“I like Mike.”
It’s a good campaign slogan, redolent of the Eisenhower era when Republicans and Democrats weren’t at each other’s throats over absolutely everything. A time when the center held despite extreme pressure from the left and right. When the middle of the road wasn’t just for political road kill.
But is Mike — Michael Bloomberg, the pride of Medford and former mayor of New York City — the answer for a Democratic Party deeply divided over the best way to dump Donald Trump? Can the 77-year-old billionaire and former Republican appeal to young progressives at the same time he reassures moderate Democrats and independents that he won’t takeway their private health insurance or tax the rich and big corporations to fund every single worthy social program?
These are some of the questions being raised after the revelation Thursday that Bloomberg is preparing to jump into the Democratic primary race. On Friday, he filed papers to be on the primary ballot in Alabama, though a final decision to run has yet to be made.
Bloomberg publicly played Hamlet twice before (in 2016 and earlier this year) before deciding “not to be.” But conditions on the ground have changed since he last demurred in March.
The Democratic front-runner, moderate Joe Biden, looks wobbly in debates and is having trouble raising money. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have passionate followers but are too radical for big chunks of the country. Pete Buttigieg has that Midwest common sense but is too green for many voters.
Bloomberg — who spent heavily on Democrats in the 2018 midterms and in the elections in Virginia this month that put Democrats back in power — is concerned that none of these candidates can stop Trump. Plenty of Democrats feel the same way, including me. (Full disclosure: I worked for Bloomberg’s news service from 2005 to 2013, a period when he was on leave from the financial data and services company to run City Hall.)
Politically, Bloomberg isn’t so much middle-of-the-road as all-over-the-road.
On social issues, he can be as progressive as Representative Ayanna Pressley and the rest of the Squad. He supports abortion rights and LGBTQ rights, is pro gun control, and has been a big backer of environmental causes.
But Bloomberg has a conservative streak. He stood behind the New York Police Department’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy, which critics said discriminated against people of color, and made some questionable comments about the #MeToo movement. These would be big problems for progressives, as would his defense of Wall Street (where he made his fortune) and free trade, and his generally pro-business stance.
Bloomberg is very rich. He ranks No. 8 on Forbes list of richest Americans, with a fortune estimated at $53.4 billion. He backs progressive taxation but is against a wealth tax. He is also very generous, having given away more than $6.4 billion to a wide range of causes, including public health, arts and culture, the environment, education, and government innovation.
For anyone who thinks Trump is the cancer on presidency, the lie-awake-at-night question is: What takes priority — idealogy or electability?
Yes, Medicare for All is probably the best way to fix our broken health care system. But is fighting for it now worth losing in November 2020? Wealth inequality threatens our very democracy, but is proposing trillions of dollars in new taxes on the rich playing into Trump’s hands?
I go back and forth on this, as I am sure many of you do, too. My heart is with Warren, but my brain tells me she’s more Mike Dukakis than Bill Clinton. I don’t think Biden or Buttigieg or any of the other declared candidates have much better odds.
Bloomberg isn’t perfect either. Like Warren, he tends to think he knows what’s best for the rest of us. Like Biden, he is an ultimate insider. His idiosyncratic positions may give everyone something to hate.
But at this moment I think he’s the Democrats’ best bet.
I like Mike.