You’ve just announced you are going to run for President of the United States. Where do you go on your first week on the campaign trail?
Manny’s at 16th and Valencia. Mission District. USA.
To be more accurate, Tom Steyer’s appearance at Manny’s had been planned, and sold out, long before his presidential announcement. For the past few years, the San Francisco hedge-fund mogul has been a major player in national Democratic Party politics. In addition to funding Democratic candidates, he has created two grassroots organizations: one involved with climate change, the other to impeach Donald Trump.
By the time he arrived at Manny’s, he was also running for the Democratic Party nomination.
To prepare for tonight’s event, I re-read Proust’s first dinner party with the Duchesse de Guermantes.
Tom Steyer comes out of the American aristocracy. He was born in New York City, where his dad worked for Sullivan & Cromwell, the pre-eminent white-shoe law firm of its day (think Dulles Brothers). Steyer’s school career followed a familiar trajectory: from the Buckley School to Philips Exeter to Yale to Stanford Graduate School of Business. He subsequently monetized his pedigree doing whatever hedge-fund moguls do.
So, yes, there is more than a little bit of noblesse oblige baked into his gestures and speech. He wore a well-tailored blue shirt which maintained its wrinkle-free, sweat-free crispness throughout the evening. He doesn’t act brash, crude, or provocative. But he does point and wag his index finger. A lot.
He projects sincerity and does not obsessively lie or denigrate racial minorities and immigrants. And he takes great pains to impress upon his audience that should he make it to the White House, his manners will be impeccable.
All his years (since 1986) in San Francisco and he still can’t shake that snobbish East Coast upper-class crust. Sigh. A perfect piñata for Trump.
The first question on everyone’s mind: Why are you running? Why join an already overcrowded throng of candidates?
The second question, put in a variety of ways: Are you more than the sum of your bank accounts?
Steyer’s answer to both questions has to do with his attitude toward excessive corporate power in American politics. Return democracy to the people. Corporations, he maintains, are not people.
It’s not clear how Steyer plans to bust the corporations, but that’s his core concept. He talked vaguely on raising taxes, national referenda and expanding the electorate. He focused on corporate political power but didn’t address the economic power of finance capital, or transnational corporations in general.
Nor did he address the political power of wealthy individuals.
As far as the money thing goes, Steyer said he did not consider himself to be rich, but his wealth meant he could not be bought. Otherwise, he and his wife have vowed to give away most of their money to “good causes” before they die.
When asked about the relationship between extreme wealth for the few and stagnation (or worse) for the many, he reiterated that while he opposed corporate political power, he would not impede individual or family wealth accumulation.
Suffice it to say, he is not a Democratic Socialist.
Instead of money, Steyer stressed time and again that what distinguishes him from the field is that, for the past 10 years, he has organized “ordinary people” and “real human beings” at the grassroots level.
He cited his successes in passing initiatives for environmental and racial justice in California and around the country.
When asked how, as a child of privilege and a billionaire, he can relate to the lives of those not quite as fortunate, he leaned on his organizing experience, “going door-to-door, listening to people, looking people in the eye.” Hearing someone’s story while making eye contact meant to Steyer he “owned” that experience.
Steyer’s strategy for beating Trump? Expand the electorate, especially young voters. Not terribly novel. Democratic candidates since the ’60s have ritually invoked this strategy, but few actually follow through. Why? Because to expand to the electorate, to find, register, and motivate new voters, takes an enormous amount of time and money. Steyer’s got the money, and claims to have the organization and the experience.
The crowd at Manny’s was sympathetic to Steyer, offering frequent, polite applause. No one asked about his San Francisco politics, his views on housing, the homeless, etc. He said he always votes for Nancy Pelosi.
Steyer’s wife, Kat Taylor, works with the Good Samaritan Resource Center, for which she also received polite applause.
Hard to believe the Dems will nominate an old white male billionaire to run against the current old white male (alleged) billionaire in a remix of Godzilla v. King Kong. (or Benioff v. Dorsey?)
But that’s not why Manny’s was packed and the TV trucks were outside. Especially at this stage, money is the name of the game.
Steyer, incidentally, was the 15th presidential candidate event at Manny’s so far this year.
Will Manny’s host the Democratic Convention in 2024?