We recently discussed how the Democratic establishment seems to be ramping up a campaign to block Sanders (as it did in 2016), including a plan to derail him at the convention. With Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and DNC figures openly organizing against Sanders, the question is whether such a strategy, if successful, would alienate Sanders’ supporters in picking someone like Michael Bloomberg as an establishment choice. A remarkable exchange with Bernie Sanders’ national campaign co-chair Nina Turner last night on MSNBC may give a glimpse at such a future — and there is reason for the DNC and the Democratic establishment to be worried.
Turner was asked by MSNBC host Chris Matthews about Bloomberg and she hit both the former New York mayor and the DNC, calling him an “oligarch.” MSNBC seemed to come immediately to the defense of Bloomberg with Matthews asking incredulously “Do you think Mike Bloomberg is an oligarch?” Turner did not back off and raised candidates of color who were blocked under the rule now lifted for Bloomberg: “He is,” Turner shot back. “He skipped Iowa. Iowans should be insulted. Buying his way into this race, period. The DNC changed the rules. They didn’t change it for Senator Harris. They didn’t change it for Senator Booker. They didn’t change it for Secretary Castro.” Matthews kept pressing and Turner again said that Bloomberg “absolutely did” buy his way into the debates and further called the DNC decision “a stain on democracy.”
After the commercial, anchor Brian Williams called upon MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson to defend Bloomberg. He objected that
“Calling Mike Bloomberg an oligarch has implications in this country are unfair and unreasonable. I disagree with a lot of things Mike Bloomberg has done as a mayor. Oligarchy in our particular term makes you think of a rich person who got their money off of oil in Russia, who is taking advantage of a broken system . . . Mike Bloomberg is a rich guy. Just because you’re rich doesn’t mean you’re an oligarch that abuses power. Mike Bloomberg was given power by the voters of New York… It ain’t the kind of language you should be using. It’s dismissive, unfair and the kind of thing that blows up in your face if you become the nominee and you have to work with Mike Bloomberg three or four months from now. That’s the issue Sanders people never want to remember.”
I agree that Bloomberg is not an oligarch under the common meaning of that term. An oligarchy is a government run by the few and referred to direct such control or role in government. It can be defined as “a very rich business leader with a great deal of political influence.” That can cover Bloomberg, but most discussion of oligarchs focus on Russian-like business people making profits off their control of government policies or former assets. However, among hard left advocates, “oligarch” has become synonymous with the billionaire class or super-wealthy establishment figures. That was evident in Turner’s response to the effort on MSNBC to get her to withdraw her characterization: “No, he doesn’t tell me what to say or how to change my words. My word stands!”
Turner also noted that it is “ironic [that] somebody would defend the wealthiest people in this country over the working people in this country.” She then added something that should particularly worry the DNC establishment: “That is the same message Bernie Sanders has to the everyday people of this nation, that I welcome the hatred of the elites because I am standing up for you. So cry me a river for the wealthiest.”
That river could become a tsunami if this rift widens as the two sides careen toward the convention.