With Michael Bloomberg, Capital Won’t Quit So Easily
The billionaires in the Democratic Party aren't going to just let Bernie walk away with the nomination.
We might consider these recent headlines. The New York Times: “Bloomberg’s Billions: How the Candidate Built an Empire of Influence”; CNBC: “Mike Bloomberg builds an ‘army’ of elite business leaders to act as surrogates for his campaign.”
The ultimate counter-revolutionary headline comes in the form of a scoop from across the Atlantic: The Daily Mail banners, “Mike Bloomberg ‘is considering picking Hillary Clinton as his running mate….’”
We can recall, of course, that Clinton was Sanders’ great antagonist in 2016, and four years later, that antagonism still burns fiercely. So whether or not she is under any sort of vice-presidential consideration, the reminder that Bloomberg and Clinton—two New Yorkers, representing two key groups in the Democratic Party, billionaires and millionaires—are so linked together is a further way of showing that Bloomberg has sewn up the Democratic establishment.
In fact, according to the betting site Predictit, Bloomberg is now in second place, behind Sanders but well ahead of Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and all the rest. Indeed, Bill Maher said on his HBO show on February 14, “We have a new front-runner, Michael Bloomberg.”
Meanwhile, the bigfoot media endorsements (or close enough to endorsements) are now pouring in. Sam Donaldson, of course, finally dropped the pretense. And The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman cheered, “Bloomberg has the right stuff—a moderate progressive with a heart of gold but the toughness of a rattlesnake—for what is going to be an incredibly big, brutal task: making Donald Trump a one-term president.” For her part, The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan was merely friendly and optimistic on behalf of her friend: “Mike Bloomberg Could Pull It Off.”
So yes, maybe the ninth richest man in the world really could pull it off. Bloomberg, who spent much of his career as a Republican—and who has, at least until recently, embraced distinctly Republican views on such issues as crime, education, regressive taxes, and wealth taxes, as well as profoundly neoconservative views on the Middle East—has a real shot at being the Democratic nominee.
And to think, it seems like only yesterday—February 11, in fact—that Gallup found that 76 percent of Democrats would be willing to vote for a socialist. Would they now be willing to vote for an…arch-capitalist? To be sure, Bloomberg, like many billionaires these days, is plenty “woke” on social and cultural issues such as guns and gays, yet in the view of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, his wokeness is “just a billionaire trying to cover up authoritarian & racist policy.”
Yet that plutocratic cover-upping might be working. That is, if the rise of Sanders and AOC shows that the old left still has punch, the Bloombergian neoliberals could yet be punching it out.
To put the matter mildly, this prospect is disturbing to many. On February 14, progressive journalist Michael Tracey tweeted: “Mike Bloomberg’s candidacy is so obviously the type of thing that would be covered with condescending moralism if it occurred in another country. ‘Top Bulgarian oligarch tries to buy nomination of political party! Very disturbing development for Bulgarian democracy.'”
So one wonders: where in history has a left-wing insurgency been bested by a right-leaning counter-insurgency? If such a gear-stripping switch has happened elsewhere, could it happen here?
All we know for sure is that it did happen in France, during the years 1848 to 1851. What started out as a left-wing revolution against a king ended up with the rule of a center-right leader—who then crowned himself emperor.
That adroit—some would say treacherous—political figure, of course, was Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, remembered as Napoleon III.
The best-known account of this historical sequence comes from Karl Marx in his 1852 pamphlet, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. “Eighteenth Brumaire,” we might note, is a sly reference to an earlier French coup d’état, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, uncle of Louis. (In those days, the French revolutionaries had changed the national calendar: “Eighteenth Brumaire” was November 9, 1799.)
Fast-forwarding a half-century—through Napoleon’s Waterloo in 1815, the unsteady restoration of the Bourbon monarchy (1814-30), and the June Rebellion of 1832 that inspired Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables—we come to February 1848, when the Paris proletariat finally swept away the remnants of the ancien régime, thereby establishing the Second Republic (the First Republic having been established, of course, in 1789, until it was snuffed out by Napoleon).
During its few months in power, the new regime launched some truly radical measures, such as the establishment of Ateliers Nationaux (national workshops) to put the unemployed to work—and imposed the taxes to pay for it.
In other words, the French nation got a taste of profound economic redistributionism—and the wealthy, of course, didn’t like it one bit. As Marx wrote, “The French bourgeoisie balked at the domination of the working proletariat.”
Thus horrified at what the left was doing with its power, the right sought to make itself even more powerful. Interestingly, one of the political vehicles of reaction was candidly named Parti de l’Ordre (Party of Order). And in June 1848, amid street-fighting violence, the right wing gained the upper hand.
Marx, displaying the tragic militance and mystical teleology that has characterized so much left-wing chronicling, added, “The social republic appeared as a phrase, as a prophecy, on the threshold of the February Revolution. In the June days of 1848, it was drowned in the blood of the Paris proletariat, but it haunts the subsequent acts of the drama like a ghost.”
Soon, the young Louis Napoleon stepped forward to be installed as a center-right president. From that high post, in December 1851, he staged a coup d’état—his own recapitulation of his uncle’s coup five decades earlier—crowning himself as Emperor Napoleon III. Thus we might recall the most famous quote from Marx’s essay: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
Napoleon’s actions might have been farcical, but to many they were also infuriating. Victor Hugo, having fled to Belgium, penned an essay, “Napoleon the Little,” in which he jibed, “Monsieur Louis Bonaparte has succeeded. From this forth he has on his side money, the Bank, the Bourse, the stock-market, the counting-house….” Hugo added bitingly that the supporters of Napoleon III included “all those who pass so easily from one shore to the other when they have only to stride over shame.”
For his part, Marx recalled that back in 1789, the bourgeoisie had been at the vanguard of the revolution; if the issue was getting rid of the aristocrats’ stranglehold on the economy, the capitalists, nascent class that they were in the 18th century, were all for it. Yet by the mid-19th century, the situation had changed. The capitalists, now far more capitalized with the coming of the industrial revolution to France, were no longer fearful of the royals. Instead, they were fearful of their own workers—and so a counter-proletarian autocrat such as Napoleon III was fine by them.
But now back to today: the class-conscious left-wing revival within the Democratic Party has stirred the fears of more than just the fat cats. For instance, bespeaking the new mode of ideological production, Ocasio-Cortez recently tweeted: “War is a class conflict, too.” Such far-reaching formulations, of course, might be too blunt for the sensibilities of some—like, for instance, all those suburbanites who have been happy to vote Democrat to advance the Planned Parenthood agenda but not the class warfare agenda.
Yet those same suburbanites and other Democratic moderates might not have fully comprehended what their party would be like were the billionaires to displace the Bidens and the Buttigiegs. That is, if the gods of plutocracy climb down from Mount Olympus to wield worldly power directly, it’s likely their theophany here on earth will come in a form that mere mortals won’t appreciate: less of a president, perhaps, and more of an emperor.
And somewhere, Marx is having a grim chuckle, as history repeats itself yet again. But as tragedy? Or farce? That’s the question for the age.