Opinion

Bloomberg 2020? Big gulp.

America isn't pining for another billionaire New Yorker

Is there any group in American public life more absurd than centrist Democrats? The way they talk about some of their party's admittedly bizarre candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination, you would think the United State is on the verge of being overthrown by a Maoist cabal. (Some of them, of course, already believe that the White House is Soviet occupied territory.)

This is the reason otherwise sensible adults want Joe Biden to run. They desperately want to avoid having a candidate who challenges the bipartisan center-right economic consensus that has united both of our major parties for at least 20 years. If Biden's creepy uncle routine keeps him from entering the race, though, they're going to need somebody else to mouth along with woke slogans while defending the prerogatives of bankers. This is where Michael Bloomberg comes in.

According to a report in Axios, the billionaire former mayor of New York might be interested in running for president after all "if a centrist lane were to open up." This is code for "if the people I am paying to run hundreds of computer models think Biden doesn't have a go and I can spend more money than Kamala Harris." The answer to the latter question is that of course he can. "The presidency of the United States? Put it on my AmEx." (Would he release his tax returns, I wonder?)

The thing about Bloomberg is that as a candidate he would be utterly unlike Biden. What's inside the box would be similar, no doubt, but the packaging would be totally different. Both men would be peddling the same center-right moderate vision, but instead of Biden's somewhat deceptive guy-your-uncle-would-buy-a-jet-ski-from aesthetic, Bloomberg would not shy away from trying to explain to ordinary voters in Iowa why it's totally normal that in his city a cardboard-box sized studio apartment costs three times as much as their mortgages. Would this really be an improvement?

Bloomberg would also have to find some talking points other than climate change and banning guns and soda. None of these look very likely to be important to undecided voters in 2020. What does he actually have to say about the pocket-book issues that purple-state residents care about most? On issues like the price of housing, Bloomberg has always been unambiguous: If you're not rich, well, it sucks to suck. He saw the city he governed not as a polis but as a luxury good, a product carefully developed based on research, expertly marketed, and sold at absurd prices to the wealthy. He has always given the impression that he does not even believe that there is such a thing as "government" or the state as distinct from the operation of the finance industry and the machinations of real estate developers. He doesn't think that governing is "like" running a business — he thinks the state is a business, and that the president is the CEO of America.

For Bloomberg, Trump is a bad president because he is not a good CEO. The second part is definitely true. It would certainly be grimly entertaining to watch these two men duking it out over who has the most billions, whose private jet is the nicest, whose penthouses are more expensively furnished, when the last time was that either of them went anywhere — to the bathroom, say — without a thuggish security escort, whether either of them visited a grocery store. Maybe they could agree to a no-fundraising pact.

If I were asked — by Vladimir Putin himself or whoever else is in charge of these things in Moscow — to engineer a campaign that I thought would destroy the faith of ordinary Americans in our system of government forever, the battle of the good woke billionaire worth $58 billion versus the bad reactionary billionaire who might not even really be a billionaire is pretty much exactly what I would come up with. The sad truth is that we are inching closer to it every day without any help from Russia.

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