Like the vast majority of Americans, I have been effectively disenfranchised in the last few presidential elections. In 2011, I moved to Washington, D.C., which is so heavily Democratic that any vote for president is totally meaningless — in 2016, Hillary Clinton won with 93 percent of the vote. But last year, I moved to famously swingy Pennsylvania, and suddenly I'm a full citizen again. (I'm already lording it over my friends from California and New York.)
As I have written on many occasions, I think Bernie Sanders is the best candidate. But given the abominable Trump presidency, I have also said that I'll vote for whoever wins the Democratic nomination.
However, that was before Mike Bloomberg became a serious presidential contender (currently in third place in national polls and rising fast). I have given it very serious thought, and while I would happily vote for Elizabeth Warren, grudgingly vote for Joe Biden or Amy Klobuchar, or secure an entire bottle of Southern Comfort to get sufficiently hammered to vote for Pete Buttigieg, I will not vote for Mike Bloomberg in November if he is nominated.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
To start with, it is not at all obvious that Bloomberg would even be a better president than Trump. As Alex Pareene writes at The New Republic, he is a right-wing authoritarian with nakedly racist views who constantly violated civil rights laws during his time as mayor of New York City. He locked up thousands of protesters during the 2004 Republican National Convention (where he gave a speech warmly endorsing George W. Bush, and thanked him for starting the war in Iraq), and a judge held the city in contempt for violating due process law. He created what amounted to a police state for New York Muslims, subjecting the entire community to dragnet surveillance and harassment, and filling mosques with spies and agent provocateurs. The city had to pay millions in settlements for violating Muslims' civil rights. (All this did precisely nothing to prevent terrorism, by the way.)
As Nathan Robinson writes at Current Affairs, he drastically escalated the infamous "stop-and-frisk" program in New York, in which innocent black and brown youths were jacked up by cops literally millions of times. Typically 85-90 percent of the stops found nothing, and many police used it as a handy pretext to vent their racist prejudice. At its peak in 2011, there were more stops of young black men than there were young black men in the entire city. And because it was mainly young men being targeted, some were stopped dozens of times. Innocent people were routinely beaten senseless.
Bloomberg justified the policy with straightforwardly racist collective guilt. In a 2015 speech, he said "it's controversial, but first thing is, all of your — 95 percent of your murders, murderers and murder victims, fit one M.O. ... They are male minorities, 15 to 25."
These statistics are hideously inaccurate. In reality, the relatively few whites stopped under stop-and-frisk were more likely to be carrying weapons, and as The Atlantic's Adam Serwer points out, after the program was halted, crime continued to fall unabated. The whole thing was completely useless — unless the point was to constantly remind black and brown New Yorkers that they were second-class citizens. Bloomberg also espouses the racist theory that the financial crisis was caused by government efforts to reduce prejudice in home lending — thus scapegoating minorities to deflect blame from the real culprit, Wall Street oligarchs like himself.
Bloomberg's newfound commitment to progressive policies is so transparently fraudulent that his campaign apparently plagiarized huge chunks of his campaign platform. He is just trying to trick the Democratic electorate with a tidal wave of cash (with evident success).
Now, Bloomberg does have a legitimate history of supporting gun control and climate policy. But it is exceedingly unlikely that he will be able to get past a Senate filibuster on gun control, especially given his sneering know-it-all approach. And given his politics and personal wealth, his climate policy would probably look a great deal like Emmanuel Macron's diesel tax in France — a carbon tax whose revenues would go towards cutting taxes on the rich. Macron's move sparked violent protests and was quickly abandoned.
Does this sound like a guy who would do anything substantial to reverse Trump's worst policies? If we're lucky, he might reverse the Muslim ban and let a few people out of the CBP camps. If we're not, he'll implement a much quieter and more effective version of the same policies, and partisan Democrats will reverse-engineer justifications for these being somehow necessary (or just ignore them, as they did during the Obama years). Recall that Bloomberg once argued that every Social Security card should have fingerprints so unauthorized immigrants would be unable to get jobs.
On the other hand, in some areas Bloomberg would likely be worse than Trump. As Mehdi Hasan writes at The Intercept, Bloomberg is a committed and pitiless warmonger — he supported the war in Iraq and repeated the Bush administration's lie that Saddam Hussein had plotted 9/11. (In January he said he had no regrets about doing so.) He opposed President Obama's Iran deal, and had few complaints about Trump's assassination of Iran's Qassem Soleimani. While Trump has escalated conflicts across the globe, he appears to have at least a mild hesitation about starting new full-scale wars of aggression. The chances of a shooting war with Iran probably increase if Bloomberg wins in 2020.
Given his wretched politics, even Bloomberg's superior competence is a mark against him. Right now one tiny silver lining of the Trump administration is that the people trying to commit atrocities through the federal bureaucracy are so inept they keep fumbling the legal procedures and getting stopped in the courts. Bloomberg is sure to appoint competent authoritarian maniacs.
And for all the people who complain that Bernie Sanders is not a real Democrat, Bloomberg was literally a Republican up until 2007, and worked to elect Republicans until very recently. In 2014, he or his political action committee donated to the senate campaigns of Susan Collins in Maine and Bob Dold in Illinois. In 2016, he donated $11.7 million to Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — making it the most expensive Senate race in history up to that point, and likely securing victory for Toomey, who won by less than two points. Though he has also donated a lot to Democrats, Bloomberg is a guy who did more than almost anyone to help protect Mitch McConnell's Republican majority in the Senate, and hence to put two more conservatives on the Supreme Court.
At bottom, Bloomberg is basically just like George W. Bush, with a dollop of maddening nanny-state condescension. Without question he would be one of the top five worst major-party presidential nominees in the last century of American history.
This stance will no doubt infuriate the "vote blue no matter who" crowd who view Donald Trump as some kind of Lovecraftian nightmare. But even aside from how horrible a president Bloomberg would be, perhaps the most compelling reason not to vote for him is what his nomination would reveal about American democracy. It would mean that the oligarch class has so thoroughly corrupted the system that the voice of the people is drowned. His entire candidacy is a cartoonishly blatant instance of how money can corrupt democracy. Right now he is scooping up thousands of campaign operatives and field organizers by offering them as much as $6,000 a month — creating a desperate shortage for other campaigns. He's racking up endorsement after endorsement — of representatives, mayors, and one governor, so far — who have cashed checks from his vast empire of bribery. His nomination would mean the Democratic Party can be "bought over the counter like so many pounds of cheese."
Partisan Democrats insist that everyone has an obligation to vote tactically — that is, to always pick the lesser of two evils in the voting booth. But as Daniel Davies argues, given that one's individual vote has virtually no chance of actually deciding the outcome, the truly tactical choice is to not bother to vote at all. The only compelling reason to vote is about civic duty and one's patriotic conscience. And as Davies writes, "it seems pretty clear that there is some point at which it becomes obvious that a morally and politically valid response is simply to declare that the fundamental basis of the implied contract has broken down, and that it's a reasonable choice to simply refuse to participate further." If the choice is Cthulhu versus Nyarlathotep, I for one see little point in voting for the candidate that might have one fewer grasping eldritch tentacle.
Among Bernie Sanders supporters, I am far from the most die-hard. If I simply cannot countenance putting my name down for Bloomberg in November, there are millions more who would do the same — plus no small number of supporters of the other candidates, in all likelihood. Then there is the general fact that Bloomberg's extreme wealth and extensive record of racism and sexual harassment would negate most of the strongest attacks against Trump. Bloomberg would be highly likely to bleed enough support to third parties (or no one) to lose to Trump, just as Hillary Clinton did.
Luckily, it will be easy to avoid this dreadful possibility. Simply vote against Michael Bloomberg in the Democratic primary.
Editor's note: This article originally wrongly described the number of black men arrested under stop-and-frisk, and the percentage of stops that found nothing. It has since been corrected. We regret the error.
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.