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The Saviors We Never Asked For

Deval Patrick, left, joined the race for the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday, and Michael Bloomberg is reportedly preparing to join as well. (Josh Reynolds and John Lorcher/AP)

It is hardly a secret that the titans of American industry are not big donors to the candidates they see emerging atop the 2020 race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Billionaires are firing off warning signs faster than fireworks on the Fourth of July, howling that they are not on board with Elizabeth Warren in particular.

At least that seems to be the impetus for the emerging candidacies of billionaire Michael Bloomberg, former three-term mayor of New York; and Bain Capital hedge fund manager Deval Patrick, former two-term governor of Massachusetts. If only a reasonable, well-resourced man of the center can emerge, they seem to believe, we can head off certain disaster.

It’s a fascinating argument because “disaster” appears to be a scenario in which wealthy supposed-liberals decide they are justified in withholding support from a Democrat — Warren in this case — even if that means President Trump gets re-elected.

If only a reasonable, well-resourced man of the center can emerge, they seem to believe, we can head off certain disaster.

But there’s good reason to believe that if we had (or already have) a broadly appealing candidate — and Bloomberg and Patrick are certainly not it — they might be as vulnerable to the whims of voters who act just like our impetuous crop of billionaires. And we do have one already: It’s Warren, who currently leads by a slim margin in the polls.

Have your doubts? Try describing former presidential candidate Al Gore to someone younger than 20 years old.

I did this recently with a group of students. Gore, I told them, was the Democratic candidate for president in 2000. The son of a U.S. senator, Gore attended Harvard College and then enlisted to fight in the Vietnam War. He did journalism work and then returned to his native Tennessee, where he was an investigative reporter.

Democratic presidential nominee Vice President Al Gore gestures as he speaks at the Democratic National Convention in the Staples Center Thursday, Aug. 17, 2000, in Los Angeles. (Ron Edmonds/AP)

Gore then served in the U.S. House and Senate, where he was an early proponent of the tech infrastructure that built the internet. He was also at least two decades ahead of his time as the leading elected voice in Washington in the 1980s for legislation intended to head off climate collapse. He even published a book in 1992 titled, “Earth in the Balance.”

Gore could be smarmy, and he was sometimes on the wrong side of issues — like when he and his then-wife, Tipper, led a crusade against bad language on music albums — but after serving as vice president to Bill Clinton, he emerged as the clear Democratic nominee for the 2000 presidential election. He had the resume; he was qualified to be president.

Yet, we mocked Gore when it was widely reported that he said he had invented the internet, even though he had not. We sneered at debate performances where he earnestly said he would protect social security and Medicare in a “lockbox.” (We found it quaint and stiff and funny that he seemed to care so much about our health and retirement.) As for his stand on the environment — unrivaled on Capitol Hill until the arrival of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez earlier this year — we ignored him, and failed to safeguard his successes. Instead, we embarked on a war that is nearly two decades old, and was more about oil than it ever was about fighting terrorism.

... the emergence of our current limp, well-monied class of disaffected centrists ... says more about how wrong a group of people can be

A group of privileged, aging corporate titans — the soon-to-be-entrants in the 2020 race — harken back to that era, because nothing has forced them to change since the late '90s.

Everything has gone up for Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Deval Patrick and Howard Schultz. Their certitude about the undesirability of the current Democratic presidential field is the most accurate vestige young people will find of the arrogance of that era before 9/11, when we were all riding high on the post-Cold War boom.

We didn’t back a journalist and veteran; a man who had dedicated his life to public service, was interested in leading a technological revolution and passionately committed to the survival of life on our planet. He was too mild-mannered. Too earnest. Too intelligent. There was always some excuse to rally around the Republican on the other side — a man who was offering the “compassionate conservatism” that became the bedrock for torture, wars and financial collapse.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren addresses an audience at a campaign event, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, in Exeter, N.H. (Steven Senne/AP)

We made Gore’s margin so narrow it could only be decided by one vote on the Supreme Court. And then we went in search of the next generation of reasonable men to elect to the presidency. After all, what was the worst that could happen? Well, we’re prepared to do it again to Warren — a candidate with lifelong proof of service, and of doing hard work to build and maintain institutions for all citizens (look no further than the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau).

At the time, I recall being outraged that Gore gave up and conceded the election to Bush. But the emergence of our current limp, well-monied class of disaffected centrists — all of whom seem to be here to save us from ourselves — says more about how wrong a group of people can be when they’re motivated to protect the comforts they receive from this democracy, rather than the principles that uphold it.

As disgusted as I was with Gore, maybe he was just as disgusted with us, that we made it a race that could come down to one vote when we didn’t have to, when an excellent choice was right before our eyes.

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