Even Bloomberg Is Better Than Tyrannical Trump. But No One Should Be Able to Purchase the Presidency | Opinion

It's bad enough that a tyrant is testing American democracy. Now an oligarch is trying to buy the presidency.

Mike Bloomberg's net worth is over $60 billion. The yearly return on $60 billion is at least $2 billion, which is what Bloomberg says he'll pour into buying the highest office in the land. That's more than has ever been spent on a presidential election.

Great wealth shouldn't disqualify anyone from becoming president. America has had some talented and capable presidents who were enormously wealthy: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, for example.

The problem lies at the nexus of wealth and power, where those with great wealth use it to gain great power. This is how oligarchy destroys democracy.

In January alone, Bloomberg spent over $300 million on campaign advertising. That's more than Hillary Clinton spent on advertising during her entire presidential run. It's multiples of what all other Democratic candidates have spent, including billionaire Tom Steyer.

Encouraged by the murky outcome from the Iowa caucuses, Bloomberg is doubling his spending on TV commercials in every market where he is currently advertising and is expanding his campaign's field staff to more than 2,000.

His paid staff is already three times as large as Trump's, five times Joe Biden's.

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee is putting Bloomberg onto the debate stage by abandoning the individual-donor threshold that it used for the first eight debates, presumably because Bloomberg doesn't take donations.

To participate in the February 19 debate in Las Vegas, Democratic candidates needed to show at least 10 percent support in polls. Bloomberg's wall-to-wall advertising made that pretty much inevitable. Earlier this month, he tied with Senator Elizabeth Warren in third place in a Morning Consult tracking poll. And he's in the top four in many Super Tuesday states.

Bloomberg has some attractive policy ideas about gun control, the environment and a more progressive tax. But he's also a champion of Wall Street. He fought against the reforms following the near meltdown of the Street in 2008. His personal fortune is every bit as opaque as Trump's. Through his dozen years as mayor of New York, he refused to disclose his federal taxes. Even as a candidate for president, he still hasn't given a date for their release. And, remember, he's trying to buy the presidency.

The word "oligarchy" comes from the Greek word oligarkhes, meaning "few to rule or command." It refers to a government of and by a few exceedingly rich people.

Since 1980, the share of America's wealth owned by the richest 400 Americans has quadrupled, while the share owned by the entire bottom half of America has declined.

The richest 130,000 families now own nearly as much as the bottom 90 percent—117 million families—combined. The three richest Americans own as much as the bottom half. Michael Bloomberg is the eighth richest.

Mike Bloomberg
Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg speaks while visiting Building Momentum, a veteran-owned business in Alexandria, Virginia, on February 7. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

Much of this money has found its way into politics, which is why a handful of extremely rich people like Bloomberg have more influence than any comparable group since the robber barons of the early 20th century. In the election cycle of 2016, the richest one hundredth of 1 percent of Americans accounted for a record-breaking 40 percent of all campaign contributions.

Unlike income or wealth, power is a zero-sum game. The more of it at the top, the less of it anywhere else. Today, the great divide is not between left and right. It's between democracy and oligarchy. Bloomberg is indubitably part of that oligarchy.

If the only way we can get rid of a sociopathic tyrant named Trump is with an oligarch named Bloomberg, we will have to choose the oligarch.

But let's hope it doesn't come to that. Oligarchy is better than tyranny. But neither is as good as democracy.

Robert Reich's latest book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Change It, will be out in March.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​