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The fire rises

February 19, 2020 7:05 PM
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The fire rises

With two states down in the primary calendar, we are entering a new and deeply bizarre phase in the race to pick the Democratic nominee: a contest between a billionaire and democratic socialist.

Aside from both being Jewish and hailing from New York, there is very little commonality between Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg. And yet, they are increasingly being held up as the standard-bearers for opposite ends of the liberal spectrum; Sanders as the voice for the younger, diverse, and progressive vote; and Bloomberg as the champion for the old, moderate, and Trump-crazed liberals. This week has seen the near collapse of media attention towards anyone but Sanders and Bloomberg, as if Biden, Warren, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg all suddenly disappeared right before the Nevada caucus.

The futility of media narratives aside, it bears repeating just how remarkable this moment is. Sanders spent months struggling to escape the shadow of presumptive left-standard bearer Elizabeth Warren, only to catapulte ahead of all of his opponents in the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucus. He is unquestionably the most progressive candidate to seriously compete in a Presidential primary.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg avoided the early contests altogether, spending an enermous chunk of his personal fortune to blanket later states in advertising, monopolizing media markets that most candidates weren’t competing in yet. This unprecedented campaign of shock-and-awe has bought Bloomberg tangible gains in national and state polls, and perhaps no candidate has benefited as strongly from the collapse of Biden than him. He is second only to Sanders in a national poll released yesterday, and leads or ties in a number of southern Super Tuesday states. As liberals emerge from the wreckage of the USS Biden, they are increasingly seeking safe harbor in the Bloomberg Aircraft Carrier, despite the fact Bloomberg wasn’t a Democrat until 2016.

Bloomberg v. Sanders is an exhilarating divide: a climatic clash between the factions in the party’s long-brewing brewing ideological war. It’s also terrifying, because Michael Bloomberg is a distasteful man who has no business whatsoever being President or even a Democrat.

Bloomberg’s litany of sins and failures have been well-documented; the monstrous and frequently illegal expansion of the NYPD, the racist discrimination at the heart of his notorious stop-and-frisk policies, and the humiliating culture of sexism at his company to name just a few examples. Writers far better than I, such as Alex Pareene and Tom Scocca, have outlined the troubling and pervanant strain of authoritarianism in Bloomberg’s political philosophy, an ideological project he’s implemented more successfully than Trump.

More to the point: he’s literally never won an election running as a Democrat. And he’s been a racist, transphobic, sexist dumb-dumb repeatedly in public constantly between 1970 and approximately two weeks ago.

Mike Bloomberg is, put simply, a Bad Man, a Bad Politican, and a Bad Mayor. Bloomberg’s campaign is using his unprecedented investment to distort the candidate, to claim a man who ran a city under an iron fist while skimming off the top for his Wall Street friends is actually the choice for the Obama liberals. He should not be the Democratic nominee.

And yet, looking at the polls I can feel the Fear rising in me, that sense that I will once again be let down by my peers, who will look between two options and decide they’d like the more repugnant choice, thank you very much. Through his vast network of philanthropic patrons, Bloomberg has amassed a small army of surrogates, and his sheer wealth allows him to run his cynical, history-revising campaign at a staggering scale.

There’s an opportunity for Bloomberg. As the MSNBC gawkers have been saying since voting started, the combined voting total of moderate candidates far exceeds Sanders’ totals. But if the Buttigegs and Bidens flame out, how many of their supporters will happily line up behind the authoritarian? I would hope and expect that many voters would have reservations, never know anymore.

These are strange times.