Jonathan Chait wrote a very interesting feature about Michael Bloomberg over at New York Magazine, The Dashed Dreams of President Bloomberg. It gets at a very important point to me. A lot of pundits (most notably Thomas Friedman) think that what America really wants is a moderate president. What is so exasperating about this idea is that for the last two years, the Democratic Party has given the American people moderate after moderate. But the Republicans have defined these moderates as extremists and the pundits have gone right along. And when it comes to liberal economic policy, the people mostly love it. But the national politicians don’t. In fact, pretty much no one on the television does either. It just isn’t acceptable policy for the Smart Set.
Bloomberg seems to have made the mistake of believing the pundits. He thought that he could be a moderate and the people would rise up and make him King of America. But Chait makes a mistake in his discussion of this. He correctly notes that Bloomberg is a social liberal and half admits that he is an economic conservative. But that doesn’t make him a centrist or a moderate. What it makes him is a typical politician who only cares about what is good for his class. He has friends who are gay. He knows women who have had abortions. Some of his best brokers are black! These are all great things, but they don’t make him a centrist. In fact, by American standards, they put him fairly far to the left on social issues and very far to the right on economic issues. So he’s an extremist—just in a slightly unusual way.
Chait tries to lighten the case by noting that Bloomberg wanted to allow all of the Bush tax cuts to expire. This is not a liberal position. People often mistake it for one because Obama was for it. But Obama really is that vaunted moderate, although he too is mostly socially liberal and economically conservatives—just not as much as Bloomberg. Raising taxes during an economic downturn is a bad thing. It is bad for workers who have jobs and bad for workers who do not. It puts debt concerns well ahead of unemployment concerns. And the way that Bloomberg wanted to do it would have hurt workers both because it would have caused a bigger economic hit (the tax increase would have been bigger) and it would have taxed the poor more. That’s not liberal economic policy!
But perhaps the worst thing about Bloomberg is that he is an authoritarian when it comes to the poor but a libertarian when it comes to the rich. The poor are not healthy? Stop them from smoking in bars; ban trans-fats in restaurants; eliminate the Big Gulp at 7-11! None of these are the worst ideas that a politician has ever come up with. But they are all authoritarian. They are all things that the government shouldn’t have much say in because there isn’t a compelling social interest. (The smoking in bars is perhaps an exception.) But after a huge financial crisis when the government spent hundreds of billions of dollars to save the banks, Michael Bloomberg was Wall Street’s greatest defender! We needed no regulation. It was the libertarian ideal for the banks (and socialism whenever they got themselves into trouble).
Chait summed up Bloomberg’s paternal attitude nicely:
In my many conversations with normal conservative and liberal voters, the one thing they tend to agree on (at least in the abstract) is economic populism. Even Paul Ryan uses that rhetoric. Everyone understands and dislikes the fact that individuals and small businesses have great constraints put upon them, but big businesses get whatever they want. But our politicians are beholden to these large business interests. And Michael Bloomberg is the poster child for this kind of thing. And he doesn’t even want us to be able to buy a really big soda to drown our sorrows in.