Michael Bloomberg is expected to make his presidential debate debut Wednesday night in Las Vegas. Given how much he’s already spent on his campaign — $400 million and counting — I expect to see him on the stage in a $38,000 Bolotas armchair with a $20,000 cashmere Hermès blanket draped across his legs.
We should also expect excuses, equivocations, and evasions about the racist policies he enforced, as New York’s mayor, against communities of color.
Bloomberg will probably apologize again for “stop-and-frisk,” which allowed anyone to be stopped, searched, and questioned by police if there was “reasonable suspicion.” That suspicion fell disproportionately on young Black and brown men. Bloomberg did not start “stop and frisk” — that dishonor belongs to his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani. Yet he expanded the program, terrorizing communities of color in ways that continue to have devastating repercussions.
During a talk at the Aspen Institute in 2015, Bloomberg said, “People say, ‘Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana who are all minorities.’ Yes, that’s true. Why? Because we put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why’d we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is. And the way you should get the guns out of the kids’ hands is throw them against the wall and frisk them.”
Is the man who saw potential suspects in every Black and brown face all that different from the man who called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals?
That Bloomberg’s self-financed campaign is making progress says two things, neither of them good. It shows that Donald Trump didn’t just lower the bar for who should be president, he buried it so deep many have forgotten it ever existed. While it’s true that anyone would be a better president than Trump, in no way should that be interpreted as meaning that anyone should be president.
But it also speaks to the divide between those willing to accept as appropriate another man who views constitutional rights as negligible. On social media, white liberals are scolding people of color for criticizing Bloomberg’s candidacy, preferring to see a billionaire businessman as the best way to beat another billionaire businessman. (If Trump wasn’t a billionaire when he came into office, his grifting presidency has probably gotten him a lot closer.)
That’s an easy calculation to make for those who’ve never experienced fear every time you see a police officer, even when you know you’ve done nothing wrong. (The vast majority of those stopped and frisked were innocent.) And that doesn’t even cover the deep psychological impact of knowing that, for someone like Bloomberg, the skin you’re in makes you a suspect.
Now you might have heard that Bloomberg is super sorry about all that. After years of defending this policy, even after studies proved it was both racist and ineffective in lowering crime rates, Bloomberg conveniently offered up his first apology just before launching his presidential campaign. And since he said it in a Black church filled with Black people, you know he really, really meant it.
Meanwhile, Muslims, who were subjected to profiling in a vast post-9/11 surveillance program in New York, are still waiting for Bloomberg’s apology tour to make a similar stop in their mosques.
With only one caucus and one primary done, this race is still wide open regardless of whom the media ignores or fawns over. There is one candidate I will be happy to vote for next month and, hopefully, in the general election. Yet I’ve said all along that, come November, I will cast my ballot for whoever gets the Democratic nomination. Like many voters, I believe there is no greater issue than defeating President Trump.
Sitting on the sideline isn’t an option, but a Bloomberg nomination would prove a harsh test.
With his bottomless resources, Bloomberg is expected to spend $500 million by Super Tuesday next month, when he’ll have his first opportunity to compete at the polls. Money got him to New York City Hall and he’s banking on it carrying him to the White House. It’s a devil’s bargain too many Democrats are seriously considering.
If Bloomberg’s money can amplify his hollow apologies while submerging his sins — including his reportedly sexist treatment of women — voters of color in November may find themselves caught between a racist rock and a racist hard place.