I don’t usually care for Thomas Friedman’s columns. It isn’t that I necessarily disagree with his conclusions–although I often do– but he tends to adopt a “let me explain to those of you not as smart as me” tone that I find extremely annoying.
But his recent column about Mike Bloomberg’s candidacy deserves to be read, and read with an open mind. (This is not an endorsement–just a corrective to the predictable circular firing squad sharing the conviction that no bread is better than half a loaf.)
The first point Friedman makes is one with which most readers of this blog will agree: this is no ordinary election. It is imperative that we rid the country of the Trump malignancy, and that goal absolutely must take precedence over everything else. And it won’t just be Republicans versus Democrats.
Because, without doubt, Russia and China also will be “voting” Trump 2020 — for three reasons: (1) Trump keeps America in turmoil and unable to focus on building the infrastructure we need to dominate the 21st century the way we did the 20th. (2) Both Beijing and Moscow know that Trump is so disliked by America’s key allies that he can never galvanize a global coalition against China or Russia. And (3) both Russia and China know that Trump is utterly transactional and will never challenge them on human rights abuses. Trump is their chump, and they will not let him go easily.
Friedman says it is important that we run the right candidate against Trump, and that Bernie Sanders is not that candidate–a claim with which I agree for reasons I’ve previously explained.
Friedman says that Sanders has the wrong solutions to the right problems, but whether as a policy matter Sanders’ solutions are right or wrong is–in my opinion–beside the point. Bernie’s solutions are simply not salable to the wider voting public. Sanders’ popularity is limited even within the Democratic Party–he has a fervent base of at most 27%, which is the only reason he leads a fragmented field– and as I pointed out in the linked post, the popularity he does enjoy has never been tested by the sort of vicious but effective opposition research that would be thrown at him should he be the nominee. (Did he really have to honeymoon in the Soviet Union?)
The great irony is that Mike Bloomberg (also imperfect, as he displayed at the recent debate) would be more likely to actually achieve a number of left-wing goals than Bernie.
As the New York Times documented last Sunday (in what was definitely not a puff piece), for years, Bloomberg has put immense amounts of money behind organizations fighting climate change; he has worked long and hard for gun control (an issue on which Bernie has historically been on the wrong side); he has consistently supported Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights; and he’s been on the right side of issues from immigration, to voting rights, infrastructure, and affordable housing.
Do I agree with every policy he has endorsed? Of course not. Stop and frisk, for one, was both wrongheaded and unconstitutional. But unlike the mentally-ill moron in the White House, Bloomberg acknowledges past errors. Has he made statements or engaged in past behaviors (especially with women) that should be criticized and will be used by opposition researchers? Yes.
But the real problem many Democrats have with Bloomberg is that he’s very, very rich. It isn’t that he hasn’t always been a Democrat–neither has Bernie. (And unlike Trump, Bloomberg’s positions have generally been consistent–and liberal– even if his self-labeling hasn’t been.) Too many Democrats equate money with evil. But money is ethically neutral. It can be used for good or ill, and if you look at Bloomberg’s charitable choices, he has used his millions to support causes with which most of us overwhelmingly agree.
Let’s get real.
Until the country somehow gets rid of Citizens United and other decisions based upon the Supreme Court’s naive insistence that money equals speech, the obscenely rich will continue to buy our government. That is definitely a very bad thing–but it defines our current political reality. Folks like the Kochs buy control through SuperPacs and back-room deals; billionaires like Nick Hanauer and Mike Bloomberg try to influence public policy or win votes by very publicly spending gobs of their own money. (Money alone isn’t enough to get that job done, as Tom Steyer has learned.)
All I know is that it is absolutely essential to get rid of Trump–to install people who understand how government works, who respect the rule of law, who understand the importance of the environmental and social challenges we face, and who are on the right side of those issues. Bloomberg–like all the Democratic candidates– is right on most issues, and he has three other very important assets: intelligence, executive experience and enough money and political savvy to wipe up the floor with Trump.
So if Bloomberg does become the candidate, don’t rule him out simply because you hate rich people. The saying is: “Vote blue no matter who” –not “Vote blue unless the candidate is a billionaire.”
In the primary, support the person you think has the best chance of defeating Trump, or the person whose positions you most prefer. But in the general, vote blue. No matter who.
I will. Even if it’s Bernie. Hell, I’ll vote blue even if it’s an ashtray. (Or, in my sister’s memorable words, toenail fungus.)