- The Handbasket
- A new awful billionaire has entered the chat
A new awful billionaire has entered the chat
You probably didn't know Bill Ackman before. Now you must.
Billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman is one of those people of whom I’m now painfully aware, but I’m not sure if other, less online people are.
I first watched in horror as he contributed to the crusade against former Harvard President Claudine Gay, then amusement as he accidentally tanked his wife’s reputation, and now with worry as he flexes his money to influence US presidential politics—almost all via his Twitter feed. (You may also remember him from his very public, expensive and losing battle a decade ago with Herbalife. Yes, the pyramid scheme.)
But whether you knew him as an insufferable undergrad in the ‘80s or have just learned of his existence from this very column, Ackman—as a person, as an idea—is important to talk about. And not just because he’s already the main character of Twitter.
After endorsing Democratic Congressman Dean Phillips for President last week (who?) Ackman’s disciples started digging into Phillip’s website and discovered something unacceptable: a section about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).
On Sunday, Ackman directly addressed it:
A couple days later, the section on Phillips’ site had mysteriously been renamed “Equity & Restorative Justice.” But the candidate went on CNN and insisted the change had nothing to do with his new friend.
“Nobody buys me,” he said. “If a donor came to me and told me to do something, I would tell the donor to go pound sand."
Try as he might, Phillips won’t be able to escape this devil’s triangle so easily. On Saturday, Ackman pledged to donate $1 million to a Phillips super PAC. Then on MLK Day, Phillips also appeared on a Twitter Space (a video livestream) with Ackman and fellow putrid billionaire Elon Musk.
Dean, babe. You’re in deep.
“We should be a meritocracy, but we should also ensure that everybody can participate in that meritocracy,” Phillips said in the course of Monday’s livestream. “And I think we can all agree on that. That’s to me, the grand solution for our country is to do just that. There has been injustice, we can correct it so that everybody participates with a beautiful outcome.”
After writing a piece about a “masterplan” taking shape in Germany, the term “grand solution” definitely sets off an alarm bell—particularly given Musk’s presence. In this instance, it’s not even clear what Phillips’s “grand solution” would be, given he was clearly just using words to placate the benefactors and not any that actually hold meaning. But I imagine Ackman and Musk have some more fleshed out ideas.
Ackman’s recent turn in the spotlight began shortly after the October 7th Hamas terrorist attack in Israel: Like many [wealthy, white] others, he latched onto American college campus politics regarding Israel and Palestine as the preeminent concern of these troubled times and not, say, US government weapons supplies and policies on human rights. But I digress.
He wrote a comically long tweet—you can now publish essays via tweet if you pay $8 a month—yelling at Dr. Gay about how he, as a Jewish alum, thought she sucked at her job and railed against DEI. You can read it here, which isn’t a choice I’d recommend.
Two months later, after intense public pressure from Ackman, and other bad actors like right-wing operative Chris Rufo, Gay resigned. As I wrote a couple weeks back:
And that continues to prove true as he wages a very public campaign against news site Business Insider for reporting on the fact that his wife Neri Oxman plagiarized parts of her MIT thesis (the very same indiscretion for which Ackman accused Gay of being unfit to run Harvard.) Now he’s fighting a war on multiple fronts, with journalism, DEI, and with American politics by endorsing Phillips.
Phillips is a Democratic congressman from Minnesota who is independently wealthy. As the Times noted, “Mr. Phillips, 54, who has poured at least $5 million of his own money into his campaign..is a multimillionaire in his own right, having helped to run his family’s liquor distilling empire and later to build the Talenti gelato behemoth.”
So you might be wondering why a guy with all that sweet, sweet gelato money needs a hack like Ackman in his corner. The answer is, of course, attention. It’s rather challenging, I’d imagine, to even come close to ousting the sitting president from your own party when no one knows your name. But like RFK Jr. before him, all it took was being a little insane—or rather, hitching his wagon to someone a little insane—to ensure at least a bunch of people on Twitter knew him.
Phillips may not have a snowflake’s chance in climate change to make a dent in President Biden’s certain nomination, but the billionaires are openly proving that they don’t need government to control everything—or at the very least, the conversation.
And while I have you here…
You can sound a little loony running around yelling “capitalism is a scam,” but we keep getting more proof that indeed it is.