The best aspect of Michael Bloomberg’s potential presidential run is that if he were elected, we may be reasonably confident that he would be a competent president, which should be an immense relief to anyone who takes seriously the possibility that any of the four remaining Democratic candidates with appreciable support—Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg—could be elected.
I have always held that former Vice President Biden, though allegedly (and quite plausibly) a likeable man, has no aptitude to lead the country. Almost all politicians are at least superficially likeable or they are in the wrong business. But his stumbles are legion, his beliefs are elusive. Robert Gates, a bipartisan intelligence director and defense secretary appears to be correct that Biden was mistaken on every strategic position he has taken.
On a previous presidential campaign, Biden cribbed a silly assertion by Neil Kinnock, the leader of the British opposition at the time, and he joined enthusiastically in Teddy Kennedy’s crucifixion of President Reagan’s outstanding Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. He has much to answer for in Ukraine, and is a seriously unimpressive candidate. It gets worse from there.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is everyone’s nightmare of a nasty kindergarten teacher, terrorizing the class with a wooden spoon. She is a quasi-Marxist who lied about her ethnicity to advance her career, lied about being fired for pregnancy, and she advocates impossible policies—especially in health care—that would not work and could not be financed. She can’t tell the truth, in words or numbers, and the United States is not a Marxist country.
Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.—until he switches back to independent) is a cranky old Communist, but one who believes in free elections; he endlessly proclaims fatuous revolutions in a manner as irritating in content as it is acoustically. Pete Buttigieg is the indifferent mayor of an under-achieving town. He is advancing the gay cause but is the personification of glibness. But he would be a completely infeasible president.
The Most Sensible of the Lot
Given this fearsome drought, it is small wonder that Michael Bloomberg is coming down with Potomac Fever again. He built an immense and magnificent commercial news business from scratch; his career is one of the most illustrious of any businessman or industrialist now living. He was, on balance, an excellent mayor of New York. He promoted charter schools, showing some appreciation of the ruination of state schools accomplished by the teachers’ unions, who have turned a huge number of schools into crime-ridden day-care centers that don’t teach anything useful and waste billions of dollars. His “stop and frisk” authorization to police reduced crime in New York, which justified the disagreeable infringement of human liberties, and demonstrates that alone among the possible serious Democratic contenders, he is prepared to dissent from oppressive political correctness.
I was one of those who disliked Times Square as a pedestrian zone and was annoyed by municipal caloric supervision for buyers of ice cream cones and soft drinks. Bloomberg bought his first and third elections, and the last by a narrow margin over a cipher of an opponent, which indicates he doesn’t have an unlimited political shelf-life.
Nor is Bloomberg’s strategic political judgment impressive. He placed all his post-mayoral bets on becoming Jeb Bush’s secretary of state. When that ship sank, he swam toward the same goal with Hillary Clinton. The price of being taken aboard that vessel was an outrageous, churlish, and obnoxious convention character onslaught against the recent Republican nominee, Donald Trump.
Bloomberg predicted dire consequences to the American economy and the utter destitution of minorities if Trump were elected. Even allowing for the exigencies of partisanship, especially at political conventions, his description of Trump as a crook, a liar, and implicitly a racist and sexist, as well as an incompetent businessman and essentially a loud-mouthed idiot, were scraping the barrel.
It was a heavy price to pay for a job offer from an over-confident nominee on her way to losing the election to the man upon whom Bloomberg heaped such pails of derision.
But in policy terms, Bloomberg alone among Trump’s current possible opponents would be sensible, and possibly imaginative, apart from having gone cock-a-hoop for the green nonsense. He would not embarrass the country, and his ability and qualities would be deployed to the benefit of the country. His long-standing companion, Diana Taylor, is a very accomplished woman and as the president’s first lady she would be an adornment in every respect.
But there is room for serious doubt about Bloomberg’s tactics.
He claims to have only considered his candidacy when it appeared that the existing candidates weren’t adequate; it cannot have required until now for a man of Michael Bloomberg’s intelligence to realize that.
Nor can he seriously still believe, if he ever did, that Trump is or could become a disastrous president, other than, for some people who are particularly rattled by the incumbent’s stylistic foibles. And although Bloomberg is fluent and knowledgeable, Bill Scher remarked accurately in RealClearPolitcs on November 11 that if the declared Democratic candidates “lack charisma, it’s not because Michael Bloomberg has been hoarding it.”
Tough Challenges Ahead
No one since 1924 has won a presidential nominating process coming this late into the race. Skipping Iowa and New Hampshire is extremely hazardous, and if a person wants to sweep the entire establishment of his party into a cocked hat, as Trump did to the Republicans four years ago, and Wendell Willkie did in 1940, you have to start early and run hard all the way, as Trump did.
There are obviously a great many voters who are provoked and upset by Trump, but there are at least as many who constitute a rock-solid core of scores of millions of ardent loyalists. Democrats do well in match-up polls against Trump now because there are about as many people who dislike him as not. When someone actually has to run against Trump, the president starts with 60 million supporters and all he has to do is pick up a few floaters and win back a small number of those who haven’t warmed to him.
Bloomberg should not imagine that the country is waiting for him, or that the anti-Trump sniggering of the Upper East Side and the Hamptons has the least connection to the American electorate. He is no more reliable a Democrat than Trump was a Republican (seven changes of party in 13 years). It won’t be like falling off a log getting the nomination, and Bloomberg will have to do a lot more than hurl epithets (an activity at which Trump is superior in any case) to knock off the president—especially after this impeachment idiocy fizzles and the former administration is riddled with Russian collusion indictments.
Another billionaire has been in the political news. Money manager Lee Cooperman had an exchange with Senator Warren; and he was right to criticize her attack on the wealthy, but personalized it too much and made his chief argument against a wealth tax a constitutional argument, which is nonsense—the same was said about the income tax, prior to the 16th Amendment in 1913. The real problem is not so much the disparity of wealth as of income, and Cooperman is right to attack Warren as facile, destructive, and wrong-headed. But his suggestions for revising treatment of capital gains don’t address the problem either.
Cooperman is right that we can’t just take money from people who have earned it and give it to people who haven’t, and we can’t ignore the free market for peoples’ skills. But society can ask the wealthy philanthropists like Lee Cooperman to devise methods for and to fund and administer initiatives that reduce poverty.
This is the greatest achievement of President Trump: he has reduced poverty more than any president since FDR, who came to office when the financial system had collapsed and unemployment stood at about 30 percent and there was no federal relief for them. Cooperman is vaguely right, but he is as I remember him when I had him as a shareholder: ponderous, pedantic, and unreasonable. His letter to Senator Warren was a self-centered name-drop. I’m a capitalist, too, and we will need more persuasive advocates than Cooperman to make the case for the only economic system that works: it is the only one aligned with the almost universal human ambition for more.