Last night’s ninth Democratic Party presidential debate was the first to include former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. Commentators this morning disagree on who won and who lost (a Fox writer considers Elizabeth Warren the only winner, while a CNN columnist thinks everyone won but Bloomberg and Amy Klobuchar).
As I watched the debate, I thought that the participation of these six people in a campaign to be president of the United States says something important about the United States.
How the candidates started and their net worth today
Mike Bloomberg was born to a dairy company bookkeeper and his wife; his father never earned more than $6,000 a year. He worked his way through Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Business School. In 1981, he and a team built a machine that provides real-time market data and other financial analytics to Wall Street firms. His company earned $10 billion in 2018; his net worth is now estimated at $61.8 billion.
Bernie Sanders was born in Brooklyn to a paint salesman and his wife. After serving as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and a US congressman and then senator, his net worth is estimated at $2 million, much of his earnings coming from books. He and his wife own three homes.
Elizabeth Warren was born to a US Army flight instructor who became a salesman and then a maintenance man for an apartment building. She started waiting tables at the age of thirteen. According to Forbes, she and her husband now have a net worth of $12 million resulting from their legal work, publishing, and real estate holdings.
Joe Biden’s father suffered financial setbacks before he was born; for several years, their family lived with his maternal grandparents. His father eventually became a successful used car salesman. Joe graduated from college and then attended law school with financial assistance. He became an attorney and then senator before being elected vice president in 2008. Forbes estimates that he and his wife have a net worth of $9 million, including two homes, financial investments, and a federal pension.
Amy Klobuchar’s father was a sportswriter and columnist; her mother taught second grade until she retired at the age of seventy. Her father struggled with alcoholism for years. She graduated from Yale and the University of Chicago, then worked as a prosecutor and a lawyer before she was elected to the US Senate. She and her husband now have an estimated net worth of $2 million, including their Minneapolis home, retirement accounts and mutual funds, and a federal pension.
Pete Buttigieg’s mother and father were both Notre Dame professors. He graduated from Harvard and Oxford, then worked for several political campaigns and as a consultant for McKinsey & Company before being elected mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in 2011. According to Forbes, he has a net worth of about $100,000.
“As a Whale goes through a Net”
Such ascendancy to power and wealth illustrates something significant about the American worldview.
Early American colonists left a culture in the Old World based on inherited class and monarchical authority. Kings begat kings; wealth begat wealth. The idea that a Virginia planter like George Washington could become president was nonsensical in their world.
Many of the pilgrims who arrived in December 1620 on the shores of present-day Massachusetts were Separatists who sought to establish a true church based solely on biblical precedent. For them, there was no king but the King of kings (Revelation 19:16).
This rejection of an earthly monarchy opened the way for a culture built on individual rights and freedoms. When the Declaration of Independence later claimed that “all men are created equal,” it expressed this worldview. However, such freedom was expressed and experienced within Judeo-Christian morality.
That’s why John Adams could later note: “We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition and Revenge or Gallantry would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net.”
“A car is made to run on petrol”
Over recent generations, however, we have replaced European kings by enthroning ourselves. The problem is, we were never intended to flourish as kings of our own kingdoms.
Jesus warned us: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). To have the power of God, we must be submitted to the purpose of God (cf. Zechariah 4:6).
C. S. Lewis: “God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
“That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended—civilizations are built up—excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.”
On what “juice” are you running today?