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.