An easy first reaction to the news Thursday that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is preparing a late entry into the Democratic presidential primary race is one of exasperation.
Great. Just what we need — another septuagenarian billionaire on a ticket that keeps swelling when it should be shrinking.
On second thought, however, perhaps Bloomberg has a point if his adviser Howard Wolfson is right:
"Mike believes that Donald Trump represents an unprecedented threat to our nation," Wolfson told The Wall Street Journal. "We now need to finish the job and ensure that Trump is defeated — but Mike is increasingly concerned that the current field of candidates is not well positioned to do that."
Perhaps the more pertinent concern is whether we Democrats have talked ourselves into a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to be asking why we keep assigning quiet handicaps like "unelectable" to so many of our candidates.
In recent weeks we've seen pundit after pundit dance around questions about whether Americans are prepared or unprepared to elect a woman, to elect an openly gay man, to elect another soon-to-be 80-year-old, another person of color, another billionaire. No doubt now we'll be asking if America would elect the kind of person that Trump wants to have counting his money? The kind that torchbearers in Charlottesville, Va., said "will not replace us."
Get over it, Dems. If we're the real — repeat, real — big tent party of unity, let's act like it.
Yes, if Bloomberg enters late, it's disruptive. But it's also a great new conversation starter with an expanding opportunity to snatch the stage from narcissist Donald Trump, whose Friday reaction to Bloomberg's news was predictable.
"He's not going to do well, but I think he's going to hurt [former Vice President Joe] Biden actually There's nobody I'd rather run against than little Michael," Trump said. Precious.
Back to real conversation and opportunity:
Bloomberg's shocker should wake up the Democratic candidates — the ones suffering the fatigue of the same old talking points, primarily chirping about "how to pay" for Medicaid for All or free college tuition or the fad-flavor of the day. The ones taking the GOP bait and settling into arguments over moderate vs. progressive vs. radical vs. socialism. Hogwash.
Perhaps Bloomberg's entry (and rumblings about other possible late runs like one tossed around by former Attorney General Eric Holder) should light a fire under our discussions of America's growing wage gap and seemingly bottomless equity gap.
If our candidates use Bloomberg's poke wisely, maybe now we'll change those circular conversations to more animated and fruitful questions like: How much should the richest Americans be taxed?
Spoiler alert on Bloomberg: In January, the 77-year-old, whose net worth is estimated at $53 billion, told The Washington Post that Elizabeth Warren's wealth tax was "probably unconstitutional" and seriously pursuing it would wreck the country's prosperity.
"We need a healthy economy, and we shouldn't be embarrassed about our system," Bloomberg said. "If you want to look at a system that's not capitalistic, just take a look at what was perhaps the wealthiest country in the world, and today people are starving to death. It's called Venezuela."
Gosh. Who does that sound like? Did he accidentally pick up Trump's talking points?
Fact check: The wealthiest Americans are paying a much smaller share of income in taxes than they did 50 years ago, according to a recent income inequality study by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. In 1961, Americans with the highest incomes paid an average of 51.5 percent of their income in federal, state and local taxes. In 2011, they paid just 33.2 percent, and now, thanks to the Trump/GOP tax-break gift of 2017, they pay still less.
Meanwhile, the federal government, thanks to decades of episodic tax cuts, is on pace to borrow more than $1 trillion during the current fiscal year to meet its obligations, according to The New York Times, and the government will need still more money for what we all know are necessary critical investments in infrastructure, education and the social safety net.
The fact of the matter is that Bloomberg's entry into the Democratic primary could, indeed, make or break Joe Biden's candidacy, but it more likely will simply further divide the moderate votes, much as Bernie Sanders and Warren now divide the progressive votes.
Will the offsets give more room to the younger, newer names on the ballot?
Time — and better conversations — will tell. But for now, a whole lot of oxygen is being burned up on old and pointless labels.