A True Lindsay Republican
To paraphrase Churchill, we have reached here, if not the beginning of the end, then at least the end of the beginning.
I speak here of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s reign as America’s prince of the ideology that dare not speak its name--hence it’s faux name, “No Labels.”
Maybe it has no label because, upon inspection, the package is empty.There may not be a label, but there is a name. In the damning words of Leon Wieseltier, that ideology, which claims it is not, is called: “Philanthrogovernment.” or, colloquially, “Bloombergism.”
Wieseltier had a bit more to say, calling it “the usurpation of the moral prestige of the public sector by the social prestige of the private sector…one of the most effective methods for the delegitimation of government in our day has been the notion that charity may do the work of public policy, that private wealth is the answer to social crisis…”
Wieseltier notes that the essentials of “Bloombergism,” as articulated in its manifestos such as “How the Rich Can Save the World” by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green, (intro by Bloomberg) include that "Private money can help solve even the most difficult public problems," but, “There are limitations to what the state can do,” so it is "no wonder governments, of both right and left, seem increasingly keen for wealthy individuals to give them a helping hand," and “It follows that ‘a growing number of philanthrocapitalists are realizing that one of the most effective ways to leverage their money to change the world is to use it to shape how political power is exercised…’”
Wieseltier says that “The signature contribution of the philanthrocapitalist to the American political tradition is the idea that social problems have market solutions.”
Bloombergism’s message comes cloaked to distort its ideological underpinnings, in an effort to show it has none, and that his administration, in the immortal words of another Massachusetts Mike (Dukakis), “is not about ideology, it’s about competence.”
It would take an awfully large shovel to properly handle such an assertion; one better put to use on a day like today to move the four foot high snow drift blocking Hoyt Street (a not insignificant thoroughfare) than to transport barnyard by-products.Over a year ago, I called Bloomberg “A True Rockefeller Republican”
As I said then, in the context of our current national politics, such a term sounds benign, if not a little enticing; but I meant the term somewhat differently.
As Robert Caro noted Rockefeller had a “serene sense that because his motives are pure, his decisions are right.” Theodore White called it “a strange pietistic sense of responsibility…He was rough, his enemies called him quite simply the most ruthless man in politics. But what in other men would be simple arrogance was in Rockefeller the direct and abrupt expression of motives which, since he knew them to be good, he expected all other men to accept as good also.” White also noted, “In the Empire State, Nelson Rockefeller was beholden to no one; no crevice of weakness or obligation could be found…”
As Russell Hemenway once said, “People will think someday it was an exaggeration to say Nelson Rockefeller owned New York, but he owned the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. You simply could not touch the man in New York.”
Being parsimonious, Bloomberg has never outright owned any party, preferring instead to lease them as necessary. For a long time, it also appeared that he’d obtained a life estate in the fourth estate. In 2008, I noted that “There is no neutral principle elucidated by a NYC Editorial Board, left, right or centrist, which does not bow before the majesty of Michael Bloomberg.”
Even those elected officials inclined to tell Bloomberg that there is nothing he can buy them that they would want, could be answered, Rockefeller style, by something he could buy them which they did not want: A PRIMARY (or, in the case of term limits, the opportunity to be allowed to have a primary).
The message from the Mayor to Shelly Silver that "Marty Connor died for your sins, " was duly noted.
Like Rockefeller, the slush funds of governance were but one tool, among many, which Bloomberg wielded. Bloomberg-style “fiscal conservatism,” often seems mostly a matter of using the budget as a political weapon to exert political leverage (on elected officials, “not-for-profits“, and others) with the Mayor’s personal taxpayer-funded slush fund (and the Council’s own taxpayer-funded slush fund, which the Mayor pretty much wields by proxy) almost irrelevant, because, in practice, the entire City Budget is a Bloomberg slush fund, when necessity so dictates (and often when it does not).
And that is just the permanent campaign.
There were also the temporary campaigns, which takes place at those intervals which in our town now pass for elections.
Being parsimonious, the Mayor much prefers spending our dollars to spending his own, but, in addition to his “on the books” campaign operation, the Bloomberg “off the books" campaigns, including but by no means limited to campaign contributions (as well as those of his accountant and other “friends“ he can leverage); independent expenditures and charitable donations (both personal and leveraged); budget lines, jobs (whether at Bloomberg LP, the City, or in various for and not for profit entities subject to Mayoral or corporate sock-puppetry); Republican and Independence Party GOTV operations financed “independently” through their housekeeping funds; as well as other sources which one can only imagine (surely only G-d and John Haggerty know for sure),can all be called into play at will, and all are.
Standing alone, the off-budget part of the Bloomberg campaign apparatus is a money-laundering operation which makes the Working Families Party look like a hot dog stand (although if one wants to see true magic, one has to watch the two in collaborations like the off-budget parts of campaigns like those of State Senators Dan Squadron and Adriano Espaillat).
I will be the first to admit that some of the governmental results of Bloombergism have been impressive much of the time. I myself have called Bloomberg’s reign a “mostly benign dictatorship.”
Yes, complain if you will that the trains don’t run on time and Bloomie will be happy to offer to take them over as well.
As long as you give him complete power and make him answerable to no one.
But that was then.
For Bloomberg, since his re-election, has undergone a subtle transformation not noticeable until recent weeks.
He has stopped being a Rockefeller Republican.
Mike Bloomberg is now a Lindsay Republican.
Even to some who remember the era quite vividly, the differences between those two breeds of Republican were often indiscernible.
This is because two very different products were quite often sold with the same label, something like “liberal Republican.”
Even in terms of what is labeled as ideology, this is not quite accurate.
Rockefeller liked building roads. Lindsay wanted to encourage alternative modes of travel, including bikes. Remind you of anyone?
Rockefeller was near the left end of his party’s spectrum on any number of issues, but his ideology was “control,” “show toughness” and “build.” Other than the edifices he built, some of which are already gone, and the manner in which he died (en flagrante delicto), Rockefeller is most remembered today for the brutal manner in which he ended a prison uprising at Attica (against the advice of his own negotiating team), and the devastating impact of the take all prisoners (and keep ‘em locked up) Drug Law which bore his name.
By contrast, Lindsay was a real liberal, and in fact emblematic of a particular liberal breed. City Comptroller Mario Proccacino, usually remembered for his lack of familiarity with the subtleties of the English language (Proc once told an African American group “my heart is as black as yours”), had his one moment of brilliance when he dubbed Lindsay a “limousine liberal.”
Nelson Rockefeller was a man in control. Lindsay sometimes seemed to travel around followed by a black rain cloud. On his first day in office, the City was paralyzed by a devastating transit strike. An awful sanitation strike later followed; the 1968 teachers’ strike exposed the soft underbelly of the City’s ethnic and racial conflicts, and then there was an ugly police corruption scandal (not to mention lesser scandals at other agencies).
Not to mention the devastating aftermath of a 1969 snow storm in which outer borough neighborhoods waited days without seeing a plow.
Starting to sound familiar?
Like Rocky, Lindsay saw himself as America’s salvation. In preparation for what he saw as his destiny, he changed his party enrollment and laid the groundwork for a Presidential Campaign.
Is this like déjà vu all over again?
In the end, Lindsay’s ambitions foundered. In his last race for public office, he ran a poor third for a US Senate nomination, behind a woman who later lost the City Comptrollership to Alan Hevesi because of a scandal in her office, and a former Miss America (and suspected Koch "beard") who later had to resign a City Commissionership after being indicted.
In an especially painful irony, Lindsay had given both women their first jobs in government.
In the immortal words of Jack Newfield, “John Lindsay gave good intentions a bad name.” As Newfield also noted, in his book “The Abuse of Power,“ “he did not understand the ordinary lives of ordinary people in the four other boroughs” and “he felt little empathy for the City’s ethnic middle and working classes.”
This could be ripped from today’s headlines. In fact, I think I read both those sentences in this mornings’ tabloids.
Further, “he turned to technocrats to the systems analysts and management experts…between 1968 and 1971, [he] spent $10 million of public funds on outside consultant contracts.”
“So what“, would say Mayor Mike, “is wrong with a few contracts spread among the right sort of people with the right sort of expertise.”As I’ve noted before Bloomberg's latest re-election, when almost no one else saw it, there is a lot of dissatisfaction about Mayor Mike from many quarters, not all of them liberal.
To try to carve out a middle class existence in a City like New York is a constant battle in which residents often feel besieged by forces seemingly intent upon driving them to embark upon a suburban existence. Some of those forces are beyond the realm of government to even impact upon. But some, like the multiple and manifold forms of taxation by summons, are enough to drive even the City’s most ardent lovers into the arms of another.
I hate Rudy Giuliani like poison, but he is, in living memory, the Mayor of New York who best understood this phenomena. In this regard, Bloomberg is the Mayor who most does not get it. It is why even worthy proposals of his like Congestion Pricing so drive middle class outer borough New Yorkers out of their minds.
There is out there a great seething resentment, not all of it rational, but much of it quite on the mark, for the sort of clueless lack of concern over this legitimate frustration. And for many, Bloomberg is its personification. In fact, the perception that there is nothing to be done about Bloomberg only fuels the fury of those so afflicted.
And now the chickens have come home to roost. Some of us no longer believe in fairies, and as a result, Peter Pan can no longer fly.
And today he can’t even drive.First there was Cathie Black, a bad decision poorly executed, such that even those generally in support of Bloomberg’s education policies found it difficult to swallow. What made “The Black Plague” such an awful moment for the Bloomberg administration is how badly the Mayor blew it among New Yorkers who are most inclined to take his side in his war with the educational unions over issues like tenure.
What Bloomie didn’t get is that Upper Middle Class professionals with advanced degrees deeply resent the appointment of someone who didn’t earn her credentials, precisely because they themselves worked so hard to earn their own.
Actually, Bloomie should be grateful. The only reason this didn’t turn into a race war like the 1969 Teachers’ strike is that the white people are also against the Mayor.
Another bullet (albeit self-inflicted) dodged.
Meanwhile, the City Time scandal has shattered the administration’s unearned reputation for fiscal and other kinds of probity, while casting grave doubt upon its reputation for competence.
But the snowstorm combines practically all of the gathering resentments: Manhattan v outer-borough; the technocratic aristocracy v the Civil Service; the philanthrogovernmentalists v the pols.
But mostly, it captures the perceived battle between the rich v everyone else.
In 1985, working class icon and Buffalo Mayor Jimmy Griffin told his snow-bound constituents to “Stay inside, grab a six-pack and watch a good football game.”By contrast, our Mayor told us to go out and shop or take in a Broadway show, when even those of us who can afford one had no way of getting there.
Well now Humpty Dumpty has fallen, and while I assume the pieces can be glued back together in a smart-looking new pattern, the goose-egg has been cooked.
In other words:
…All the sweet, greenback icing flowing down...
I guess it is all a bit unfair. But then again, a guy who's bought three elections for himself and a brand new Senate for Dean Skelos certainly has little standing to whine about life’s little injustices.
Still, there is a upside to being the Lindsay of the 21st Century, and Mike has earned it.
He is hereby renamed Mayor Mike “Fun City“ Bloomberg.
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