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Bloomberg: a Candidate of, By and For the 0.01%

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Even as Bernie Sanders’ insurgent “democratic socialist” campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is really starting to look like it might actually succeed, with polls now showing him ahead of Hillary Clinton in both the earliest primary states, Iowa and New Hampshire, and with Republicans engaged in a circular firing squad where all the people with guns are nut-jobs of one kind or another, making a Sanders presidency even seem possible, we read that former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is contemplating running for the White House as an independent candidate.

Now while the idea of a mega-billionaire as president may be a sick joke, Bloomberg’s running for president on his own tab (he’s ready to spend $1 billion of his own money) is no joke at all. With Forbes magazine listing his current worth as $36.8 billion at the start of this year, he is the eighth richest man in America, just behind Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and just ahead of Jim Walton.

It is hard to think of a worse idea than having a smug, self-congratulatory billionaire – someone not just from the top 1% of the population but the top 0.01% — sitting at the top of government telling us all what to do, but I suppose in the interest of fairness we should tote up his pros and cons. So in memory of the departed but not forgotten TCBH! co-founder Chuck Young (see his 2010 article Where Mayor Mike Can Push His Poll [1]), here’s my list of five good and five bad things about having Bloomberg join the race for president as an obscenely wealthy independent candidate:

5. Good: Donald Trump, the likely GOP candidate at this point, will no longer be able to boast about his supposed business acumen. Forbes says Trump, no a self-made man but rather a trust-fund baby who got staked $1 million by his old man, is now worth $4.5 billion, making him only the 72nd richest man in America. That might seem a decent sum, but it’s just lunch money for Bloomberg ,who added more than that amount to his assets just over the past year, according to Forbes. And Bloomberg, who hails from an ordinary working family, made all his money himself (or rather, his employees made it for him), first in the securities industry and then with his Bloomberg financial information network.

Bad: Bloomberg is a tight bastard. During his three terms as mayor of New York, he allowed the New York public school system to sink into a funding black hole, as he tried to squeeze teacher salaries and pensions and to both close some schools and convert others to charter schools. The worst year was the Great Recession year of 2010-11, when revenues from the city budget for the city’s schools fell by 10.4% and from the state government, by 24.1%. Federal aid to New York City public schools was boosted that year by 1%, leaving the schools system short by 17%, or about $4.5 billion. Now maybe it wouldn’t be fair to have expected private real estate magnate Trump to turn over his whole nest egg to get the schools in his hometown through that one-year crisis, but Bloomberg in 2012 was worth a cool $25 billion according to Forbes. He could have funded the schools for the mostly impoverished kids of his city fully that school year and wouldn’t have evennoticed the difference.

4. Good: Bloomberg is 73 years old, just a year younger than Sanders, which should defuse the charge, made by mainstream pundits and no doubt soon by the 69-year-old died-blonde Trump, that that Sanders is too old to be president.

Bad: Bloomberg is impeccably groomed, and probably gets $200 haircuts regularly, which leaves both Trump and Sanders as the messy hair candidates.

3. Good: Bloomberg doesn’t have much love for The Donald, so Bernie won’t have to handle the whole job himself of attacking his Republican rival during the fall campaign.

Bad: Bloomberg has his own news service and an army of journalists on payroll, who no doubt will be called upon to churn out favorable articles about the boss. Sanders for his part can barely get mentioned in the corporate media, and when he does get mentioned, it’s usually in the form of hit pieces.

2. Good: Bloomberg treated the Occupy Wall Street abominably, no doubt because all his cronies are Wall Street bankers and investment bankers who were terrified by the rabble at their gates, and were annoyed at being discommoded by having to endure taunts from spikey-haired lip-ringed kids as they rode to “work” in their limos and by the need to cross police barricades that were blocking off the whole of Wall Street itself. This will give Sanders, who backed the Occupy movement, a great target. He’ll be able to rake Bloomberg, the uber-one-percenter, for calling out the NYPD thugs and loosing them on the protesting kids, for denying them portapotties near the Zuccotti Park occupation zone, and for finally crushing the movement with a night-time assault and police riot that featured clubs, tear gas, mace and mass arrests. (Bloomberg did the same thing earlier with protests against the Iraq invasion and with a march and demonstration against the Republican National Convention.)

Bad: If Bloomberg were somehow to win the presidency, we can expect even more military-style policing, more spying and fewer civil liberties. Mayor Mike may have a soft spot for gay rights and abortion rights, but he’s no fan of civil liberties.

1. Good: Bloomberg has all the charm and easy folksiness of a… robber baron. Looking like he’s badly constipated and just ate something bad when he’s in a group of plebes, he makes Bernie Sanders look positively charismatic in comparison.

Bad: He is a robber Barron, and he can and no doubt would pour endless amounts of his own money into an independent campaign, swamping both Trump’s funding and Sander’s funding – money that he could have put to much better use by donating it to the poor kids of the city’s cash-starved schools, as he should have done back in depths of the recession.

At least if Bloomberg does join the race, reporters like myself can have a field day exploring how Bloomberg managed to go from being worth $4.8 billion on January 1, 2002, when he took office as mayor, to being worth a staggering $27 billion when he left office at the end of 2013.

You really have to wonder how a supposedly full-time mayor of the country’s largest city managed to pull that off. Was he actually moonlighting at Bloomberg LLC through his three terms? Or is that simply how the super-rich get richer, i.e. by doing nothing?

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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