The Twitterverse is aflame with righteous indignation about former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s short-lived presidential campaign. In addition to the usual class-based resentments, there were plenty of observations about the great things he could have done for people in need, for millennials or for humanity in general with the more than half a billion dollars he spent on advertisements.
I wasn’t a Bloomberg backer, but that’s just silly. We can play that game with every dollar spent on nonessential items — after all, the $1,400 you spent last year on cable TV could have bought quite a few meals for the homeless people of Los Angeles County.
Bloomberg’s an attractive target because of the scale of his spending, but the principle is the same. It’s a rare human being who devotes more than 20 percent of his or her income to charity, let alone every available dollar.
Bloomberg, at least, has pledged to give the majority of his wealth to philanthropic causes (and that doesn’t include elections).
And you know what? Bloomberg’s personal fortune remains many times larger than the amount he spent on his campaign. He has plenty of money left to do good works. It’s not an either/or question here — either Bloomberg runs for the presidency or he does something the Twitterverse considers worthwhile with his money.
Besides, for voters who put a top priority on responding to climate change, replacing President Trump with someone who recognizes the problem and tries to solve it instead of exacerbating it is worth half a billion dollars in campaign ads, isn’t it? Can you put a dollar value on averting the climate-related catastrophes heading our way?
You could make that argument about other Bloomberg campaign planks too, such as his support for aggressive gun control. It’s not a waste of money to promote unsuccessfully the changes you believe in; it’s just a failure.
Even people who are cynical about the role of money in politics should be thankful for Bloomberg’s effort and the valuable lessons it provided. First, it showed that personal wealth alone can’t guarantee you a place on the ballot. Second, it showed that policy proposals alone won’t make the sale either — voters care not just about the message, but the messenger.
Democrats may have trouble countenancing an enormously wealthy man at the top of their ticket (although not, it should be noted, during the Great Depression), but what they really can’t abide is a candidate who comes across as arrogant and disconnected from the impact of said policies.
Third, skipping the “retail” phase of the presidential race — the hobnobbing, the baby-kissing, the town halls and, yes, the Iowa caucuses — only postpones the reckoning that every candidate must face. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s resilience in the face of the drubbings he took in the early contests is a big part of his story. And fourth, debates matter. Yes, they can be boring, and yes, they go on too long, and yes, the format kinda stinks.
These lessons are worth every dollar Bloomberg paid for them.
Jon Healey is the Los Angeles Times’ deputy editorial page editor.