Saturday, June 23, 2007


So who exactly is Michael Bloomberg? We know he’s worth nearly six billion dollars. We know he didn’t acquire his fortune from birth (like GW Bush) or marriage (like John Kerry), and we know he didn’t simply parlay a career in “public service” into a life in the lap of luxury (like the Clintons). No, this dude earned his billions in the time-honored American way: as an entrepreneur.

We also know he’s generally considered to have been a successful mayor of one of the world’s most important cities. And we know that he has received praise from moderate Republicans (like Ahnold) as well as Democrats. Indeed, while he has served until recently as a “Republican,” his views on social issues are well in line with the liberal wing of the Democratic party. According to Michael Barone, “Bloomberg favors same-sex marriage, a very aggressive form of gun control, federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, and abortion rights; [moreover] he opposed the confirmation of Chief Justice John G. Roberts.” It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he has now abandoned the Grand Old Party and become an Independent, while trumpeting the need for non-partisanship in Washington.

So we know a fair amount about Bloomberg. But there’s a whole lot more we don’t know. We don’t know squadoosh about his foreign policy ideas. From his tenure as mayor, we can probably guess a bit about his economic views – including the idea that he’s not afraid to raise taxes – but he hasn’t exactly outlined for us his formula for repairing our health care system or for decreasing the national debt. He remains, for the most part, an enigma, but a rather intriguing one. The rumor is that this guy will enter the Presidential fray in 2008, and that when he does, he’ll bring anywhere from a half-billion to a billion dollars to play with on the campaign. Bloomberg vows that he, unlike other candidates, will not be bought and sold by special interests; such is the value of having billionaire status. The Beatles may be right that money “can’t buy me love,” but it can, in theory, buy a politician some independence. The idea of an independent politician these days is, well, it’s almost as absurd as that of a squared circle.

Personally, I was happy when I heard that Bloomberg was jettisoning his affiliation with the Republican Party and was likely to throw his hat into the ring. I’ve been worried that neither party would produce a nominee who I’d want to vote for and didn’t relish the idea of holding my nose in the voting booth … or writing in someone who wasn’t really a candidate. Bloomberg is wealthy enough to make you wonder if he actually has a chance to win by blanketing the airwaves with commercials. And besides, I think it’s healthy for a democracy to present choices beyond the standard bearers of the two juggernaut parties. So often, they present candidates who exaggerate, mislead or flat out lie, figuring that even if their integrity is exposed, they can at least count on 40% of the vote just by being an R or a D. Is that what a democracy looks like? Not to me.

Well, apparently it does to Bob Herbert, the columnist for the New York Times. Now let me be clear – being the liberal that I am, I generally like Herbert’s columns. Today’s was the exception. He entitled his column: “Mr. Mayor, the Nader of ’08.” The implicit subtitle was “Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.”

The article was meant to reach liberals like myself who might possibly be attracted to Bloomberg’s candidacy. That, Herbert would argue, is verboten. We’re supposed to stay home, no matter what the Democrat machine stamps out. Otherwise, so goes the threat, we’re liable to elect another George W. Bush!

Sometimes you truly can tell a book by its cover, and sometimes you can tell an Op-Ed piece from its title. This is a perfect example. Herbert’s column is as pedestrian as the title suggests. He didn’t think he had to remind us that Ralph Nader was responsible for George Bush’s election in 2000, and by extension, for the debacle in Iraq. Since Nader was a liberal, the argument continues, when he ran for the President, the liberals split their vote and the conservatives won the election. Now, if we have another liberal third-party candidate, the same thing will happen – perish the thought.

Is Bloomberg such a liberal? Heavens yes, suggests Herbert. “Bloomberg,” Herbert writes, “is a Democrat. If he runs for president, he is far more likely to take votes from the Democratic nominee than the Republican one.” Herbert quotes one Democratic political consultant in referring to the mayor as a “pro-public education, pro-choice, pro-immigration rights, pro-gun control, pro-civil rights, pro-gay rights, and pro-women’s rights” guy. Oy vey! Later, Herbert states his perspective with crystal clarity: “There are myriad ways this thing could play out. But the weirdest would be if Michael Bloomberg, who sees himself as such a serious person, plunged headlong into this race with little or no chance to win, and ended up spending $500 million to $1 billion on a venture that undermined the core issues and values he claims to believe in.”

So there it is. Bloomberg can’t win. What he can do is spoil, and almost certainly, if he does so, he’ll spoil the chances of his true party, the Democrats. Herbert wants us to know that he’s not alone in his assessment of Bloomberg’s impending candidacy. Herbert quotes a “dismayed” supporter of the presumed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton as follows: “He definitely hurts us. You know, sometimes politicians have such big egos they can’t see reality. But Bloomberg is known for seeing reality. So he must know that if he runs he puts a Republican in the White House, which I don’t think he wants.”

No, probably not. But here’s what the “dismayed” Clinton supporter doesn’t seem to get any more than Herbert does – Bloomberg may not want to see Hillary Clinton in the White House either.

Actually, that’s speculation on my part. Bloomberg claims to like Hillary and Rudy, and for all I know, that’s no B.S. But there are a number of us out there in Naderland who care little for either of them. I wouldn’t have been caught dead voting for Nader in 2000 because, for all my disgust with the way Gore ran his campaign, I actually looked forward to seeing the man elected. When I voted for him, I didn’t hold my nose, I held my breath. And in the last seven years, I have only come to like Al more and more.

But Hillary? Just the opposite.

I need not take this opportunity to re-chronicle all my problems with her candidacy. None of you needs to understand why I am one of many tens of millions of Americans – including liberals as well as conservatives -- who views her candidacy “unfavorably.” What I wish to point out is the irony of her supporters whining about Bloomberg’s running for office and thereby threatening to tip the balance in favor of the GOP. This is an election that by rights, the Democrats should win going the way. The Republicans have made mistake after mistake after mistake in recent years and have put together a group of candidates this year that is worthy of the Keystone Kops. And yet … amazingly, they do a good chance of prevailing. And that is because the one and only candidate they seem to be able to beat is the one who has a hammerlock on the Democratic nomination. In short, it’s the Clinton people who are giving the GOP a chance of winning, not Mr. Bloomberg. Indeed, I suspect, if Hillary lost the nomination, Bloomberg’s candidacy would never get off the ground.

Take a look at the polls. If you look at Obama versus Rudy, Barack wins. But if you look at Hillary versus Rudy (with or without Bloomberg), Rudy wins. And yet the Democrats seem to prefer Hillary hands down. Don’t get me wrong -- I think we Americans have the right to support our favorite candidate even if s/he is less electable in the fall of ’08. But please, if your candidate is loathed by half the country, have the class not to complain when someone else might join the fray and decrease her chance of winning. Have the class to allow your fellow Americans a reasonable chance to go into the booths with a smile on the face that they’ll actually get to vote for a candidate out of hope, rather than against a candidate out of fear. Bloomberg gives that hope to a lot of us who can’t vote for a Democratic candidate who comes as cold, calculating, dishonest, self-righteous, stubborn and polarizing. But does that mean we should have to vote for a Republican who supports torture? Or the re-enactment of the 30 years war? I sure hope not.

Further, Mr. Herbert, let me point out one other bit of irony here. You are a columnist for the New York Times. That is a newspaper that is read almost exclusively by highly educated people. But, if you believe the polls, the woman whom you hyped over and over again as the potentially aggrieved party in Bloomberg’s little flirtation has gained her status precisely because she is doing so well among the uneducated voters. Two or three weeks ago, your newspaper’s Sunday Magazine had a cover story that exposed one lie after another in her comments about the Iraq War. We who are educated would like an alternative to that sort of dishonesty, if that’s OK with you.

And as for your fear mongering, if you want to know the truth, if someone told me that Hillary was going to get the Democratic nomination, sure I’d be scared about what might happen if a Republican won the election (especially if his name was John “Jack D. Ripper” McCain)? But that doesn’t mean I could bring myself to embrace her candidacy. Sometimes, a voter has to stand on principle. I feel a sense of responsibility for what my party holds out as its leader. At some point, I have to say that I’m not comfortable with a candidate representing that party in the White House. Some donkeys may not have a limit as to what they can tolerate. I do.


Mary Lois said...

I'm with you here. But that's not surprising, because I've stuck with Third Party candidates fairly consistently.

I've been aware for some time that the Democrats plan to put forth a Clinton-Obama ticket in '08, and to my mind almost any Republican could defeat that. Like you, I'd like to see Obama -- or anybody else but Hillary -- on the top of the ticket, but the Democrats just don't get it. I do not want her to be the first woman President. I simply do not trust her to be President.

Bloomberg is an interesting option. His experience and his life have beem unique for a political figure, and the wonders that have happened in New York City make him at least a viable candidate. The pundits say he doesn't plan to run as a spoiler, and that he will not get into the race unless he sees he could actually win it, meaning that the Democrats put up Hillary and the Republicans put up someone unelectable like Giuliani or McCain.

Unlike you, I am not an admirer of Mr. Herbert and didn't read beyond his headline because I knew where he was headed. The conventional wisdom, especially in New York where they know everything, is that Hillary has the job of President sewed up and that the rest of us had better learn to like it.

God help us.

Daniel Spiro said...

It bothers me that we've never had a woman President, there is a woman in the race, and that I'm not supporting her. Let me say for the record that if Ariena (sp?) Huffington ran, I'd support her in a flash.

As for the idea that Hillary is "inevitable," Mary Lois, part of the problem is that the Republicans have been trumpeting her candidacy even more than the Democrats. When they think of running against her, they smell blood in the water ... but they also know that she can possibly win.

Mary Lois said...

In the first place, the Republicans wanted Hillary at the top of the Democratic ticket because they were confident that any Republican could beat her. Now that they see that is not true, what would induce them to thump for her behind the scenes? Just to show that there could be a worse President than George W. Bush?

Seriously, I would love nothing more than to have a woman President, except to have a good President of either gender or any race or creed. It's been such a long time...

Daniel Spiro said...

You are right to question the GOP strategy in hyping Hillary's candidacy even now that she is truly a viable contender for the Presidency. Perhaps the explanation is that so many GOP pundits truly admire the woman enough to be obsessed by her candidacy.

Hillary has that sort of hard-nosed, disciplined approach to politics that Republicans respect. She isn't just another nice-guy "loser" like a McGovern or Mondale. Nor is she a "geek" like a Dukakis, Kerry, or the 2000 version of Gore. I wouldn't be surprised if the GOP wished they had someone with her style, only with more right-wing substance.

And then there is fact that the GOP may remember Bill Clinton as a Triangulator, rather than a liberal ideologue, and assume the same about Hillary (she who voted to ban flag-burning and voted to support the Iraq War). As one of my conservative friends said in saying that Hillary would be no worse a choice than Obama, "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't."

Mary Lois said...

Ha! I always said Hillary's behavior was more like that of a Republican man than a Democratic female!

I wouldn't mind if the Democrats had someone with her management style with actual Liberal ideology, instead of her go-with-the-polls Centrist pragmatism. No, wait a minute, that almost sounded like a cheer of support. What I meant to say was that I wish I could believe that she actually stood for something, and that what it was was far enough Left of center to be considered Liberal. I think, like her husband, she simply takes the course that will get her elected and has no real beliefs at all except that she belongs in the White House.

Daniel Spiro said...

I'm sure the Clintons have some core beliefs. But their own brand of pragmatism is so off-putting that I get too annoyed trying to figure out exactly what those core beliefs are. I will grant that they are not racists. Beyond that, I haven't a clue what they are.

Mary Lois said...

Hmmm...since they do not exhibit or consistently abide by any core beliefs, why are you so sure they have them?

Daniel Spiro said...

I just got the impression with Bill that he really felt a kinship with the African-American community and that he wouldn't let the polls interfere with, say, his support for affirmative action. I can't cite specific facts for that view, however.

Mary Lois said...

It's called "giving them the benefit of the doubt" and I can't help but think you admire them for not being racist, particularly him since it is believed that most Southerners are. In fact, the South has always had a huge contingent of supporters of Civil Rights (or nothing would ever have been done to implement the laws of the land).

Bill Clinton enjoys courting the black vote, obviously has an affinity for the community, and knows that portraying himself as "one of them" is the way to consistently get their votes. It's just another side of his "whatever works" approach to politics, and I don't find it wholly admirable.

Daniel Spiro said...

Benefit of the doubt? Perhaps, but I think there's more to it than that.

When Bill was POTUS, I don't think there was a single position he took that didn't coincide with the majority of Americans polled ... except that he seemed to be more willing to support affirmative action than the majority. I could be wrong in that recollection, but that's my impression. And it made me believe that there must be some core appreciation Bill has for the civil rights of the African-American community that would even qualify as being called a "conviction."

Sure, I may be giving him too much credit, but believe me -- I've been pretty harsh on the Clintons, so I don't mind cutting them whatever slack I cut them. One of Purim sermons from the 90s -- you should be able to find it on the Purim page of my website -- illustrates my disgust with Hillary's better half.