Monday, May 11, 2009

Force Mayor

Adam Lisberg at the NY Daily News writes a cogent piece on Mike Bloomberg yesterday that tries to evince just why the guy seems to be so popular; even if-and when-his policies are less so: "Labor unions and business groups, liberals and conservatives, politicians and preachers, ethnic groups and interest groups: They are tripping over each other to endorse Mayor Bloomberg, six months before the election."

In examining this rush to embrace the mayor, Lisberg underscores the role that the Bloomberg wealth plays in generating the kind of fan appreciation normally seem over at American Idol-and no one's confusing Mike Bloomberg with Kelly Clarkson: "Why are people supporting you?" he asked himself rhetorically last week. "We wouldn't be doing it right if they didn't." He was answering a question about his enormous generosity - he gave away $235 million last year, more than any other living American - and whether it makes the groups that receive his money more likely to support his policies. "What a sick thing if they didn't," Bloomberg said. "I would hope that people that believe we're going in the right direction would want to continue that."

Finally, we have an issue that we agree with Mike Bloomberg on-people who have been bought should gratefully stay bought! And more and more of the Bloomberg consumers are doing just that; and such loyalty in this modern age needs to be appreciated, even if it appears to be remarkably similar to Karl Marx's observation of good looks and great wealth: "Money is the alienated ability of mankind," and it enables the ugly man, ... Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness-its deterrent power--is nullified."

And so it goes with the $235 million that Bloomberg has bestowed on countless organizations and individuals-and that leaves out the rest of the salivating masses yearning to get a piece of the Bloomberg pie; an undiagnosed tumor festering in the city's body politic. A situation that has led Mike Blomberg to believed that he is universally loved-and that any criticism he receives should be treated just like it was when dissidents in the old Soviet Union expressed it, and were promptly sent over to the psychiatric ward.

So we get the solipsistic Bloomberg, with skin so thin that he must need repeated grafts in order to get through the work day: "Bloomberg has a complicated relationship with criticism. He prides himself on hiring aides who will challenge his thinking and fight with him on policy. He's a numbers guy who demands reams of data about the most mundane city operations, then posts it online to evaluate what works. Yet when outside groups raise legitimate objections to the school test results or graduation rates that he brags about, he waves away their complaints as the cries of people who want to reinstall the old Board of Education."

And, in a similar vein, he morphs into Quinnberg in conflating the speaker and his own personage: "And when angry City Council members mutter that Speaker Christine Quinn always rolls over for Bloomberg's agenda, he seems not to comprehend that reasonable people can disagree with his plans. "Christine Quinn has gotten criticized for helping the city," he said. "There are people who would say, 'Oh, she shouldn't do that. The City Council should be fighting the mayor.' What kind of a stupid argument is that?"

Stupid, or crazy? You get the picture here-we have political roylaty doling out favors as fast as popes used to grant indulgences; and expecting that the granted wishes should inculcate support or, at least, feigned religious devotion. Not the kind of environment where political democracy can easily flourish. And one, where the notion of the mayor being somehow public spirited because he isn't beholden to special interests, becomes absolutely risible.

Lisberg's last observation is the article's money quote: "A popular and successful mayor will naturally have lots of people standing behind him and cheering him on. The challenge is figuring out who supports him because they support his policies - and who supports him because he's popular and successful. After almost eight years in office, with his opponents neutered or bought off or pushed to the fringes, can Bloomberg still figure that out?"

In our view, the challenge is to determine who supports him because they are paid-and cheer him on with the same new found enthusiasm of Howard Wolfson. Lisberg's observations are a good start; but they only begin to scratch the surface of this unseemly situation.