Monday, October 25, 2010

Mike Bloomberg's National Ambitions

In yesterday's NY Daily News, Times reporter Joyce Purnick-Mike Bloomberg's biographer-is given a forum to muse about the mayor's national ambitions. And, proving that all great minds don't have to think alike to come to the same conclusions, Purnick agrees with our assessment that Bloomberg's national prospects aren't very promising: "So, do I think that Bloomberg, who came this-close to running last time as an independent and has the billions to finance a campaign, will run? No. Those dreaming of an "I Like Mike" presidential candidacy should get over it."

Now Purnick comes to this conclusion initially from the fact that, precisely because he comes from New York, he wouldn't play well in Peoria: "What works on Broadway bombs in most of America. We New Yorkers are a peculiarly pragmatic folk. Despite his dyspeptic personality and term limits shenanigans, Bloomberg, 68, has been a strong, independent mayor. That's enough for us. But: There is us and there is them. Though he grew up in a Boston suburb, he is now one of us, and just about everyone else in the country is them. The political queasiness this election season is not about to change those distinctions; in fact, it is emphasizing them."

Yet, what exactly does Purnick mean by this dichotomy? Here she comes closest to our observation that the angry national mood is not something that a Mike Bloomberg comprehends-or, even if he did, could easily tap into: "Okay. Let's assume the aggrieved do manage to unite and seek a candidate of their own. They are not about to light on Bloomberg. Talk about a mismatch! New York's matter-of-fact mayor does not tap into the frustration that is gnawing at today's angry American."

Why not? Well, Purnick sees this incongruity more about persona than ideological substance-and she is partially correct about this, since the aloof, technocratic and pragmatist mayor does fit poorly into the current national mood. Mike Bloomberg is never going to feel your pain-but, in our view, he is also someone who will never really get it either.

That's because the current malaise, if you will, is about governmental over reach-something that Bloomberg embodies and is therefore ill equipped to lead any kind of revolt against. As we said a few weeks ago: "The anger in the electorate isn't, in Ed Koch-like fashion, isn't about corruption and the failure to compromise-it is about ideological over reach and the growth of a national government that is unsupportable without massive increases in taxes and levies. How does Mike Bloomberg's record jibe with this critique? In his almost nine years the mayor has raised taxes and fess, increased the size of the public payroll-while all the time turning government into Big Brother."

But Purnick, to her credit, is also alive to the ideological incongruities that a Bloomberg candidacy would represent: "Bloomberg's policies and ideas are anathema to much of America. On social issues, he stands to Obama's left. He is passionate in his support for immigrants to a country that includes Arizona, arguing that we need immigrants as an economic necessity. He is in a shooting match with the NRA over illegal guns. He supports abortion rights, gay marriage and a more radical health care reform than the President signed into law. His aggressive attempts to regulate salt, trans fats and sugar have been tough enough to swallow in New York City, much less in the Midwest. Not religious, he refuses to pander, and, a strong defender of religious freedom and the Constitution that guarantees it, supports the "Ground Zero Mosque."

And then, as we have noted time and time again, there is the Bloomberg big government love affair-a belief and a nine year record that represents what the national uprising holds in contempt: "It would also not help Bloomberg for the country to learn that, though a proclaimed fiscal conservative, he chose to raise taxes in his first term rather than cut services after the devastation of 9/11. And he was never rough on the city's unions; he's given teachers a massive raise as part of his effort to rebuild the public schools." (although Purnick doesn't question whether the excess school spending was worth it)

Bloomberg not only embodies a governing philosophy that is discordant with a growing national mood he also, as we have pointed out, is representative of aWall Street that has become as much of a bogeyman as Big Government: "Though his speaking style has improved, it hardly thrills. In fact, he is most eloquent in defending his alma mater - Wall Street, a place less popular even than Washington in many quarters. As Joe Klein of Time Magazine found as he crossed the nation recently, "the financial industry and its debilitating effects on the American economy over the past 30 years was the issue that raised the most passion, by far, in the middle of the country."

Purnick's keen reporter's eye takes in all of these Bloomberg political infirmities-but, in the end, can't resist caricaturing the populist impulse abroad in the land: "But he would never win over the voters agitating the loudest for change. They want radical fury, not centrist rationality. They want to abandon Medicare and phase out Social Security. They reject stem cell research and climate change. They may not know it yet, but Bloomberg would never go along with any of that."

Wait a minute here. Immediately after Purnick gets finished underscoring Bloomberg's big government, ultra-liberal agenda, she pivots away from her analysis to characterize the mayor's approach as, "centrist rationality." But it isn't that at all-not if we look at the surveys that place liberalism as a dwindling 20% cohort of Americans. Mike Bloomberg may be a centrist in NYC, but everywhere else he is a garden variety liberal; and not only that-but one who also has a gnawing need to meddle in the everyday lives of ordinary citizens.

Purnick's failing on this score is to some sense a matter of class-and the sharp divide that separates the average citizen from their ruling elites. The division reveals itself in the disdain that elite chatterers have for the Tea Party-and the sense that the movement is a revolt of the dunderheads; a return of the No Nothing Party. P. J. O'Rourke captures some of this-and his own cry for a "restraining order" on government underscores the deep seated anger and fear of a wide swath of the electorate. This fear is precisely what Mike Bloomberg remains clueless about-and what Purnick seems to dismisses with a bit of smug disdain.

The country's sharp divide is manifested by the chasm separated our new, "cognitive elite," and those average Americans who haven't benefited from the putative merits of an Ivy League education. As Charles Murray pointed out yesterday in the Washington Post: "Taken individually, members of the New Elite are isolated from mainstream America as a result of lifestyle choices that are nobody's business but their own. But add them all up, and they mean that the New Elite lives in a world that doesn't intersect with mainstream America in many important ways. When the tea party says the New Elite doesn't get America, there is some truth in the accusation." (read the whole thing)

Mike Bloomberg is the apotheosis of this elite class making his candidacy, as Purnick says, a quixotic adventure. But, as a practical matter, Purnick is on the same page as we have been on for quite some time-even though her implication is that the mayor's political disabilities derive from the fact that the yokels wouldn't be able to appreciate him the way she-and other prescient New Yorkers-obviously do.

That being said, we encourage him to run-for, as we have said, it would be great entertainment. Run Mike Run: "But we want to encourage Mike to go for it-but with one proviso. He needs to resign as mayor in order to make the run-and thus give us the two-fer we long for; a fantasy run for president, along with his swift exit from the city-and the cognoscenti like Purnick-that he has bamboozled for all these years."