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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Michael Bloomberg's entry into the 2020 presidential race was reflexively roasted in certain quarters as little more than a billionaire trying to buy an election — or, in the more succinct words of Anand Giridharadas, "plutes gonna plute."

Between the lines: What gets lost in between aren't the specifics of Bloomberg's record, or if he'd make a better or worse president than his rivals. It's the intrinsic value of entrepreneurship, and if that remains an aspirational touchstone for American voters.

The state of play: This was an issue raised by Sen. Cory Booker during the last week's presidential debate, when he argued that Democrats are doing themselves a disservice if they talk about taxing wealth to the exclusion of talking about creating wealth.

  • Those comments were directed at Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who repeatedly ignored the dichotomy — instead responding only with more detail about her wealth tax proposal.
  • Other than Booker, no one on stage mentioned "small business" or "entrepreneurs."

The big picture: Bloomberg, as one of America's most successful living entrepreneurs, has created and amassed a lot of wealth. More than any man could spend in his lifetime, and perhaps more than he could responsibly give away.

  • There should be a thorough accounting of how he made his money, and how it affected others along the way.
  • If there are legitimate criticisms, let 'em fly. Just as they should for any other part of his professional and personal conduct, in both the private and public sectors.
  • And there is certainly value in a robust debate over the future viability of plutocracy in America, including the idea of taxing wealth (as opposed to only taxing income).

Yes, but: Dismissing a candidate's validity because he was a very successful entrepreneur feels like something new in our politics and in our culture. A deliberate mildewing of the American Dream.

  • Of course it's unlikely that Bloomberg will become president. He has loads of unrelated liabilities. Let alone a very late start.
  • If he does indeed falter, though, pay close attention to the post-game analysis. Was it all of those other reasons, or because enough Americans have concluded that successful entrepreneurship has become a vice instead of virtue?

Go deeper:

Go deeper

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Manchin's massive means test

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is offering progressives a trade: He'll vote for their cherished social programs if they accept strict income caps for the recipients, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Manchin’s plan to use so-called means-testing for everything from paid family medical leave to elder and disabled care would drastically shrink the size and scope of the programs. It also would bring a key moderate vote to the progressive cause.

The China whisperer

Nick Burns. Photo: Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee for ambassador to China will face aggressive questioning Wednesday about the most important, and potentially perilous, bilateral relationship in the world.

Why it matters: While Nick Burns is an experienced diplomat with support on both sides of the aisle, lawmakers want to use his confirmation hearing to force the administration into some tough positions on China.

Jan. 6 committee recommends contempt charges against Bannon

Steve Bannon. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riots unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night recommending that former Trump aide Steve Bannon be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

Why it matters: The resolution sets up a House vote to refer Bannon for potential criminal prosecution, signaling that the committee will not tolerate attempts by former President Trump and his associates to stymie the investigation.