So, a funny thing happened on the way to our cornucopia of electoral choices-or, in the more persuasive vernacular, another one bites the dust; with the combative Anthony Weiner taking a page out of Kubla Ross's book on death and dying, you know the Stage Five part where the terminally ill patient gets over her anger and accepts the inevitability of death. As the NY Times tells us: "In an Op-Ed page article to be published on Wednesday in The New York Times, Mr. Weiner suggests that his — or anyone’s — chances of beating Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has already spent $19 million on his re-election campaign, are slim. “As a native of Brooklyn, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t savor a good scrap,” Mr. Weiner wrote. “But I’m disappointed because I’m increasingly convinced a substantive debate isn’t likely right now.”
There can, of course, be little debate when the principle opponent is spending money hand over fist as if there's no recession in the country. What has happened here, and the Weiner withdrawal epitomizes the situation, is that Mike Bloomberg's obscene level of over spending has sucked all of the marrow out of even the possibility of a genuine democratic debate. And when this arrogant, ostentatious spending orgy is combined with the active collusion of the plutocrats-both on and off the editorial boards-the end result is that the democratic process is left thoroughly dessicated-with nothing put a procedural carcass left to examine.
As Weiner comments in the Daily Politics: "In the end, though, no matter how pretty a picture Weiner might seek to paint, the reality is this:
It comes down to money. "The mayor is expected to spend $80 million of his own money in the race, more than 10 times what candidates who have not opted out of the city’s public campaign finance program, as Mr. Bloomberg has, can spend in a primary," Weiner writes. "With spending like that, regular debates about real issues will probably take a back seat to advertising. As a native of Brooklyn, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t savor a good scrap. But I’m disappointed because I’m increasingly convinced a substantive debate simply isn’t likely right now. The sad truth for a political candidate without deep pockets is that while money isn’t the only thing, it does matter. Campaign finance laws are vital, not just to keep special interests from dominating campaigns, but also because in this case they could help prevent vast disparities in spending."
Just how all of this is good for the democratic life of the city is really beyond our tax bracket-it's left to Mike Bloomberg to explain with his little Cheshire Cat grin and supercilious demeanor. But what do the special pleaders from the Bloomberg cohort have to say? Here's Morticia with his snide avoidance of the elephant in the room: "Explaining himself in a New York Times op-ed, Weiner cited an expectation that Bloomberg will spend $80 million in a reelection fight. He predicted that "debates about real issues will probably take a back seat to advertising." What he left out is that while money is important, so, too, is message. What was his? What is Thompson's? More broadly, what does the Democratic Party, the city's dominant political organization, offer New Yorkers as it closes in on 16 years on the outs of running City Hall?"
So the swamping and subornation of democracy isn't the issue-but the lack of a Democratic message is? Please, Mort, let's not get all hypocritical on us now. Your classmate and fellow billionaire will outspend his opponent by ten to one-flooding the airwaves with his own bogus, self serving message; but Weiner, Thompson and the Democrats will lose because of a lack of message? Nothing in the editorial about the way in which obscene spending by Bloomberg limits democratic choices? Well done Mort!
And the Post isn't much better-covering its class biases with the following: "Let's be clear: Mike Bloomberg came by his money honestly, and it's his to spend any way he sees fit. Still, it's a pity that the cash has dried up what might well have been a compelling -- and, frankly, necessary -- conversation about the city's future."
Yes, it is a pity; but it's much more than that-and the way the mayor made his money is, quite frankly, simply a non sequitor here. Where's the outrage about the manner in which debate is being stifled-not to mention the way in which the Post continues to present a one sided, persistent drum beat for Bloomberg causes without even bothering to cover the alternative views? So the Post's own culpability here is elided-underscoring the need for a version of Radio Free New York for this supposedly liberal city.
And frankly, we can't wait for the NY Tmes to weigh in on the Weiner exit-and we're breathless with anticipation for Punchless Sulzberger's explanation of his expected endorsement of the Grinch that stole democracy (we'll apologize if we're wrong). Even with $15 billion dollars to your name, it's good to have toadies as friends.
But the Post is right about one thing. There are so many issues where debate is not only healthy but vital to the future of the city. Unfortunately, we will not be privy to any of that now-just the endless crawl of the kind of Bloomberg vision statements that, because of their fatuous self regard, do tremendous violence to the city's harsher realities. In particular, the real nature of the five boro economic plan charade that the Bloombergistas are parading before us nightly.; doing so, while neighborhood businesses are being forced out in record numbers-thanks in part to the mayor's anti-small business policies.
And what about the nature of governance itself? Here, the Bloomberg lack of understanding of the role that government plays as a stimulator of economic activity could be front and center in a genuine level playing field debate. This would mean confronting the Bloomberg paternalistic approach that sees expansive government as a positive force, but is blind to the way in which this expansion-built as it is on the tax paying and over regulated businesses of the city-acts as economic saltpetre.
Of course, in a real debate we would here two sides of the issue of the role of government in promoting the health of its citizens. Is it appropriate for the city to act in loco parentis, taxing and regulating our behaviors in order to mandate healthier life styles? Should government educate or regulate? All of this potential dialogue is lost in the oppositional silence that Bloomberg purchases-sucking the democratic oxygen out of the town square as he spends beyond all previous measure.
Missing, as well, is the debate over the purchase of an extension of the Mike Bloomberg tenure-a store bought bauble that was supposed to be needed to comfort us through an extraordinary crisis. This crisis-the recession is now predicted to end sometime this year-is, like all such events, a convenient cover for the usurpation of power; a familiar socio-political phenomenon used by anti democratic forces throughout history to quell popular rule. Enter the Reign of Mike the First.
On and on we could go; but the rest of this election cycle is inevitably, and regrettably, going to be dominated by the self server in chief-someone for whom Narcissus is a poor man's Bloomberg. The only silver lining? That the Chinese proverb of, be careful what you wish for, becomes prophetic to the point where events reveal the shortcomings of our hubristic leader. As for Anthony Weiner, we understand his reticence, but will miss the acerbic vitriol that would be anodyne to the arrogant display of wealth that is being mischaracterized as an election campaign.