Friday, March 13, 2020

Time for Mike to get it done

Andrew Koppelman

American politics is pervasively distorted, not just by money, but by right wing money.  Charles Koch is a dangerous crank but a superb political organizer, and he is primarily responsible for some of the most malign aspects of contemporary American politics, notably the staggering federal deficit and the insistence on climate change denial.  There is no comparable political force on the left.  That’s why Michael Bloomberg offered such promise.  It’s not pleasant for American politics thus to be at the mercy of billionaires, but if that’s the way it has to be, then it would be good if they could cancel each other out.

The potential lasting impact of Bloomberg was underlined by his promise, when he hired his huge presidential campaign staff, that they would all keep their jobs through November, whether or not he stayed in the race.  And that is why it is such big political news that he has broken that promise, laying off staff in many places, notably Texas.

To see how stupidly self-destructive this move is, compare Americans for Prosperity, the largest of the Koch lobbying organizations.  In 2016 it had a staff of twelve hundred, more than three times the staff of the Republican National Committee, with directors in 34 states.  (I don’t have more recent data.)  It routinely hires Republican legislative and campaign operatives, who tend eventually to move back to Republican posts, where they are likely to further Koch agendas.  Thus the Koch network is increasingly and pervasively intertwined with the Republican Party.  Koch money has been used to finance primary challenges to Republican officeholders who fail to support positions that the party’s own voters reject: reduction or privatization of Social Security and Medicare, massive tax cuts for the rich, elimination of public sector collective bargaining rights, climate change denial.  The consequence is a growing Republican unanimity in favor of those positions.  Americans for Prosperity consistently focuses on “promoting tax cuts, blocking and eliminating business regulations, opposing the landmark health-reform law passed in 2010, pushing for reductions in funding of (and, where possible, the privatization of) public education and social welfare programs, and opposing state-level environmental initiatives and any from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”

Bloomberg could have created a comparable, countervailing organization.  In warfare, one often copies the adversary’s most successful methods.  Democrats before Bloomberg didn’t have the opportunity to do that, but he made it possible.  Now he has nonchalantly thrown that opportunity away.  Some have suggested that he is likely to remain a major player in American politics.  In order to do that, though, he needs to do what Koch has done, and build up a staff of experienced political operatives.  Who will ever agree to work for him after this? 

An obvious recovery step would be, of course, to keep his promises by rehiring all those people who have been bitterly complaining to the press, with horror stories such as giving up one’s health insurance to join his organization.  (Can he really not afford to do that?)  But the coronavirus creates another major opportunity for someone like him with basically unlimited funds.  (He is even richer than Koch.)

One of the biggest failures of the Trump administration in dealing with coronavirus – and this is an extremely competitive category – is its aggressive promotion of false information about the danger.  Trump and his partisan media are putting Americans in mortal danger.  It might be the worst single thing he has done as president (another extremely competitive category).

If Bloomberg spent anything like what he expended on “Mike will get it done” ads, he could saturate the airwaves and the internet with the truthful information about the danger, and appropriate preventive steps, that you won’t hear from Trump.  And while he’s at it he could also broadcast truthful information about the administration’s shameful incompetence in preparing for the epidemic.  That would make him a major player again, it would seriously damage Trump, and it would save lives.  What is he waiting for?

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