Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Mike Bloomberg's 'elitist' farming comments could be the Hillary Clinton 'deplorables' moment that poses the biggest threat to his campaign

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg takes the stage for his first nationally televised debate with fellow Democratic presidential candidates amid new controversy over a one-minute video in which the billionaire describes farming in overly simplistic and, some say, insulting terms.

The development, many pundits believe, could pose the biggest threat to Bloomberg's nascent campaign yet, on par with Hillary Clinton's 2016 comments dismissing some Trump supporters as "deplorables"—remarks that have been described as a "political gift" to her opponent.

Even more than a recent stampede of negative headlines about Bloomberg—which include tales of sexual harassment lawsuits, insults about black people and women and criticism about allegedly racist stop-and-frisk police policies during his three terms in office—the farming remarks could prove devastating, observers say.

The reason: They provide a powerful visual Trump can use to paint Bloomberg as a condescending coastal elitist to working-class swing voters in the heartland who might otherwise reject the incumbent.

"This is very damning because it'll fit neatly into a commercial where Bloomberg will look uninformed and patronizing compared to Trump, who says he's the man of the people—the people who do the real work in the country," says Kent Redfield, political science professor emeritus at University of Illinois at Springfield, who has long studied the politics of agriculture.

The viral 58-second clip, seen more than 3.5 million times on Twitter alone since Friday, was lifted from a 2016 appearance at the University of Oxford in England in which Bloomberg, speaking to a group at the Said Business School, offered this succinct description of agriculture: "I could teach anybody—even people in this room so no offense intended—to be a farmer. It's a process. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn."

In a political world often driven by sound bites, the video clip could prove tough to live down.

"If you've got an hour to sit down and talk about the evolution of work and the role of technology in modern society, you could explain your way out of this," Redfield notes. "But in politics, if you're explaining, you're losing." Redfield and others say Bloomfield's remarks are of a piece with the way other presidential contenders' comments have become emblematic of alleged disdain for average voters.

This story appeared online in Newsweek on Feb. 19, 2020..

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