Steyer minces no words, has lots of free cash, runs killer TV ads, intends to win

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

Tom Steyer blurted out his theme between huge chomps of pot roast and cole slaw in a booth at the Villager last Wednesday:

“They’re screwing us to the wall and it’s compounding!” he darn near shouted at High Noon.

“They” being Wall Street and its corrupt toadies in Washington.

He being the guy who made billions investing on Wall Street, washed his hands of it and started spending those millions on brilliant TV ads attacking climate change and President Trump.

Yet, Steyer claims with confidence bursting into cheerful and you might say well-placed arrogance that he alone can drain the swamp.

That sounds familiar.

So does the part about the need for broad structural change.

You have the best, if you will, of Donald Trump — the brash outsider with a messianic message who knows the system so well that he knows just where to place the dynamite charge.

Taking on corporate power would be a plank for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren to walk.

“The power and wisdom of the United States is at the grass roots, but you have to demand it,” said Steyer, 62. “We’re at that point.”

He got out of investing and into raising grass-fed cattle in California — he actually does understand agriculture’s role in climate — and into organizing young people to fight climate change with Next Gen. He says he has organized NextGen groups on 41 Iowa college campuses, which has to be all of them. He notes that he led a drive to gather eight million signatures to impeach Trump.

“I’ve been doing this for 10 years,” he declared. “Nobody else is doing it.”

Let the other candidates quibble. He has a ton of money to spend on more ads and organizers, a spot on the next debate stage and an abandon for pulling out the stops while campaigning. With more than 60% of the Iowa caucus crowd persuadable, Steyer can do a lot of persuading before February.

His sights are set on Warren and Sanders, primarily, judging from how he led his lunch remarks with Medicare for All.

“I don’t think they’re saying the whole truth,” Steyer said.

Getting rid of private health insurance is not achievable, he claimed. A public option is. But getting the money out of politics and returning it to the people somehow is achievable through: repeal of the Supreme Court ruling Citizens United, which treats corporations as people; installing popular referenda at the national level, like California; putting in term limits; and making it easier to vote.

That sounds good on the surface. Like reclaiming jobs from Mexico and China lost nearly 30 years ago, over which Trump started a disastrous trade war. Popular referenda also can be more problematic than a Senate filibuster. Untempered democracy can quickly trample minority rights.

Steyer appears to believe that he can begin to cleanse the system.

“It takes two to tango: corporations and Congress. It’s a system, and everybody in America knows it. … We’re taking down these corporations. We have to take back the country. Breaking the system is the most important thing.”

That’s why the Midwest voted for Trump. It is why, essentially, people vote for Steve King. People are fed up and angry, “and they have every right to be,” Steyer said.

For Steyer, at 3% in the polls and late to the race, it becomes a question of viability. “Do people think I have a chance?”

A billionaire who calls the President a torturer and a malignancy on the Republic. An outsider who alleges Biden, Warren and Sanders are co-opted as being part of the system he wants to transform via democracy. A TV star of his own ad making. And an organizer.

Of course he has a chance.

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