“I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It’s exactly the reverse of what they say.”-Michael Bloomberg, 2013
At the very end of January, the Democratic National Committee changed the debate rules for their ongoing primaries. The new rules will be in effect starting with the debate slated for just before the third primary contest in Nevada, which has its caucuses on February 19th.
The main change involved doubling the requirement in terms of candidates’ polling but removing the donor threshold, which demanded that candidates have 225,000 unique donations before being able to take the stage at the last debate held on February 7th in New Hampshire.
The most notable thing about the DNC’s changes was that they will probably allow deep-pocketed former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to make the next debate (if he decides he wants to). His growing poll numbers are almost entirely based on his $300,000,000 in personal spending, mainly on huge ad buys covering every platform imaginable from the Superbowl to Youtube. Making things more suspicious, the changes came shortly after Bloomberg donated a little over $300,000 to the DNC according to Federal Election Commission filings (along with another $800,000 to something called the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund, which encompasses both the DNC and state party equivalents, paid out when he made his candidacy official).
Besides the fact that the changes are unfair to candidates like Kamala Harris, Corey Booker and Julian Castro who had already suspended their campaigns, it should be of more concern to the mainstream press (which, admittedly, has its own reasons for staying silent as the Bloomberg campaign spends so freely on advertising) that a candidate is able to buy his way onto debate stages without earning it in terms of having the kind of grassroots support the others had to earn.
Another obvious criticism that has been noticeably absent regarding Bloomberg is that the former New York mayor ran as both a Republican and an independent and the former political identity really showed, both in his public pronouncements and in his policies at that time. This is something his opponents should take every opportunity to remind the public of, adding that the latter were once praised by the current occupant of the White House.
Yet this doesn’t bother pundits and Democratic talking heads, whose constant refrain for about a year now has been that Bernie Sanders, “Is not a Democrat”, ignoring the fact that while he has always run as an independent, he’s caucused with the party for over three decades in both houses of the American Congress.
Another problem being caused by the Bloomberg campaign will not be immediately visible to American progressives but could create real problems for the Democratic Party as a whole in 2020, not only for Bloomberg’s presidential rivals but down ballot candidates at all levels, as his personal cash machine picks up staffers at all levels and pulls them off the playing field with promises of guaranteed highly paid employment until November.
As Chris Smith wrote in Vanity Fair, “The salaries are also a political statement: Other Bloomberg aides suggest that their Democratic rivals are hypocrites for advocating a living wage while paying campaign employees less—which is pretty ironic: In 2012, as mayor of New York City, Bloomberg vetoed a living wage bill that would have raised pay for some jobs to $11.50 an hour.”
If the issue were money alone, it might be possible for many Democratic voters to overlook it in the interests of beating the current occupant of the White House, but being so wealthy does seem to create a real disconnect with the lived reality of most people, who generally have to follow the rules and might not take kindly to a billionaire who can easily rewrite them, as he already has with the debates.
As another example of this, the billionaire candidate’s campaign has already been accused of plagiarism in some of its campaign materials, with Akela Lacey of the Intercept reporting earlier this week that they, “…found that exact passages from at least eight Bloomberg plans or accompanying fact sheets were direct copies of material from media outlets including CNN, Time, and CBS, a research center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the American Medical Association, Everytown for Gun Safety, Building America’s Future Educational Fund, and other organizations… The plagiarized sections ranged in length from entire paragraphs to individual sentences and fragments in documents that were between five and 174 pages long.”
Plagiarism has ended presidential campaigns in the past, including that of Joe Biden when he ran for the party’s nomination in 1988 and was shown to be using the speeches of then UK Labor leader Neil Kinnock without attribution. It seems unlikely that this most basic of rules will apply to Bloomberg, whose campaign quickly dismissed the charges as an unimportant error.
Worse than any of this and of real concern to the American left, are some of Bloomberg’s past statements, which are out of touch with the diverse nature of the Democratic coalition, not to mention basic human rights.
As uncovered by journalist Ben Dixon, we don’t have to go too far back in time to find Bloomberg defending the disgusting policy of Stop and Frisk that he championed as mayor, one result of which were large numbers of African American and Latino males facing incarceration for such low level crimes as possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Speaking at the Aspen Institute in 2015, the former New York Mayor was still defending Stop and Frisk in a shocking way, “…first thing is, all of your — 95 percent of your murders, murderers and murder victims, fit one M.O. You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass out to all the cops. They are male minorities, 15 to 25. That’s true in New York. It’s true in virtually every city. And that’s where the real crime is. You’ve got to get the guns out of the hands of the people that are getting killed.
We want to spend a lot of money, put a lot of cops in the street, put those cops where the crime is, which is in the minority neighborhoods. So this is — one of the unintended consequences is, people say, “Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana that are all minorities.” Yes, that’s true. Why? Because we put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is…. And the way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw ’em against the wall and frisk ’em. And then they start — they say, “I don’t want to get caught,” so they don’t bring the gun. They still have a gun, but they leave it at home.”
There are also troubling comments about trans people and a reported culture of sexism that he both participated in and encouraged in his business that should become more widely known as he rises in the polls.
Even if spending hundreds of millions of dollars doesn’t get Bloomberg quite to the nomination, he could conceivably play the role of king maker (or be crowned himself) in a contested convention from July 13th to 16th in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where delegates for other centrist candidates could come together with the former New York mayor’s own to deny Bernie Sanders, the most progressive candidate in the contest by far, the nomination.
If the 2020 U.S. presidential election does become the ‘battle of billionaires’, the real losers will be the country’s working people.