|Michael Bloomberg's moves suggest a vote of no-confidence in|
the Democratic field from the donor class.
This is a two-edged panic. First panic stems from fears that Trump may still pull off a victory despite his obvious mental meltdown during impromptu White House speeches and interminable campaign rallies. To be honest, this is also part of a panic about the American electorate. Underneath it has been steadily moving to realizing the realities of impeachment but that movement is not enough to comfort those who so clearly see Trump as "a dangerous demagogue," as Bloomberg called him.
The second panic is that painting the wealthiest of the wealthy as the villains of society – including those who mainly advertise themselves as wealthy, such as Trump – could wind up driving the voters and forcing policies that many consider bad for the economy. Attacking the moneymakers and wealth accumulators has proven a comfortable campaign reality – always has if you remember history. They have the money but others have the votes.
Some form of wealth tax does not create immediate resistance from that wealthy donor class so heavily recruited by Democratic candidates – but some of it does since all wealth tax ideas poll so well.
Bloomberg and Bill Gates are leading philanthropists and they have raised their doubts as have upstarts like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg whose wealth is mainly on paper (we’re talking wealth in the ballpark of $50 to $60 billion dollars each!). They have raised caution flags or heart attacks about some of the proposals but more largely they fear a public attitude treating them as the fountain of salvation for the US woes. An echo of Trump’s “Only I can do it”?
The public has taken little time to actually analyze the various economic plans of the candidates, but the donor class is reading between the lines and is deeply worried. Some candidates avoid the wealth tax language but they are all moving in similar directions.
Of course, Bloomberg is almost proving the wealth tax point – or certainly its lure – since no one would treat his entry into the race seriously except for the amount of money he commands and his track record of not usually being a guy who panics.
Have you noticed how we now talk about “lanes” separating the top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination? One lane is for the pragmatic types, sometimes demeaned as “half-assed centrists.” The other lane is the most “leftist” types (assuming “leftist” means something clear anymore) that don’t want to return the US to normal after Trump but seize it and shake it to address climate change, health care, gun control, immigration reform and so forth. These are ideas many of the voters favor addressing, though they remain uncertain how much should be grabbed off in one bite.
Smart pundits see the pragmatic types as Klobuchar, Buttigieg and Biden and the most prominent of the “shake it all up” as Sanders and Warren, with Booker, Castro and Harris biting off parts of each and the other candidates scattered among the lanes.
Bloomberg isn’t wrong about the anxieties upending the Democratic camps -- a fight among lane leaders. One group insists the other get out of the way; the other group says the nation is not ready for too extreme measures.
Thus when Elizabeth Warren details her Medicare for All, critics point out what a shakeup that involves, so that even if she becomes president she may not be able to carry even a Democratic Congress across the same finish line. While 28 million people lack any health care, some 158 million have a form of private health insurance, which she would eliminate. Some hate the system, some don’t. All are unlikely to budge unless they know something better is in place.
Warren fans admire her boldness as much as Sanders fans admire his. They say it’s high time the US aimed higher than its reach as the only way true reform is possible. Fundamental social changes, the argument goes, comes from leaders burning with grievances and clear about identifying the problems, determined to rouse the sheeplike masses to action. Others say the public admires those who know what can be done and are moving in the same direction as the flamethrowers.
The sides sometimes sound so angry that they make the presidential race an all or nothing contest. Hence Bloomberg. If you don’t like Sanders above Warren, to hell with you. If you like Biden over Warren, you’re a relic. If you prefer Buttigieg, you are not being realistic about his baggage (the way some voters feel about gays). Etc.
Such hard edges to the discussions, both on social media and at Democratic gatherings, seem the main reason why the Trump forces still think they can sneak in there, since if Warren is picked over Sanders, or Biden is picked over both, there are acolytes in the losing camp that sound like they will stay home rather than vote for anybody. So fierce do their feelings sound.
It’s time to remember that none of this ferocity is new in the big tent Democratic Party. What is new is the fear, driven by social media and the political organizing realities of today, that the sides can’t knit together at the end. Trump’s 2016 victory, when many Obama voters stayed home, is often cited as the fear.
But there is also a reality of history about campaign promises and directions. Sanders may have written the damn bill on Medicare for All, as he insists in debates, but that doesn’t mean he can bring any Congress along. Neither can Warren. Neither can Biden on such ideas as eliminating the wage levels on paying into Social Security.
Right now the normal operations of human behavior are not gaining much traction. Such is the nature of panic. We haven't yet learned to contemplate supporting a Warren, a Sanders or a Buttigieg or a Biden while recognizing they may not be able to deliver in practical terms what they are promising. We just like where whoever (fill in the blank) wants to go and the basic ideas of getting there.
The public may vote for something they know is pie in the sky, not as a mandate they insist on but as a direction they want to see their choice moving.
Another thing we had better learn. How much wealth you command, even if you use it with a greater eye for the public good than a Trump, is not a guarantee you know how to govern.