That was then. Consider what follows an object lesson in why we shouldn’t believe in the promises of billionaires.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) filleted Bloomberg on the debate stage, where he revealed his tone-deafness and billionaire cluelessness for all to see. He won exactly one primary contest — American Samoa — before pulling out of the race. Instead of continuing to fund his own super PAC, Bloomberg decided to donate funds to the Democratic National Committee. And over the past several weeks, he has shed his staffers, tossing them out like so much useless literature for a campaign that no longer exists — even though many of them moved to different states based on his now-vanished job offers. And Bloomberg is doing this as the response to the coronavirus epidemic is sending unemployment soaring into the millions. No surprise, there’s more than one lawsuit brewing.
So how did this sleight of hand occur? One might say, to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, gradually and then suddenly. While the verbal promises and written advertisements — such as promos that read “Employment through November 2020 with Team Bloomberg” — said one thing, the contracts the now-former employees signed made it clear they were at-will employees who could be dismissed at any time. And so they were. Lawyers will now sort out the worth of verbal promises vs. contractual terms. (Landlords, a mostly savvier bunch, seem to be feeling no such pain. Bloomberg paid them up front through the presidential campaign.)
The impunity of our wealthiest citizens has a longer genesis than this particular bit of awful behavior. We live in a society where the wealthiest and most powerful preach responsibility for the majority of us, but want to live sans consequences themselves. They also insist on making their political priorities our priorities: That particular dynamic was powerfully evident this past week, as the coronavirus stimulus deal in Congress was held up mainly because Republicans in Congress wanted to open up a less than fully accountable pool of money for corporate bailouts, and Democrats wouldn’t let them. (Warren called it a “slush fund,” and she wasn’t wrong.)
But back to Bloomberg. The voters saw the man more clearly than many of those we call the Democratic Party establishment. No, you can’t stop people from running, but you don’t need to offer them a warm embrace. Bloomberg’s dubious track record — on matters ranging from sexual harassment to his support of racist stop-and-frisk to his contemptuous responses to his critics — was far from unknown and should have tempered the party’s enthusiasm for him. When called on his obvious flaws while the cameras were rolling, his campaign melted almost as fast as the Wicked Witch of the West did when Dorothy tossed water on her.
Voters wised up and got lucky. But for Bloomberg’s former campaign employees, the opposite is true. They’re now facing the consequences of believing a billionaire’s promises: the frightening possibility of going without an income during a coronavirus-induced recession. That’s just not right.