Monday, October 24, 2005

The NY Times and Mike Bloomberg: Perfect Together

In an expected editorial that fully underscores the paper's worldview as well as its rather significant limitations, the NY Times enthusiastically endorsed the reelection of Mike Bloomberg yesterday. Its one misgiving was, of course, the mayor's "out-of-control" campaign spending. That didn't, however, restrain the praise the paper heaped on its ideological soul mate.

Let's get to the spending issue first. We would greatly appreciate it if the Times would from now on simply shut up on campaign finance reform. If the complete disregard for one of the paper’s core political principles can be ignored when convenient then the issue's significance is no longer relevant, at least when articulated by the Grey Lady.

What is clear from this editorial is that the matter of campaign finance will always be filtered at the Times by the old "whose ox is being gored” disregard for principle. In other words, the paper can conscious Bloomberg’s total disregard for the campaign finance system because it enthusiastically approves of the way he’s governing. However, when it comes to “right wing” special interests influencing campaigns, especially on the national level, the Times responds with outrage and reaffirms the need for strict controls. The paper can't have it both ways.

The emphasis on special interests, as we have pointed out elsewhere, will always skew the understanding of the nature of how the political system works and overall concepts of how to achieve the public good. As bad as the Bloomberg spending is, it is not the egregious kind of special interest funded spending that drives the Times bonkers. Our argument elsewhere is that this billionaire exemption, if you will, can be just as bad or even worse.

Shared Perspectives

So, after excoriating the mayor's spending (something that it did in a separate editorial a few weeks ago that it ghettoized in the City Section) the Times goes on to praise the mayor with a fulsomeness that is actually quit funny. Of interest here of course is the paper's failure to even mention that Bloomberg enacted record tax increases that had sent his approval ratings into the toilet in 2002-2003.

The omission is glaring because with the city facing a potential $4.6 budget deficit you'd think the Times would express concern about how this policy-challenged and ideologically constricted patrician will respond to the crisis on the horizon. Knowing the Times, however, this is simply outside their purview.

They support and applaud any tax increase that keeps the established government colossus undisturbed. After all, their criticism of Anthony Weiner's campaign – the only one that threatened to offer a fresh challenge to the mayor's/Times approach – centered on Weiner's audacity to suggest tax cuts (which the Times analogized to George Bush's approach).

The Times reaches its comedic heights, however, when it comes to placing and evaluating Mike Bloomberg in historical context. Here they exhibit an obsequiousness that would even embarrass Bloomberg if humility could be found anywhere in his personality make-up. (On this we refer readers back to our discussion of John Avlon's NY Sun column on Bloomberg in history).

In comparing Mayor Mike with Ed Koch for instance (we wonder whether this sleight will help the notoriously thin-skinned Koch to become more honestly critical of the mayor in his second term), the Times highlights the Bloomberg achievement of one manned garbage trucks! This is the Ed Koch who challenged the sway of municipal unions in the most public way, in the process helping to start to change the city's political culture in a most significant way (ironically on the same day that the paper runs a piece by Ian Urbina that undermines the paper's exaggerated praise of this initiative by pointing out that the one man truck will probably be possible on only 50 of approximately 2300 garbage trucks in the city's fleet).

The Times goes on to use the garbage issue (Why has this issue become so important? it certainly hasn't been in any of the mayor's own campaign literature) to invidiously compare Bloomberg to Giuliani. They point to the props Rudy achieved by closing Fresh Kills but remind readers that he "failed to come with a workable plan to get rid of the displaced garbage...[while] Mayor Bloomberg offered an environmentally sensible solution."

Are these people really serious? Let's not forget that the mayor spent two years floundering and finally came up with a SWMP that, while siting transfer stations in a more racially sensitive way, offers little that is practical in reducing the environmentally hazardous land-fill based disposal methods that the city has relied on for years. In addition, in continuing in this tradition the mayor has failed to let New Yorkers know just how expensive this unimaginative approach will be for the taxpayers. Expense and taxpayers are not the concern, however, of the Times it appears.

The cheapest shot in the Times' comparative analysis is reserved for the discussion of crime. The paper praises the mayor for reducing crime "farther than even the wildest optimists would have imagined during the Giuliani crime-fighting years...." and goes on to point out invidiously once again that, "Mr. Bloomberg has managed to achieve all this in an atmosphere of racial harmony."

This is pretty hard to swallow since it demonstrates not only a disregard for historical accuracy but also a bad faith that ignores just how much Rudy did in this area that was truly groundbreaking. Let's not forget that reducing crime, beginning with the "broken windows" theory that former Mayor Dinkins had ridiculed, meant that the former mayor had to also attack a political culture, one shared by the Times, that being too aggressive was inherently racist. It meant ignoring the Times social work mantra that crime reduction, if it were to be effective, needed to first deal with the root causes, i.e., poverty.

Mike Bloomberg came in and rode a trend that his more passionate and committed predecessor had set at great cost to his own standing, particularly among African-Americans. What Giuliani established, however, was that crime reduction could be achieved and, once it was, the communities that benefited the most got used to the positive changes. Bloomberg came in after this worldview had been relegated to the dustbin of history and crime reduction had become welcome in low-income areas. Elevating Mike over Rudy here is the ultimate dishonest cheap shot.

All of which leads us to the observation that the Times' worldview and the mayor's, while perfect together, is so unimaginative and stale that we wonder how the coming fiscal crisis will be tackled at City Hall and evaluated in the editorial boardroom at 43rd Street. Both have exhibited such a callous disregard for the well-being of homeowners and small businesses that are the true lifeblood of this city that we just can't see any possibility of any creative policy initiatives coming to deal with the difficulties ahead.

We do offer one caveat to this bleak future scenario. The mayor, unlike the salons at the Times, does have something in his background that could enable him to approach a new fiscal crisis in some boldly innovative way. He needs, however, to utilize the instincts and philosophy that helped to make his fortune and disentangle from a status quo approach to governing that got New York City into trouble in the first place. That is where real greatness lies.