MICHAEL R. Bloomberg recently announced that he would be writing a $50 million check to support a grass-roots effort to counteract the National Rifle Association.
We live in an age of dueling oligarchs (take that, Koch brothers), made all the more pronounced by rising income inequality and Supreme Court rulings that have unfastened political spending by the rich from its modest legal tethers. It's hard to see all that as good for democracy.
Nonetheless, we can't help but admire this foray from Bloomberg as a rare instance in which the big money is on the side of the public in a fight against a special interest, rather than the other way around.
There can be little doubt that the overwhelming majority of the public wants sensible gun-control measures, such as background checks that prevent gun sales to criminals, straw purchasers and the dangerously mentally ill. Even most NRA members will privately admit to supporting that. The problem is that NRA leadership has become so adept at stirring gun owners into a state of frenzy that they can easily target incumbent politicians with single-issue politics. An NRA endorsement is widely viewed as a game-changer, particularly in conservative districts and in Republican primaries, and its power remains substantial, even post-Sandy Hook.
Let's face it: For all the public upset over shootings - in schools, theaters, college campuses, military bases or wherever - the NRA is not exactly on the run. They've beaten back reforms as modest as expanded background checks at the national level, losing only in a handful of states, like Maryland and Colorado.
Bloomberg may outspend the NRA, which devotes about $20 million annually to political activities, but he still hasn't leveled the playing field. The organization simply has too much political clout, and its supporters are too devoted to the cause to think that the mere act of writing a big check - whether it pays for TV commercials or political field operations of his new umbrella group, Everytown for Gun Safety - can fully offset that advantage.
Yet, the NRA isn't invincible. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe stood by his support of universal background checks (and his "F" rating from the NRA) when he ran and won last year.
Polls show that public support for background checks on all gun purchases still hovers in the neighborhood of 90 percent. How long can the will of so many Americans be thwarted?
Still, it's a bit disconcerting that the issue requires a "sugar daddy" to counteract the NRA. Is this the future of American politics? Instead of Democrats and Republicans, will it come down to what serves the interests of the Kochs or some hedge-fund owner stacked up against Bloomberg or George Soros?
Today, Mr. Bloomberg is acting benevolently on behalf of the thousands of victims of gun violence, their family and friends, but what about tomorrow?