The Daily Beast looks into the innovative methods used by multibillionaire Michael Bloomberg in his quest to buy his way into the White House. Taking a hint from successful tactics developed in the past by Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, he is focusing in an original way on the power of social media. Bloomberg is clearly not a social media personality, but his method is consistent with his position of a man with unlimited resources and no need to appeal either to wealthy donors or to the common people
The Bloomberg campaign has discovered that the persuasive talents of Instagram influencers are available for purchase at a standard price of $150. The Daily Beast describes the initiative in these terms: “The Bloomberg content campaign appears geared toward collecting content that can later be shared by the campaign, essentially creating a stock-image library of well-crafted, ‘organic’-seeming still images and videos custom-made for the campaign.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
An artificial lifeless object having the appearance of an object produced by the play of spontaneous, sincere emotions.
The Guardian comments that “the advert asks influencers to submit still images or videos using text to explain why the influencer supports ‘Mike’ — and describes the billionaire as ‘a middle-class kid who worked his way through college.’” Bloomberg was middle class, but he wasn’t working class. His father worked as a bookkeeper for a dairy company and later in real estate. Bloomberg is not just a billionaire, like Trump, but, with $61 billion, one of the top billionaires in the county. As a Democratic candidate vying with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, he needs to create the illusion that, unlike Trump who inherited his wealth, Bloomberg got it all through hard work. Thinking of him as middle-class should do the trick.
No one doubts that Bloomberg represents the power of money. In an era when televangelists preach the prosperity gospel, money has lost the sense of moral opprobrium once attached to it in US culture. The Daily Beast describes how cleverly the candidate is making his tactical investments to overwhelm his opponents. “Mike Bloomberg announced that he intended to capitalize on chaos from the Hawkeye State by doubling the advertising budget of his presidential campaign.”
Isn’t capitalism all about capitalizing? As Warren Buffett has always made clear, financial leadership is earned by recognizing both the strong and the weak and then betting on the strong while capitalizing on the misfortune of the weak. Bloomberg is hoping that people see political leadership in the same light.
The Democratic Party sees no problem with that. After all, you can’t win an election without money. When the Democratic National Committee announced at the end of January a change in its rules dispensing candidates wishing to qualify for a place in the primary debates from the requirement of grassroots funding, The New York Times described the outcry from some quarters who deemed it “a concession to Mr. Bloomberg” that “quickly reignited concerns among those who believe the D.N.C.’s shifting rules for the debates privilege some candidates and campaigns over others.” But the rule change does more than that. It announces to the world that the Democratic Party puts money before people as its priority.
In such a context, organic “seemingness” becomes the core value of the hyperreal world of politics. 3D printers have erased the boundary between the real, the truly functional and the factitious. Buying something that resembles the authentic and sincere work of social media influencers makes campaigning seem organically generated. Call it 3D campaigning. Hyperreality always needs a varnish of seeming authenticity.
The Democratic Party is now hosting a competition between two forces. The first is the force that generates enthusiasm around policies focused on addressing human problems. The second assumes that, since no human problem can be solved without money, money should be everyone’s central focus. We have always known that money buys influence, but now Mike Bloomberg is proving that it also buys influencers. Votes, like everything else in a consumer society, are commodities for sale. And so are the reasons, arguments and insights used to persuade people to vote. Democracy is a job reserved for professionals who know their hourly rate.
Interestingly, Bloomberg — the publication and website — recently published an article on the latest marketing trends for targeting teens through their preferred social media: Instagram. The article observes that “as the influencer market grows, from an estimated $5.5 billion in 2019 to $22.3 billion by 2024 according to a study by Markets and Markets, influencers have also come to be seen as inauthentic, especially as ads have flooded the site.” Bloomberg’s campaign hopes nobody will notice.
When Obama used the web to generate grassroots enthusiasm for his campaign, the notion of influencers didn’t exist. In the days following Obama’s 2008 election, David Carr analyzed Obama’s innovative method for The New York Times: “by bolting together social networking applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns and get out the vote that helped them topple the Clinton machine and then John McCain and the Republicans.”
Carr suspected at the time that this could be a revolution in the making. But in his enthusiasm for Obama’s innovative approach to the digital world and social media, his predictions about the influence such methods would have on actual governance turned out to be overly ambitious, if not naïve. He imagined that by appealing directly to the people, the new president could acquire a degree of liberty and independence from financial interests that would lead to a radical change in the political culture in Washington, DC. But either Obama himself didn’t intend to avail himself of that independence, or the forces he encountered once in office prevented him from doing so.
Here is Carr’s rainbow vision of Obama’s future presidency: “Special-interest groups and lobbyists will now contend with an environment of transparency and a president who owes them nothing. The news media will now contend with an administration that can take its case directly to its base without even booking time on the networks.” Whether it was ever Obama’s intention or simply a journalist’s utopian imagination, it never happened during the eight years of Obama’s presidency.
Thanks to a WikiLeaks revelation in 2016, the world belatedly learned that even before his inauguration, when he was designing his approach to governance, Obama didn’t tune into the voice of the people who enthusiastically supported his campaign. He preferred listening to influential individuals on Wall Street, like Michael Froman, a former Citigroup executive. He let Froman literally dictate the actual choices for his cabinet.
The Observer summed up the historical lesson to be taken from the WikiLeaks revelations: “The email provides concrete evidence that a big banker played a significant role in choosing key staff members of Obama’s administration.” Obama needed the truly organic input of real people to get elected but, once elected, he went straight to the financial elite who manage the hyperreality called Wall Street to make his choices for him.
Fooled by Obama’s campaign rhetoric, David Carr, nevertheless, was on to something when he observed that Obama’s campaign “was an online movement that begot offline behavior, including producing youth voter turnout that may have supplied the margin of victory.” That was an obvious lesson the Democratic Party seemed to have completely forgotten by 2016, when it imposed Hillary Clinton, a candidate who either alienated young voters or at the very least failed to inspire them.
The only Democrat who seemed to have registered that important strategic point and sought to include it in his electoral strategy was Bernie Sanders in 2016. He’s now at it again in 2020. He should be recognized as an expert in “begetting offline behavior.” Donald Trump understood it and used the strategy for his purposes, with the same level of insincerity as Obama. He had no intention of listening to the people whose enthusiasm he inspired. It was the illusion that mattered.
Sanders appears to be sincere and grounded in human reality rather than political illusion. He seems to understand that despite all the on-the-air and online manipulation — more evident than ever after last week’s fiasco in Iowa thanks to a dysfunctional app — there remains a layer of offline reality underneath the hype of political discourse. He definitely understands the importance of voter turnout among the young as a possible difference-maker for Democrats.
Online behavior — whether it’s Twitter attacks, organic-seeming fake news stories, cancel culture, Facebook bullying or doxing — typically reflects and buttresses the world of hyperreality. It appears to stem from organic causes but, more often than not, is fabricated for devious purposes. It resembles the social reality of human discourse, dialogue and exchange, but its very principle of creation is artificial. It is designed to produce the illusion of reality. It sometimes has a knock-on effect on reality, given its illusory nature that can take it in any random direction.
Offline behavior is real. It makes up the world we actually live in. Nobody’s managed yet to put an exact price on it, though not for lack of trying. The fact that venal Instagram influencers may take the bait of $150 is just one example of trying — by someone who can clearly afford it.
[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.