Election 2016

Corporate Shills Already Have Their Pompoms Out for Billionaire Michael Bloomberg Jumping Into Presidential Race

A parade of fawning trial balloons for Bloomberg are showing up.

There's nobody in the streets calling for Michael Bloomberg to run for the White House. There is no draft effort like there has been for Elizabeth Warren, no political insiders—yet—lobbying for him to throw his hat in the ring. Nonetheless, the 74-year-old multi-billionaire is reportedly considering a run and using friendly media outlets and pundits to run fawning trial balloons for him.

First up, somewhat fittingly, was business newspaper Financial Times,which got the “exclusive” of Bloomberg's confirmation of his run. This is typically a controlled process for most candidates, which makes it strange Bloomberg chose to hand such an important story to an elite Wall Street publication with a paywall.

Perhaps it's a total coincidence that two days later, FT’s big scoop fellow billionaire William Ackman published a glowing op-ed announcing that only Bloomberg can save America: "America is burning but Michael Bloomberg can put out the fire."

Ackman starts his case with the suggestion that America’s civil institutions are little more than a failing company:

Consider one of the greatest businesses in the world after decades of mismanagement. Growth is tepid, at best, and has been fuelled largely by debt. The organization’s systems and infrastructure are outdated. International competitors have taken advantage of its weak position and stolen market share. A proxy contest is looming. The chief executive is about to step down, and the board and shareholders are faced with a decision about leadership. Who should they appoint? What qualities should they seek?

While he does mention Bloomberg’s considerable time spent as New York mayor, this is only used to set up the “CEO of America” framework he’s advancing. It’s that classic business fetish we heard a lot of in the Bush years—America needs to be run like a business—and it's the common thread that runs through a lot of Bloomberg boosters’ arguments. 

The NY Daily News, which is not coincidentally owned by yet another New York billionaire, skipped the middle man entirely and let Bloomberg's own PR flack run an op-ed touting how much America needs his boss, in the subtly headlined, “Mike Bloomberg can win: An advisor says America is hungry for a nonpartisan problem-solver.” The fact that a transparent trial balloon posing as analysis was allowed to run in a major newspaper speaks to a willingness to puff up the Bloomberg brand in the event Wall Street‘s current preferred candidates, Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio, fall through.

The urge was apparently so great that Bloomberg News Washington news director Kathy Kiely abruptly quit over how her publication was handling the news of a potential Bloomberg run. While she didn’t go into details, Kiely heavily implied the media organization was pulling its punches on its publication’s namesake and boss. 

Following up these trial balloons was New York Magazine’s Jon Chait, who made the argument Monday that Bloomberg can actually win. Chait, a long time Sanders critic and frequent Clinton booster appeals to similarly unsubstantiated threads of American centrism using a combination of anecdotal evidence and semantic sleight-of-hand, wielding the word “center” as if it had any meaning at all:

He would certainly need Sanders as the Democratic nominee, and probably Trump as the Republican nominee as well, to have a viable constituency. But if he did somehow find that combination awaiting him, the long-clogged lane he occupies in the center might suddenly break open for him.

What does this even mean? The idea that Sanders doesn't have appeal among moderates relative to Clinton is entirely without empirical basis. Sanders massively outperformed Clinton among self-described "moderates" in the New Hampshire exit polls, winning them 59% to 39%, or roughly the same proportion as Sanders won the race overall. More to the point, Sanders actually did slightly worse among self-described "somewhat liberals" than "moderates." To say nothing of the fact that Sanders is currently crushing Trump in general election polls, in most by a greater margin than Clinton.

So what is this nebulous "center" presently being unsatisfied, according to Chait? It's unclear. But let's turn to Chait's mom and dad for some more rock-solid evidence:

I remember listening to my parents discuss the 1980 election when I was a kid. Both of them preferred Anderson to Jimmy Carter, and Carter to Ronald Reagan. My mom voted for Carter anyway, as did many moderates and liberals, causing Anderson’s polling to collapse. But the same dynamic that can cause an independent to collapse if he falls behind the major-party candidate could just as easily cause the major-party candidate to collapse if the independent surpasses him.

None of this makes much sense but Chait’s real objective isn’t so much to promote or explain a Bloomberg win, but to use the specter of his run to further “radicalize” and stigmatize Sanders, as both fringe and morally on plane with Trump’s proto-fascist campaign. After all, this is the underlying subtext behind a Bloomberg run, that the great centrist savior would come in and rescue America from its “radical” two opposites of Trump and Sanders. The media has been pushing this power-serving trope for almost a year in an attempt to reduce complex political realities to a coherent, and thus predictable, two-dimensional gradient. 

Yet Bloomberg has supported a whole host of radical and destructive ideas: the devastating war in Iraq; the corporate takeover of our school systems; stop-and-frisk policies that overwhelmingly targeted blacks and Hispanics; and the harassment and surveillance of Muslims by an NYPD he called “his own army.” What the pundits mean when they call Bloomberg a centrist is not that Bloomberg is center relative to the average American—on many things he is not. It's that his policies will align with what a majority of the power elite view as common sense. But from wages to Social Security to trade, that's not a place the majority of Americans reside.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.

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