The Democratic debate of two nights ago got the highest ratings of any debate, though how people knew to expect a fiery session is not clear. The good news is that 20 million people got to see Michael Bloomberg get the shellacking that he so richly deserves but that his privileged and protected bubble has so far protected him from.
What happened was something to really savor. Not only did he get hammered on stage (Ryan Bort describes the four most brutal moments), the commentary in the mainstream media has been equally brutal. That must worry him and his team because corporate media has been treating him as a serious candidate because in America, anyone with a lot of money is granted immediate credibility, whatever the topic. (As an example, consider how Jeffrey Epstein was asked, along with writers, philosophers, scientists, academics, and assorted intellectuals, to contribute to a book that had the subtitle Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty when there was no evidence whatsoever that he was any kind of ‘leading thinker’ on any topic at all and his contribution consisted of utter drivel.)
But before the debate, Bloomberg was third in the polling average put out by Real Clear Politics with 15.9%, close behind Joe Biden who has 17.6%, and both well behind the leader Bernie Sanders who has 28.6%. How did he get so high? By spending a ton of money on ads. But he also has managed to get endorsements from various members of congress and state and local elected officials, not to mention praise from media types. How did that happen? Matt Taibbi explains.
Some endorsements were straight cash transactions, in which politicians who owe their careers to Bloomberg’s largess repaid him with whatever compliments they could muster. How much does a man who radiates impatience with the idea of having to pretend to equal status with anyone have to spend to get someone to say something nice?
California Congressman Harley Rouda called him a “legendary businessman”: Bloomie gave her more than $4 million. New Jersey’s Mikie Sherrill got more than $2 millionfrom Bloomberg’s Independence USA Super PAC, and in return the Navy vet said Bloomberg embodies “the integrity we need.”
Georgia’s Lucy McBath, a member of the congressional black caucus, got $4 million from Bloomberg PACs, and she endorsed him just as an audio clip was coming out of the ex-mayor talking about putting black men up “against the wall” in stop-and-frisk. News accounts of the endorsement frequently left out the financial ties.
That’s fine. If you give a politician $2 million or $4 million, it must be expected that he or she will say you approximate a human being.
But how does New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman excuse writing “Paging Michael Bloomberg”? (Well, Bloomberg philanthropies donated to Planet Word, “the museum my wife is building,” says Friedman, so there’s that.) How about Jonathan Chait at New York, who wrote, “Winning the election is starting to look hard. How about buying it instead?” Or John Ellis in The Washington Post, who declared Bloomberg the “dream candidate”?
These pundits clung to a triumvirate of delusions: Bloomberg “gets things done,” he’s more electable than a Bernie Sanders or an Elizabeth Warren because he can spend unlimited amounts, and he has the “toughness” to take on Trump.
As Taibbi says, those delusions were shattered in the debate.
What a catastrophe Wednesday night was for Mike Bloomberg. The New York plutocrat was kicked in the teeth by Elizabeth Warren in the first minutes — she denounced him as a Trump-like “arrogant billionaire” who called women “horse-faced lesbians” — and never made it back to his feet.
Bloomberg stood in mute fury as his $400 million campaign investment went up in smoke. His contempt for democracy and sense of entitlement surpass even Donald Trump, who at least likes crowds — Bloomberg’s joyless imperiousness makes Trump seem like Robin Williams.
Taibbi says that the strategy of all the candidates other than Sanders became clear in response to one question.
One revealing moment in the debate came at the end, when Chuck Todd asked all the candidates, “Should the person with the most delegates at the end of this primary season be the nominee?”
Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Warren, Joe Biden, and Amy Klobuchar all punted this question, deferring variously to the “rules” or the “process.” Only Sanders said, “The people should prevail.” This makes the endgame clear: All five non-Sanders candidates are placing hopes for the nomination in a backroom convention horse trade.
While the establishment Democrats like Warren and Buttigieg beat up on Bloomberg onstage last night, treating him like the interloper he is, the major question is, would they do the same in the privacy of that smoke-filled room this summer?
Way back in 2011, Taibbi exposed Bloomberg, who was then mayor of New York, for the cynical, odious, condescending, arrogant plutocrat that he is.
Bloomberg’s main attraction as a politician has been his ability to stick closely to a holy trinity of basic PR principles: bang heavily on black crime, embrace social issues dear to white progressives, and in the remaining working hours give your pals on Wall Street (who can raise any money you need, if you somehow run out of your own) whatever they want.
He understands that as long as you keep muggers and pimps out of the prime shopping areas in the Upper West Side, and make sure to sound the right notes on abortion, stem-cell research, global warming, and the like, you can believably play the role of the wisecracking, good-guy-billionaire Belle of the Ball for the same crowd that twenty years ago would have been feting Ed Koch.
But Taibbi says that Bloomberg’s explanation of the causes of the financial crisis of 2008 took the cake because he claimed that it was caused by the government passing the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act that, he asserted, forced banks to lend to people who could not afford them, a popular trope that was passed around in elite circles that fawn over the big bank executives.
[N]obody who actually understands anything about banking, or has spent more than ten minutes inside a Wall Street office, believes any of that crap. In the financial world, the fairy tales about the CRA causing the crash inspire a sort of chuckling bemusement, as though they were tribal bugaboos explaining bad rainfall or an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth, ghost stories and legends good for scaring the masses.
The whole premise is preposterous. And Mike Bloomberg knows it.
In order for this vision of history to be true, one would have to imagine that all of these banks were dragged, kicking and screaming, to the altar of home lending, forced against their will to create huge volumes of home loans for unqualified borrowers.
In fact, just the opposite was true. This was an orgiastic stampede of lending, undertaken with something very like bloodlust. Far from being dragged into poor neighborhoods and forced to give out home loans to jobless black folk, companies like Countrywide and New Century charged into suburbs and exurbs from coast to coast with the enthusiasm of Rwandan machete mobs, looking to create as many loans as they could.
But the bubble was overwhelmingly built around a single private-sector economic reality that had nothing to do with any of that: new financial instruments made it possible to sell crap loans as AAA-rated paper.
These banks did not need to be dragged kicking and screaming to make the billions of dollars in profits from these and other similar selling-baby-powder-as-coke transactions. They did it for the money, and they did it because they did not give a fuck who got hurt.
And the condescension levels here are unbelievable, his air of aristocratic superiority almost breathtaking to behold.
This episode would normally be a fatal blow to a politician’s candidacy. But Bloomberg is different in that he has almost unlimited money to spend on new ads to try and rehabilitate his image. His team has already has put out a heavily doctored video with spliced footage that seems to show him stumping all the other candidates with a question, when nothing of the sort happened. If he survives, it will really reveal the immense power of money.
Leo Buzalsky says
Or…it could be, with “Super Tuesday” coming up, which includes California, people in those states decided they should tune into this one since they’ll have to make a decision on who to support soon.
Leo Buzalsky says
I’m getting a bit tired of this sort of short-sighted thinking…which I guess we are to call “high-decoupling” now? I won’t deny I’m not sympathetic with the idea of “the people should prevail,” but, in thinking about it more thoroughly, what does that even mean???
Take South Carolina, for example. I heard about this on ABC News that some Republicans there are planning an “Operation Chaos” of Republican voters participating in the Democratic primary because the Republican primary has been canceled (and, even had it not, it’s not like there is a serious contender against Trump). Is allowing Republicans to participate part of the people prevailing???
The real question, then, is “Don’t we need to have at least some sort of safeguards to the process?” I’m totally fine with discussions on what those safeguards should be, but I am concerned with Bernie supporters seeming to want all safeguards removed, as though they don’t even understand* that we have safeguards in the first place. If we remove too many safeguards, what would then stop a Trump toady, say Lindsey Graham, from running for the Democratic party’s nomination? He could then end up winning the nomination if we allow anyone to participate in the process because you’d have all these Republicans, knowing who their nominee is going to be, voting for him and the actual Democratic vote getting split among 5+ candidates. Then, in this hypothetical, Graham’s not going to actually run a serious campaign for the office because, again, he’s just a toady for Trump. The whole point was to secure Trump’s reelection by ensuring there wouldn’t be any serious opposition. I would hope we can all agree that such a hypothetical should not be allowed. But, by preventing it, are we preventing the people from prevailing???
* I cannot help but think of the Dunning-Kruger effect when it comes to some of these Sanders supporters. It makes sense that people who largely view themselves as political outsiders would not have considered if there is maybe a good reason we have the systems in place that we do instead of arrogantly assuming they’re just there for allowing those in power to maintain it.
Marcus Ranum says
I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t switch to the party that’s not in power, in order to have their vote in the primary mean something.
Sam N says
@2, Do ‘safeguards’ just mean prevent a Sanders nomination as the Democratic candidate? Because you come up with a blatant non-scenario as your example, and I don’t see any genuine concern for the present process other than that a candidate you seem to have deemed unelectable, or bad, or something, might get the nomination.
Sam N says
@3, is that a joke? If not, you are thinking far, far too much like an economist, and far too little like a sociologist.
I saw that happen with our democratic congressional primary when I lived in Anoka in Minnesota. Primary turnout was so low anti-abortionists were able to choose the Democratic candidate.
Marcus Ranum says
@3, is that a joke?
Not at all. Party membership means nothing; its only value is the puny little vote you can throw for who challenges an incumbent. You can register as one party and donate or work for the other. Party loyalty is a sucker’s game.
Marcus Ranum says
What I have never understood is why the parties have not destroyed eachother by running fake candidates -- although when I look at Bloomberg I wonder if that is exactly what he is.
Sam N says
@7 The short answer is social norms. In time, these things can break down, but it continues to work more often than not. I don’t register as a republican to mess with republicans because I’m not a Republican and I have a sense of decency.
As for a very simple scheme of safeguards that doesn’t punish ‘insurgents’ that are actually very popular with the rank and file, how about exclusivity (which I believe already is a condition), plus the freedom to change party registration limited to once every five years?
Sam N says
@6, that seems to be entirely on the Minnesota Democratic party. Do they have early voting, mail-in ballots? Or do they make voting unnecessarily onerous? Are Minnesotans that disengaged from the primary process? In California, I consistently voted in primaries because I received a mail-in ballot. As you note, engagement must have been absurdly low in order to have the kinds of minorities that engage in breaking these social norms to have carried the day.
Marcus Ranum @3
I think it’s the gerrymandering, not which party is in power, that’s the point. I live in Missouri’s 2nd congressional district which is gerrymandered Republican. For me, for down-ballot races, the Republic primary is the only election that actually matters.
(We have open primaries in Missouri so I don’t have to be a member of a party I dislike in order to vote in its primary.)
Marcus Ranum @3:
In Washington state we don’t register as party members because we have a top-2 ‘primary’ (actually a first round election). For a presidential election anyone can choose in which party’s primary they want to vote at. But I think one lesson of 2016 is that voting to mess with someone else’s nomination process may not work as expected. So many Democrats wanted Trump to get the R nomination because they saw him as a weak candidate.
I know I’m missing something obvious, but I don’t get how people can say that “whoever has the most delegates by convention time should win, and anything else is rigging the nomination.” If there are still 5 candidates in the running by then, and Bernie comes in with 25% of the vote, that means only 25% of voters chose him. So why is it fair to then completely discount the other 75% of voters who didn’t?
What seems to be missing is a way to equitably determine who people would support for 2nd and 3rd place (starting to sound suspiciously like a caucus :/). If Warren doesn’t have the delegates, of course I’d support Bernie (cue the obligatory “blue no matter who” disclaimer). But what if Warren is the 2nd (or 1st) choice of say 70% of those who supported candidates that weren’t Bernie? Why should Bernie’s mere 25% prevail over all without further analysis of the primary vote?
I haven’t stated this very well, but hopefully you understand my question. It’s too bad we don’t have proportional voting across the country.
Who Cares says
That it isn’t fair for the other 75% means choosing one of the other candidates is even less fair since there are even more people that didn’t vote for those candidates. So just based on your own argument you tried to use to (in this case) exclude Sanders from being picked, the least unfair practice would be to award Sanders the nomination.
And in case you are wondering your nonsense argument has been made already when Sanders got the most votes in one of the first two states. The only difference was that it was used to justify claiming that Sanders was ineligible to be the democratic presidential nominee since seventy percent of the voters did not vote for him.
And why do people say the one with the most votes is to get the nomination? Since the DNC has indeed the capacity to rig the vote after the first round of the convention. It used to be from the get go but they abused it a bit to openly to insure that Sanders wouldn’t get the nomination in 2016 (not sure if the numbers he got were before or after the super delegates were included but if it was after he got the majority of the non super delegates) so they were forced to move that up to the second round of voting.
There are solutions to your problem (and yes it can be a problem). They have been done in the rest of the world. From multiple choices on the ballot (as suggested by you) to multiple rounds of the base voting.
It is not going to happen though since the DNC (mostly) likes the current way things happen since it allows them to control which candidate gets the nomination absent a revolt of the voter base (reduced from a complete revolt).