Wednesday, November 04, 2009

An "Icon of Political Autonomy"

Over at the Observer-and this post was written before the election returns came in last night-Steve Kornacki muses about just how Mike Bloomberg, once assumedly elected, struggles to maintain his relevancy: " If New York voters hand Mr. Bloomberg his third term today, there will be no talk of a 2012 presidential campaign and there will be no second term-limits extension. Nor is there the prospect of a Bloomberg for Governor campaign (speculation about that came and went - briefly - last year) or a Bloomberg Senate bid. The clock will be ticking."

But, according to Steve, there's still opportunity for the vast fortune to be put to some use: "Nonetheless, Mr. Bloomberg in his third term should still have an opportunity to continue playing a leading role on the national political stage - even though the threat of a future campaign for any office will be off the table. The key to his relevance, this time, will be the unique reputation -genuine political independent entrenched in one of the most powerful perches in the country, and backed up by billions of idle dollars - that he's carved out for himself."

Pardon if we demur here. In our view, Mike Bloomberg's vaunted independent status is seriously overrated-and to us, his political stances reflect a quotidian social liberalism that doesn't always play well in the heartland. In fact, Bloomberg can be seen in some ways as a kind of John Lindsay on cash-driven steroids.

But his relevancy on the national stage will, we believe, be dependent on the direction that the country goes after the current midterm elections. If, as is certainly possible, the country trends right-frustrated and upset by the Obama governing philosophy-than what role could a Mike Bloomberg possibly play? His independent status, then, is truly unmoored from a coherent world view that goes beyond his reflexive social liberalism-and onanistic trumpeting of things such as gun control, smoking cessation, and calorie counting.

And then there's New York City itself. Mike Bloomberg has indeed been fortunate to rule-in the post 9/11 era-in a time of rising revenue that obscured, for a period of time, the truly disastrous 2002 decision to raise taxes to record levels in the city. That period, however, has come and gone; and the coming era will challenge Bloomberg's autocratic and non-empathic governing style. The austerity that certainly confronts us will also pose problems for the philosophical limitations that the mayor is saddled with.

So, Bloomberg may well have his hands full with NYC problems that will help to redefine his tenure-as well as how his legacy will be perceived. It is in this context that the observation of Mitchell Moss becomes particularly risible: "As N.Y.U. professor and former Bloomberg campaign adviser Mitchell Moss puts it, the mayor is an "icon of political autonomy."

In our view, this is the kind of statement that borders on incoherence. The mayor's putative freedom to do things that other pols dare not do has not manifested itself in any successful initiative that challenges liberal orthodoxy. And, in some of the initiatives he has undertaken-like the congestion tax effort-he has failed spectacularly.

But, who knows? Maybe Mike Bloomberg will reinvent himself-now that's a refreshing thought! Perhaps he will take a long sober look at the city's unwieldy municipal Leviathan and undertake the Herculean task of revamping the way government operates to the detriment of the city's tax payers, homeowners, and small businesses. Such an effort-one that would look to cut the size of government, eliminate wasteful programs, and reduce taxes so that local business can grow-would indeed be prelude to real iconic status.

So, as regards to the Kornacki analysis, the real Bloomberg cautionary tale devolves more from the conditions that he will face for the next four years-ones that he himself has done so much to bring about. The mayor and his minions-and Moss is far from singing solo in this Bloomberg production-have haughtily proclaimed that these parlous times demand someone of Mike's unique talents. Have all these mighty mouths been issuing promissory notes that even a Mike Bloomberg can't cover?