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Bloomberg Versus Bernie: The Upcoming Battle?

Between January 11 and April 14, 2019, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Marianne Williamson, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg had all announced their presidential bids. Sanders after entering the race formally on Feb. 19 was the immediate front runner. Biden entered the race on April 25, immediately replacing Bernie as the new front runner. This was automatic; Biden represented the Democratic establishment, had been Obama’s loyal lackey, had the DNC behind him, and was guaranteed positive coverage on CNN and MSNBC.

The talking points discussed among DNC and news directors would include: Biden is moderate, and the party needs unity; he’s beloved by the African-American community vital to a Democratic victory; he’s the ONLY candidate who can defeat Trump; he is the most experienced candidate. It would be okay to mention his “gaffes” (especially if in an endearing way), and even to note that he’s slowing down. But the anchors and contributors would put the best spin on his debate performances, proclaiming each one better than the last—even if he looked like a deer caught in the headlights half the time. Like Hillary Clinton, Biden could expect a coronation at the convention.

But he started disappointing early on, prompting the media to briefly fawn on Beto O’Rourke as back-up after he entered the race on May 14. But Beto soon lost steam, and along with Harris, Williamson, and Andrew Yang has dropped out. For the last ten months, it’s basically been Biden versus Sanders, with Sanders consistently in second place. It had become the polite convention for news anchors—while posting in the viewer’s face day after day charts clearly showing Sanders in the number two position—to observe “Biden remains the [clear] front runner” adding helpfully, “but Warren [or Buttigieg, or Klobachar] continues to climb” while absolutely ignoring the consistency of Sanders’ strength. The inconvenient truth is that Sanders’ support has outlived Biden’s support and Bernie is now the front runner.

One day we woke up to hear that indeed, Sanders is leading. Finally the news media was honestly seeing things as they really were and are.

But no! Not so fast, responds the Democratic establishment! Its views are conveyed via Donny Deutsch on MSNBC and Sam Donaldson (interviewed by Anderson Cooper) on CNN. Mike Bloomberg—who announced his candidacy late in the game Nov. 21, after Biden’s weak performance, had produced doubts—is just the sort of moderate we need!

The former New York City mayor has done so much for that crucial African-American demographic that the Democratic Party needs to win this year! (That’s the party he joined in 2018 after being Republican mayor 2001-2013 and enforcing the “Stop and Frisk” policy.) Deutsch announcing his support reiterates the need to oppose socialism. Donaldson having declared his support awkwardly read through a list of Bloomberg’s benevolent gestures to African-Americans and became visibly annoyed when Cooper tried to hurry him up.

There’s a script being prepared, to promote Bloomberg over Sanders—as the moderate, rational choice “to defeat Trump” as the sole and ultimate goal. It’s a goal made all the more elusive due to the miserable failure of the impeachment trial to either remove Trump or damage his popularity—indeed its unintended result of boosting Trump’s poll numbers. This script’s talking points include: Bloomberg was a popular mayor, an experienced leader; a billionaire due to his brilliant entrepreneurship, he has been a generous philanthropist; he has expressed regret about “Stop and Frisk” and worked with the African-American community in X Y and Z ways; is strong on environmental issues; can work with Republicans, etc.

It’s impossible for Bloomberg to ignore attention to “Stop and Frisk;” indeed he has repeatedly apologized (since announcing his election bid) for causing so much pain. We can expect that issue to linger in the air so long as he runs. But some will also embarrass him by noting his support for the war on Iraq based on lies, his endorsement of George W. Bush, his boasts about “doing” women in many cities. And then there’s that thing about him being a racist billionaire. So is this Bloomberg candidacy, this last-ditch effort to sabotage the democratic process–whereby normal rules Sanders would after Super Tuesday victories sweep to the nomination in Milwaukee—and produce a brokered convention, leading to someone who personifies all the Sanders supporters detest taking the prize, going to succeed?

Watching MSNBC right now, I think there’s a distinct possibility that it might come down to a billionaire (barking at a self-pronounced socialist for being unelectable for being what he is), and a self-pronounced socialist (barking back at the billionaire that there should be no billionaires). A Bloomberg victory might satisfy the DNC and mainstream, as the second choice to Wall Street’s Joe Biden. But it would infuriate much of the “progressive wing,” and totally alienate the Bernie activists (who will not celebrate their humiliation at the hands of the enemy by graciously “uniting” around him, but stay at home on election day meditating on the profound truth that there’s little difference between one billionaire capitalist racist oppressor and another, no reason to vote for one over the other and pretend to be happy to be “free” to vote in this oh-so-democratic country, the beacon of the world.) Many preferring Bloomberg to Bernie might worry about Bloomberg’s electability. But for them the risk will be worth it: four more Trump years, to stop Bernie.

Isn’t it special that Bloomberg has promised to spend a billion dollars to elect the next Democratic president, even if the nominee isn’t him? He pairs that commitment with a promise to back whatever candidate is selected at the party convention. It is an implicit demand that the other candidates (who do not have a billion dollars) to similarly promise to back him should he successfully buy the election. Fair? Bloomberg will back Bernie if he gets the nomination through mass mobilization; Bernie will back Bloomberg if he gets enough votes from saturating the media with misleading ads targeting the African-American community. That at least is the proposed deal, the gentlemanly norm in bourgeois parliamentary politics.

Now I hear now on MSNBC is that Bloomberg has suggested Hillary Clinton could be his vice president. Why not? Oh, I see. A sympathetic African-American politician explains that both Bloomberg and Clinton are New Yorkers so they couldn’t be on the same ticket.

It’s like the system is playing with our brains, pitting Bloomberg and Sanders against one another in a game that pits rational rejection of the status quo against abject deference to the Wall Street Democrats demanding the masses choose the latter to defeat Donald Trump.

Idiot-anchors have been trained to ask rhetorically: What’s more important? Voting for someone who agrees with you, or defeating Trump? The unstated assumption is that the former are selfish, the latter big-hearted. The talking heads will now ask, angrily: Are you so narrow-mindedly fixated on revolution that you can’t let your Sanders campaign be sunk by a billionaire racist sexist WHO CAN REALLY DEFEAT TRUMP? What’s more important? Getting your man in power? Or defeating Trump and going back to the George W. Bush and Barack Obama eras of responsible normality?

The very posing of such questions insults one’s intelligence. But that’s what the Democratic Party leadership is asking us to consider: an open buy-out of the nomination, to defeat both Trump and Sanders. If they succeed in sabotaging Bernie (again!) they will, I think, finally prove to our youth that U.S. “democracy” is a cruel myth.

***

Every hour more dirt on Bloomberg is unleashed—most of it already known but crying out for repeated exposure. This is accompanied by commentary demanding that Bloomberg further explains (but offers a road to forgiveness). Just listen to Rev. Al on MSNBC. Anchors note increased attention to Bloomberg’s record but also state matter-of-factly that his poll numbers will rise. Have their producers told them “Expect Bloomberg’s numbers to rise, and keep saying that to your audience—but also keep noting what’s obvious, which is that he’s no friend of minorities”?

It looks to me like Iowa and New Hampshire have caused the DNC to bet for the time being on the billionaire. Yes, there’s the racism issue. But hey, look at Trump.

Backing Bloomberg is a daunting task. He’s is not only anti-socialist; he is the very epitome of capitalist decadence, patriarchy, and racism. One cannot imagine a figure more repugnant to the progressives. For him to invite the latter’s support—after stabbing them in the face in a brokered convention—would be more than insulting. It is impossible.

How can Sanders at this point to adhere to his pledge to support any candidate chosen in Milwaukee? He should declare that if Bloomberg buys his way to the Democratic Party’s nomination, he (Sanders) will be morally obliged to his supporters to deny him support. Because Bloomberg is no better than Trump. Indeed, as a supporter of George W. Bush and his war on Iraq based on lies he’s in some respects worse.

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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