, and without actually endorsing Douthat's views, since I haven't done enough independent research on Bloomberg to feel qualified to have a fixed and unshakable perspective, I do think it is worth alerting my friends to what I think of as Douthat's cautionary comments on Michael Bloomberg. I know there are a lot of my friends (and not the conservative ones) who are attracted to the idea that Bloomberg might just be just the right candidate to carry the Democratic Party banner in next November's election. These friends are, in other words, as Douthat suggests, "tempted" by Bloomberg. 

The skeptic would say that such a temptation proves the power of modern advertising - and the power that money always has. Maybe I am a skeptic - and I am an unapologetic Bernie Sanders' supporter - so consider this blog post as reflecting both my skepticism and my already decided upon political views. Even when you "consider the source," however, it might be wise to take Douthat's views seriously. I think there is a real chance that we are being beguiled by the billionaires. 

Since The New York Times has a fairly formidable paywall, it is quite possible that the link I have provided above won't get you to the online version of Douthat's column. Thus, what follows is a complete republication of Douthat's latest opinion piece:

The Bloomberg Temptation

Will the Democrats try to replace Donald Trump with a power-hungry plutocrat?

For a long time the notion of a Michael Bloomberg presidential candidacy seemed like a Manhattan fancy, a conceit with elite appeal but no mass constituency, a fantasy for Acela riders who imagine that the American people are clamoring for a rich person’s idea of centrism.

This was especially true in the days when Bloomberg would advertise his interest in a third-party candidacy. Third parties are generally founded on ideas that elites are neglecting, like the combination of economic populism, social conservatism and America-first foreign policy that propelled Donald Trump to power. Whereas Bloombergism is elite thinking perfectly distilled: Social liberalism and technocracy, hawkish internationalism and business-friendly environmentalism, plus a dose of authoritarianism to make the streets safe for gentrification.

But with a populist in the White House, a socialist winning primaries, a Democratic electorate desperate for a winning candidate and an establishment desperate for a champion, Bloomberg has become a somewhat more plausible presidential candidate than I imagined even six months back. So it’s worth pondering exactly what his still-highly-unlikely, but not-entirely-unimaginable nomination might mean, and what he offers as an alternative to both his Democratic rivals and to Donald Trump.

Inside the Democratic Party, Bloomberg’s ascent would put a sharp brake on the two major post-Obama trends in liberalism: The Great Awokening on race and sex and culture, and the turn against technocracy in economic policymaking.

Yes, Bloomberg has adapted his policy views to better fit the current liberal consensus, and his views on social issues were liberal to begin with. But he has the record of a deficit and foreign policy hawk, the soul of a Wall Street centrist, and a history of racial and religious profiling and sexist misbehavior. More than any other contender, his nomination would pull the party back toward where it stood before the rise of Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, and root liberalism once more in professional-class interests and a Washington-Wall Street mindmeld.

These are good reasons to assume that he cannot be the nominee, and excellent reasons for social progressives and socialists alike to want to beat him. The only way they will fail is if Bloomberg succeeds in casting himself as the unusual answer to an unusual incumbent — combining the Democratic fear of a Trump second term, his own reputation for effective management and the promise of spending his fortune to crush Trump into a more compelling electability pitch than the race’s other moderates.

But Democrats considering this sales pitch should be very clear on what a Bloomberg presidency would mean. Bloomberg does not have Trump’s flagrant vices (though some of his alleged behavior with women is pretty bad) or his bald disdain for norms and rules and legal niceties, and so a Bloomberg presidency will feel less institutionally threatening, less constitutionally perilous, than the ongoing wildness of the Trump era — in addition to delivering at least some of the policy changes that liberals and Democrats desire.

However, feelings can be deceiving. Trump’s authoritarian tendencies are naked on his Twitter feed, but Bloomberg’s imperial instincts, his indifference to limits on his power, are a conspicuous feature of his career. Trump jokes about running for a third term; Bloomberg actually managed it, bulldozing through the necessary legal changes. Trump tries to bully the F.B.I. and undermine civil liberties; Bloomberg ran New York as a miniature surveillance state. Trump has cowed the Republican Party with celebrity and bombast; Bloomberg has spent his political career buying organizations and politicians that might otherwise impede him. Trump blusters and bullies the press; Bloomberg literally owns a major media organization. Trump has Putin envy; Bloomberg hearts Xi Jinping.


For an even more negative view (from a progressive commentator this time, not a conservative one) you can read this column by Shaun King: "Voting for Mike Bloomberg is the line I just can't cross." And here's a link to today's column by Charles Blow, a New York Time's columnist (and thus probably paywall protected). Blow's column is titled, "Democrats Have Their Own Rogue." It warns us against Bloomberg.

That Bloomberg guy has definitely gotten the attention of his hometown journalists - and the verdict is not comforting!

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