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America’s plutocrats and their media allies are certain that US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is unelectable, or that, if somehow elected, he would bring about the collapse of the republic. This disdain is both telling and absurd.
NEW YORK – The narcissism and Panglossian cluelessness of the Wall Street elite is a marvel to behold. Sitting on their perches of power, and enjoying tax breaks, easy money, and soaring stock markets, they are certain that all is best in this best of all possible worlds. Critics must be fools or devils.
When I have mentioned my support for US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in their company, it has been to audible gasps, as if I had invoked Lucifer’s name. They are certain that Sanders is unelectable, or that, if somehow elected, he would bring about the collapse of the republic. To varying degrees, the same sentiments can be found even in “liberal” media outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post.
This disdain is both telling and absurd. In Europe, Sanders would be a mainstream social democrat. He wants to restore some basic decency to American life:
- universal publicly financed health care;
- above-poverty wages for full-time workers, along with
- basic benefits such as family leave for infants and paid leave for illness;
- college education that does not drive young adults into lifelong debt;
- elections that billionaires cannot buy; and
- public policy determined by public opinion, not corporate lobbying (which reached $3.47 billion in the United States in 2019).
The US public supports all these positions by large majorities. Americans want government to ensure health care for all. They want higher taxes on the rich. They want a transition to renewable energy. And they want limits on big money in politics. These are all core Sanders positions, and all are commonplace in Europe. Nonetheless, with each Sanders primary victory, the befuddled Wall Street elite and their favorite pundits puzzle over how an “extremist” like Sanders wins the vote.
An insight into Wall Street’s cluelessness is found in a recent Financial Times interview with Lloyd Blankfein, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs. Blankfein, a billionaire who earned tens of millions of dollars each year, argued that he’s merely “well-to-do,” not rich. More bizarrely, he meant it. You see, Blankfein is a low-single-digit billionaire in an era when more than 50 Americans have a net worth of $10 billion or more. How rich one feels depends on one’s peer group.
The result, however, is the elite’s (and the elite media’s) shocking disregard for the lives of most Americans. They either don’t know or don’t care that tens of millions of Americans lack basic health-care coverage and that medical expenses bankrupt around 500,000 each year, or that one in five US households has zero or negative net worth and that nearly 40% struggle to meet basic needs.
And the elite hardly take notice of the 44 million Americans burdened by student debt totaling $1.6 trillion, a phenomenon essentially unknown in other developed countries. And while stock markets have soared, enriching the elites, suicide rates and other “deaths of despair” (such as opioid overdoses) have also soared, as the working class has fallen further into financial and psychological insecurity.
One reason the elites don’t notice these basic facts is that they haven’t been held to account for a long time. US politicians of both parties have been doing their bidding at least since President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 and ushered in four decades of tax cuts, union busting, and other perks for the super-rich. The coziness of Wall Street and Washington is well captured in a 2008 photo making the rounds again: Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill Clinton are golfing together. It’s one big happy family.
Clinton’s chumminess with Wall Street billionaires is telling. This was the norm for Republicans going back to the start of the twentieth century, but Wall Street’s close links with the Democrats are more recent. As a presidential candidate in 1992, Clinton maneuvered to link the Democratic Party to Goldman Sachs through its then-Co-Chair, Robert Rubin, who later became Clinton’s Secretary of the Treasury.
With Wall Street backing, Clinton won the presidency. From then on, both parties have been beholden to Wall Street for campaign financing. Barack Obama followed the Clinton playbook in the 2008 election. Once in office, Obama hired Rubin’s acolytes to staff his economic team.
Wall Street has certainly gotten its money’s worth for its campaign outlays. Clinton deregulated financial markets, enabling the rise of behemoths like Citigroup (where Rubin became a director after leaving the White House). Clinton also ended welfare payments for poor single mothers, with damaging effects on young children, and stepped up mass incarceration of young African-American men. Obama, for his part, largely gave a free pass to the bankers who caused the 2008 crash. They received bailout money and invitations to White House dinners, rather than the jail time that many deserved.
With the mega-hubris of a mega-billionaire, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks he can buy the Democratic nomination by spending $1 billion of his $62 billion fortune on campaign ads, and then defeat fellow billionaire Donald Trump in November. This, too, is most likely a case of cluelessness. Bloomberg’s prospects deflated as soon as he appeared on the debate stage with Sanders and the other Democratic candidates, who reminded viewers of Bloomberg’s Republican past, allegations of a hostile work environment for women in Bloomberg’s business, and of his support for harsh police tactics against young African-American and Latino men.
No one should underestimate the deluge of hysteria that Trump and Wall Street will try to whip up against Sanders. Trump accuses Sanders of trying to turn the US into Venezuela, when Canada or Denmark are the obvious comparisons. In the Nevada debate, Bloomberg ludicrously called Sanders’s support for worker representation on corporate boards, as in Germany’s co-determination policy, “communist.”
But American voters are hearing something different: health care, education, decent wages, paid sick leave, renewable energy, and an end to tax breaks and impunity for the super-rich. It all sounds eminently sensible, indeed mainstream, when one cuts through the rhetoric of Wall Street, which is why Sanders has been winning – and can win again in November.
When Joe Biden was declared the big winner in South Carolina, you could hear Democratic donors from Manhattan to Malibu crying for joy. Buoyed by glowing, round-the-clock media coverage of his weekend blowout, Mr. Biden made an impressive showing on Super Tuesday. With the former vice president resurgent, the Democratic establishment now has an unexpected final chance to crush Bernie Sanders’s socialist revolution.
Mr. Sanders achieved early front-runner status by making the wealthy into boogeymen. Pushed to the wall by a rising tide of antiwealth sentiment, these elite Democratic donors feared losing control of their party to a socialist who didn’t need them and, worse, would make them his permanent scapegoat. The patronage system they had built over generations, which assured them of power and fortune, was at risk of forced liquidation.
The Democratic donor class had thrown money at a succession of candidates they judged better bets.
- Kamala Harris,
- Cory Booker,
- Beto O’Rourke and
- Pete Buttigieg
were each trumpeted, proclaimed by the establishment’s media organs as the next Barack Obama. Then, to the horror of their backers, most failed to connect with voters and exited early. Donors were dispirited.
Michael Bloomberg’s entrance was a potential safe harbor—and an attractive one, given the prospect that donors could have influence without having to open their wallets. But that notion was dispelled the moment Elizabeth Warren eviscerated him on the debate stage.
With no viable options left, donors were becoming quietly resigned to a Sanders loss to President Trump in November. They could thrive economically in a second Trump term, but they couldn’t survive politically if a socialist took over their party apparatus. Backing Mr. Biden became the last option to consolidate their resources and recover their slipping grip on political power.
Mr. Clyburn immediately used his political capital to make clear that Mr. Biden needed a campaign “overhaul.” The candidate agreed. With this go-ahead, the money men kicked their efforts into high gear trying to put his Humpty Dumpty operation back together again.
The choreography of the establishment consolidating its resources quickly became visible. Mr. Biden hauled in $5 million in the 24 hours after South Carolina. Then came withdrawal announcements from Mr. Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. By the time Mr. Buttigieg offered his endorsement, Mr. Biden’s finance team had recruited dozens of Mayor Pete’s “bundlers.” Top Obama confidantes made it known that “the signal” had been sent to back the former vice president.
Alongside these on-the-ground moves, some media analysts estimated that Mr. Biden enjoyed as much as $72 million in earned media “air cover.” The press’s goodwill filled the void while the Biden campaign rushed to fill its coffers for the contests beyond Super Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Mr. Biden received another political blessing. Mr. Bloomberg exited the race after his $570 million campaign netted an embarrassingly low haul of delegates. He then immediately endorsed Mr. Biden, who will undoubtedly be the beneficiary of the former New York mayor’s deep pockets.
With no billionaire primary candidates left to kick around, Mr. Sanders has turned his ire against Mr. Biden’s contributors. Taking the stage in Minnesota Monday night, Mr. Sanders reprimanded his audience when they booed Mr. Biden’s name. The former vice president was a longtime friend and “decent guy whose just wrong on the issues,” Mr. Sanders said. Then he went after Mr. Biden’s donors: “Does anybody think that we’re going to bring about the change we need in America when you are indebted to 60 billionaires?”
This is the moment my Democratic donor friends have dreamed of since Hillary Clinton lost. The battle for the soul of their party will be fought on the terms that both they and Mr. Sanders want: big-money power brokers versus a small-dollar socialist mob. Since 2015, Bernie Sanders has been a threat to the political relevance of the Democratic donor class. Now, they’re out for revenge and hoping to bankrupt the socialist revolution once and for all.
Walter Isaacson sits down with Republican strategist Frank Luntz to discuss the toxic rhetoric in America’s politics, and why he’s given up hope for a united America.
Billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to file paperwork this week in at least one state with an early deadline, although an advisor said the former New York mayor had not made a final decision to run. As the eighth richest person in America with a net worth of $52 billion, his campaign will be well funded. John Hope Bryant, chairman, founder and CEO of Operation Hope, and pollster Frank Luntz joins “Squawk Box” to discuss.