Bloomberg’s plan to buy the presidency endangers democracy

It is easy enough to see the appeal of this argument: Trump has been a cruel and erratic president, and to his critics, defeating him is of paramount moral importance. Most Democrats believe money corrupts American politics and it’d be better if Bloomberg’s fortune were irrelevant, but the system is what it is, and winning, right now, is more important than passing some abstract purity test.

This is how bad systems corrupt good individuals — they do it by enlisting our self-interest to convince us to betray our values. And make no mistake: America’s campaign finance system is a disaster. Most candidates can’t self-finance their campaigns, so they spend a disproportionate amount of time asking the rich to donate to their campaigns. Those donations are limited to $2,800 per individual, but the Supreme Court believes political spending is a protected form of free speech, so the rich can spend as much as they want on their own campaigns, or on Super PACs to push their political agendas.

Populists like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and, in his complicated and contradictory ways, even Donald Trump, have risen in part because Americans loathe seeing their political system bought by the rich. Bloomberg isn’t so much a defense against those critiques as he is a confirmation of them. The populists say that politics is rigged, elections are bought by those with enough money to spend, modern liberalism is mere lipstick on perpetual corporatism. Bloomberg is here to test whether they’re right. He may pitch himself to centrists as an answer to the populists, but in leveraging his fortune to fight them, he offers the country the (hopefully) false choice between populism and oligarchy.

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