Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and Democratic presidential candidate, is having a moment. After polling at only a few single digits last year, he is now emerging as a top-tier candidate, pushing past former Vice President Joe Biden to claim a spot far closer to the top of the polls. One could attribute this rise to the insane amount of cash he has spent on his campaign — more than $200 million so far — out of his own bottomless pockets to blast commercials on every platform as he sells himself to the public. Now, liberal pundits are contemplating things like, “It is time to earnestly consider the possibility that Bloomberg will be the Democratic nominee for president.” But are we honestly considering him a serious candidate?
Bloomberg’s main stint with politics was as mayor of New York City from 2002 to 2013, during which time he pushed aggressively to criminalize and racially profile people of color under the guise of the “stop and frisk” policing model. The idea was simple: Preemptively arrest poor Black and Latino men, and crime rates would magically drop. Thousands of men were ruined in Bloomberg’s dragnet, and the policy persisted until legal challenges forced the city to end the program with a judge declaring it unconstitutional. In launching his bid for the White House last year, Bloomberg stood in front of black congregants at a church and said, “I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong.”
Perhaps the billionaire candidate simply expected that his money would wash the stench of racism away. But then, this week, the audio of a speech he gave just five years ago at the Aspen Institute defending “stop-and-frisk” became public. The recording, posted by independent journalist Benjamin Dixon, reveals Bloomberg saying:
Ninety-five percent of your murders — murderers and murder victims — fit one M.O. You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, 16 to 25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city. And that’s where the real crime is. … You want to spend the money, put a lot of cops in the streets. Put the cops where the crime is, which means minority neighborhoods. And the way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them.
Bloomberg likely knew soon after he said this that his comments were unconscionable — he asked the Aspen Institute not to distribute the video footage of his speech. The words are on par with the type of racism President Donald Trump has spewed and shows a shocking disdain for the Constitution on par with that of a radical right-wing extremist (after all, Bloomberg won his self-funded race for mayor of New York City as a Republican). As part of the damage control over the devastating audio clip, Bloomberg said in a statement, “I inherited the police practice of stop-and-frisk, and as part of our effort to stop gun violence it was overused. By the time I left office, I cut it back by 95%, but I should’ve done it faster and sooner.” But Bloomberg left his mayoral office in 2013. Two years later, he was still defending his racist policy in public. The Intercept’s Lee Fang delved into the actual numbers and found that, far from cutting back the program by 95%, Bloomberg actually increased arrests by seven times during his tenure. Bloomberg has been caught in a lie. Aren’t we done electing liars?
Perhaps Bloomberg hopes white liberals can set aside any misgivings about his racism simply because they are fantasizing about the unlimited access to his campaign cash to defeat Trump. Bloomberg is currently the ninth richest person on the entire planet. In a sincere sounding op-ed in the New York Times, he explained how “the rewards of the economy are far too concentrated at the top,” and that he is “making the system fairer and more progressive, including by increasing taxes on wealthy people like me.” But only three years ago, Bloomberg — in a conversation with the then-head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine La Garde — explained that he was in favor of regressive taxation because it helped socially engineer poor people’s habits:
Taxes are regressive, yes they are. That’s the good thing about them because the problem is in people that don’t have a lot of money and so higher taxes should have a bigger impact on their behavior and how they deal with themselves. So I listen to people saying, ‘Oh we don’t want to tax the poor.’ Well, we want the poor to live longer so that they can get an education and enjoy life. And that’s why you do want to do exactly what a lot of people say you don’t want to do…. If you raise taxes on full sugary drinks, for example, they will drink less and there’s no question that full sugared drinks are one of the major factors in obesity and obesity is one of the major factors to heart disease.
While this clip has not received as much attention as Bloomberg’s defense of “stop-and-frisk,” it is just as instructive about his attitude toward low-income people. A multibillionaire’s opinion of those on the bottom rung of society is — unsurprisingly — utterly distorted by his obscene wealth.
How exactly can a racist, classist billionaire be favored by Democrats? As Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders continues to build momentum, the liberal establishment is in full panic mode. All of the superficial criticism they have cast at Sanders — that he’s an old white man who has been a Democrat for barely a minute — apply just as equally to Bloomberg. But what is most critically important to Bloomberg’s backers is that his politics are the polar opposite of Sanders. Just days after the disastrous Iowa caucuses, the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson bizarrely declared Bloomberg “the biggest winner,” even though he skipped the caucuses. Robinson’s reasoning was that “the chaos in the Democratic Party and Trump’s White House are making Bloomberg’s argument for him.”
The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman this week opined that Bloomberg “has the best chance to carry the day” in a match-up against Trump and that he is “a moderate progressive with a heart of gold but the toughness of a rattlesnake.” The words “moderate progressive” are code for “not a Democratic Socialist like Bernie Sanders.” Defenders of the establishment are terrified that in a bid to sweep away Trump and his policies, too many Americans will want to strip wealthy liberals of their power and money as well.
For all the fears that Democrats have about a Sanders’ nomination, the worst that Trump could accuse Sanders of doing is sticking to a set of economic, racial and gender justice principles for 40 years. He could harp on Sanders’ avowed socialism, but polls show Americans are actually quite receptive to socialism. He could lie and call Sanders a communist, but the Senator could retort, as he has already done, “Obviously I am not a communist,” even if Trump “maybe doesn’t know the difference.”
In demonizing Sanders and all he represents, Trump is siding with the likes of former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who is so terrified of Sanders he worried the senator would “ruin the economy” as president. By that comment, Blankfein of course means that Sanders plans to upend an economy that is working very well for him and terribly for the rest of us. Trump, Wall Street executives and wealthy elites like Blankfein and Bloomberg are all arrayed against threats to the corporate stranglehold on America. They are all part of the same team, and yet establishment Democrats claim there is a difference between Trump and Bloomberg.
As Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren dip in the polls, Bloomberg’s numbers are rising. In a head-to-head matchup with Trump, one poll showed him beating the president by the widest margin of all Democratic candidates. But Bloomberg has so far benefitted from scant media coverage and as journalists dig deeper, his many skeletons are tumbling out of the closet. He has also not yet faced his challengers on a debate stage. If he does cinch the nomination, picture Trump ripping him apart over his comments about crime in minority neighborhoods and his patronizing attitudes toward poor people.
Sanders surrogate Nina Turner, in a recent interview on MSNBC, dared to call Bloomberg an “oligarch” and raised the ire of liberal pundits. But the word “oligarch” is defined as a member of a nation’s economic elite unfairly using their status and money to wield power. Former Labor secretary and popular progressive author Robert Reich explained that, yes, at this stage, anyone is better than Trump and that “[o]ligarchy is better than tyranny.” But, he added, “neither is as good as democracy.”
Bloomberg’s immense wealth allows him to bypass the traditional reins of accountability that the public has over a candidate running for election. Bloomberg doesn’t need the public to donate to his campaign, and therefore there is no guarantee that as president he would care about serving the public. Already with Trump in the White House, we are suffering the ill effects of an unaccountable wealthy person who cares more about his money than his country. How can anyone who wants to defeat Trump want to replace him with someone not unlike him?
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…