Fear & Loathing 2020: Tom Steyer Live

“Come away, come away if you’re going; Leave the sinking ship behind!”

It’s no random choice that selected CCR’s “Around The Bend” as Tom Steyer’s theme song.  On the face of it, his candidacy is absolutely insane; he’s an honest-to-God billionaire running on a platform of “Get Money Out Of Politics”; I’ve never heard anything quite like it before in my life.  And yet…

“There’s a place up ahead where I’m going; come along, come along with me!”

He’s introduced by a local, a union man who has sense enough to shut up, sit down, and let the man speak.

Now, let me describe the scene:  It’s a micro brewpub called “To Share”; everyone’s got two tickets for free drinks and there’s platters of food scattered about.  Well, I say “everyone”; this is where I learned the truth that Press Is The Enemy.  In this case they get penned off in one corner and don’t get to try the beer.  But I’m wearing my Steyer Plaid Scarf and my best smile, and the folks at the door must have liked me.  (If you ever go to Manchester, stop in and try out Old Barney.)  I pass off my second ticket to a dour fellow trapped in the Press Pen, almost shocking him into a smile.

By the time The Man Himself arrives, the crowd’s in a fine mood.  The place is packed to the gills, maybe two hundred in a room made for thirty.  By dint of patient politeness I work my way to a spot where he might possibly be able to see my hand when I ask a question, and I get my first real look at him.  He’s shorter than his voice suggests and looks almost kindly, which is in stark contrast to the message he’s been preaching.  He’s got a multicolored belt and his signature plaid tie.

Holy crap, that man can speak.  He’s not remotely eloquent; he’s sincere.  Most of his statements aren’t followed by applause, but rather by people thinking and nodding.  It’s startlingly like a Yang talk except everyone can understand him and it all makes sense.

Tom — I’m surprised to realize I no longer think of him as the Candidate or even Mr. Steyer, but Tom — rushes through his stump speech, throwing aside great wads of it to express his ire on the outcome of the Impeachment, all while leaving room for just as many questions as he can manage.  He gives the Cliff’s Notes Version:  term limits, a living wage (though wisely; not everywhere can sustain $15 an hour), and above all Climate Change.  It’s his number one priority; he’s saying four and a half million jobs, cheap energy, and a State of Emergency on day one.

Mostly he concentrates on Trump, who he says is lying about the economy:  “I can beat him on the economy… He basically said, ‘You guys don’t like me, and I don’t like you — but you’re all going to vote for me, because if the Democrats get hold of the economy they’ll destroy it in fifteen minutes.’  That’s his campaign!”  Steyer’s response is that he’s going to take him on directly on the economy, which “is working perfectly for the people at Mar-a-Lago” but not at all for the rest of us.

Now he asks for “the cruelest questions you can come up with”, and he fields them with passion and fire.  “We’re actually going to have an EPA, one not run by a lobbyist for the coal industry!”  He’s talking criminal sanctions in addition to fines, and no protection just because the offender happens to be a corporation.  He explains his plan on ending the War On Drugs, on Citizens United, on immigration and the economy, reparations, cannabis legalization, and (accidentally) cannibalism— “No, that’s bad!”.   The man is on a roll, and the crowd is with him.


Now I’ve got him, and I don’t waste it.  I pull out a quote from 2005, an obscure trade journal:  “…We try really hard, when we discover we’ve made a mistake, to correct it and not cover it up.”  So I ask him:  What has he screwed up, and what has he done to fix it?

Back twenty-odd years ago, the hedge fund he managed had invested in fossil fuels and private prisons.  He eventually figured out, this isn’t something the government is going to correct; the consequences are horrible and nobody’s fixing it.  So he pulled the money out, and for the last twelve years he’s been working behind the scenes to help fix things in California.  He talks about their success in shutting down a proposal for a new coal-fired power plant, and then he comes back to it:  “I wish I’d been smarter.  I wish I’d figured it out sooner.  But… that’s what I’ve been doing for twelve years.”

I couldn’t have asked for a better or a more honest answer.

“I’m running to tell the truth,” he says.  “Some of them are polite lies; some of them are attempts to avoid awkwardness… I am running to take back this country from corporations, and to solve our climate crisis.”



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