Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Great Imposter

Adam Lisberg asked a great question yesterday: "After Michael Bloomberg's meeting today with Republican leaders, Adam Lisberg of the Daily News asked the mayor's spokesman if the mayor "is still a liberal, and if not, when did that change." Howard Wolfson, the spokesman, smiled and laughed. Lisberg persisted. "It’s a serious question," he said. "Well, look," said Wolfson. "I think people can judge for themselves what the mayor’s ideology is.”

Judging the mayor's ideology isn't any easy task because, just like Tom Lehrer's Werner von Braun, he's a man whose allegiance is, "ruled by expedience." Yesterday the mayor met behind closed doors with the five leaders of the city's Republican Party to try to demonstrate just why he would make a good GOP standard bearer. What he demonstrated to us, however, was that he should be playing the Tony Curtis role of Fred Demara in the remake of the Great Impostor.

Some of this contortionist act is captured by the NY Times report this morning-and from some of the comments it appears that Bloomberg has a long way to go before these folks buy into his Act III. Still, the need for Mike Bloomberg to beg has its piquant aspect: "For 90 minutes on Wednesday, during a lively, at times tense closed-door meeting in Manhattan, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pleaded his case, trying to persuade five Republican chairmen to let him run on their party’s ballot line this fall.The scene seemed riddled with contradictions: a mayor who had ditched the Republican Party and stressed his disdain for party politics, beseeching the Republican Party to embrace him."

And malleable Mike seems to have made a valiant effort at accommodation. As one off the record commenter told the Times: "He kind of sounded like a Republican,” said one party chairman who participated in the meeting at the Manhattan Republican headquarters on the Upper East Side. The reality, however, is that he’s not — a fact that still gnaws at the five chairmen, who have spent years trying to build their party into a force in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly five to one."

Expedience disctates, however, that he appear to be as Republican as he possibly can-and Mike Bloomberg is nothing if not someone who will go to great lengths to avoid being seem as unseemly: "Despite ample prodding, Mr. Bloomberg did not apologize on Wednesday for his decision to leave the Republican Party in 2007, three participants in the meeting said, speaking anonymously because the meeting was considered confidential. Indeed, asked if he had any regrets over the last four years, Mr. Bloomberg answered with a firm “no.” Instead, the mayor took pains to sketch out common ground between his administration and the Republican Party, from a school system that is more accountable under his watch to much-praised antiterrorism measures that have kept the city safe since the attack of Sept. 11."

But on some of the core Reublican issues there could be little common ground; because when it comes to taxes and governance style Mike remains as liberal-and as clueless-as he was since the first day he came into office: "When asked to justify policies that ran afoul of Republican orthodoxy — like raising property taxes and increasing government spending — Mr. Bloomberg responded that leadership required tough, even unpopular decisions. At one point, he described his efforts to avoid installing tolls on the East River bridges in New York City to bail out the financially troubled Metropolitan Transportation Authority — an idea that was an anathema to Republicans. He told the chairman that he had instead proposed a “revenue generating alternative.” “You mean, congestion pricing,” one chairman interrupted, evoking another fee, on cars traveling in Midtown, that had inflamed the Republican Party."

Bloomberg's apparent response here is instructive-because it reveals the extent to which is thinking fails to transcend some very narrowly conventional liberal parameters: "Mr. Bloomberg shot back. “You can’t just be against everything,” he said, according to participants. “You have to propose new solutions.” As if the mayor's faux campaign against asthma, or global warming-whatever-was a compelling municipal need and not simply a conjured political gimmick in his quixotic independent run for the presidency.

So what we're left with here is a man on the make-and when you have billions to spend the success of the courtship ritual should be a foregone conclusion; read Marx's essay on the power of money in a bourgeois society. Still, the Republicans remain coy, and the question that remains is; will they love him in November as they did in May?