On the menu today: saying “good riddance” to Mike Bloomberg, an attempt to scapegoat populism for the coronavirus crisis, the difficulties of enforcing a coronavirus quarantine, a good decision on protecting the candidates, and some events this spring that you will not want to miss.
Savor the Future of American Politics without the Threat of Mike Bloomberg Running
In late 2001 and 2002, most people on the right were glad to see Michael Bloomberg emerge as the Republican-ish candidate for mayor. The 9/11 attacks hurt New York City like it had never been hurt before, the task of rebuilding lower Manhattan and protecting against additional attacks was enormous, and Bloomberg’s Democratic rivals were a bunch of run-of-the-mill city-party-machine politicians. Fernando Ferrer argued with a straight face that his work as Bronx Borough president had prepared him to deal with the crisis in downtown Manhattan. He could barely deviate from his pre-9/11 rhetoric:
Ferrer said he believed that the reconstruction should be spread out across New York, and not concentrated in the financial district. “Of course I have a framework for rebuilding our city, while simultaneously protecting our commitment to education, after-school programs, health care and housing.”
Ferrer had prepared for the job of mayor as it existed on September 10, 2001, and couldn’t tear up his preexisting script. Against that, Mike Bloomberg looked like a titan.
As the Bloomberg era continued, New Yorkers liked him — at least, to the extent that you can accurately measure support when he was wildly outspending all of his rivals. Year by year, conservatives gradually grasped that Bloomberg was only an ally on economic issues, and even then in the broadest sense.
I keep hearing Bloomberg described as a pragmatist, even though banning black roofs and organic food waste, requiring a 2–1 women’s-to-men’s bathroom ratio in public buildings, regulating sodium levels in foods, and trying to ban large sodas strikes me as impractical micromanaging. Bloomberg is appalled by how Donald Trump is breaking our norms, but he strong-armed the city council into allowing him to run for a third term. During his brief presidential campaign, Bloomberg just pretended that he never liked stop-and-frisk. (If the constitutional problems with this policy escape you, imagine the IRS instituting a stop-and-audit policy for wealthy middle-aged white males. “Your honor, because of the defendant’s age, sex, and race, we have probable cause for a search.”)
Bloomberg seemed a limitless man — no limit upon what he would regulate, no limit to his self-assurance that he was right, no limit to his ego, and no limit to how much he would spend to achieve his goals. Along the way, Bloomberg decided to effectively “buy the gun-control movement.” Second Amendment advocates and the NRA were largely gaining ground in these years, and in many ways Bloomberg made a perfectly awful messenger: an arrogant, smug Manhattan billionaire who traveled with private armed security and could see no hypocrisy in that, and who scoffed that places such as Colorado Springs and Pueblo “didn’t have roads.” But Bloomberg’s commitment meant that the gun-control movement would always go into every fight with enormous financial resources — an advantage that should never be underestimated.
It’s worth noting that in 2008, and 2012, and 2016, people wondered if Bloomberg would run for president, and some movers and shakers, particularly on Wall Street, encouraged him to run. With so many people dreaming of an independent or yearning of some sort of Napoleonic figure to cut through the partisan divide, the possibility of a mega-billionaire presidential bid that would make Steve Forbes look like a tightwad hung over American politics like a heavy cloud. I would compare a Bloomberg presidential bid to Chekhov’s gun, but I’m sure he would try to ban that, too.
In many conversations with Cam over the years, we wondered just what would happen if the eighth-richest man in America, who effectively owned the gun-control movement and was a true believer in that cause, ran for president. On paper, he was a terrible candidate. But his resources were effectively endless. The prospect of Bloomberg spending his way into the White House and becoming an even more vehement opponent of the Second Amendment than Barack Obama was impossible to rule out.
Since Bloomberg crashed and burned Tuesday night, he’s been getting some strange new respect. Over at The Bulwark, Jonathan V. Last writes, “Mike Bloomberg bought an insurance policy for the Democratic party. He paid for it out of his own pocket and while the cost was more than you or I will ever make in our lifetimes, it was not as exorbitant as it seems. It was, for instance, only a fraction of the cost of building a football stadium, and its societal utility was far greater than half a Jerry World. All things considered, my view is that Bloomberg’s candidacy was more patriotic than narcissistic. And I respect him for doing it.”
To quote the famous criminal lawyer Vinny Gambini: “Everything that guy just said is bulls***.”
Of course Bloomberg’s campaign was narcissistic. He kicked off his campaign by declaring in an interview with CBS News host Gayle King, “I watched all the candidates. And I just thought to myself, “Donald Trump would eat ‘em up.’. . . I would do the best job of competing with him and beating him.” In Bloomberg’s mind, that crowded Democratic field was a bunch of hapless losers — including the two guys who beat him like a drum everywhere he ran except for American Samoa. In Mike Bloomberg’s mind, only he could save the party. The former mayor walked around with a wildly unrealistic sense of his own popularity and persuasiveness.
The truth is that Mike Bloomberg is a pretty lousy, charisma-free campaigner who was always kept aloft by outspending his rivals by an insane ratio. Without his money, Bloomberg would never have won a darn thing. Even in 2001, against Ferrer, Bloomberg won by three percent while outspending his rival, $73 million to $16.5 million.
Even by the standards of presidential campaigns, Bloomberg wildly outspent everyone else this cycle. Back in 2007, Barack Obama spent a bit more than $100 million in one year of running for the presidency, which adjusts to about $135 million today. Bloomberg spent roughly $550 million in three months, which came out to about $233,333 per hour. By comparison, Tom Steyer looks like a cheapskate, spending “only” $250 million.
Thankfully, this time Bloomberg wasn’t up against a bunch of obscure hacks whose hands were still dripping with ooze from climbing the greasy pole of New York City politics. He was up against better-known candidates who had been on the trail for months and who actually bothered to prepare for the debates. The arrogant Bloomberg chose to wing it and paid the price. The presidency was worth spending a half a billion but apparently not worth spending more time in debate practice — or perhaps no Bloomberg staffer dared tell the boss he wasn’t good at this.
Finally, your mileage may vary, but the papers from Sekiko Sakai Garrison’s lawsuit against Bloomberg dispelled any lingering doubts I had that Bloomberg is — or at least was — just a terrible human being. Too many men and women who worked for Bloomberg in the past have told too many similar stories over the years for this to be just a handful of hypersensitive women getting offended over jokes, as Bloomberg insists. (Wilting violets rarely choose to work on Wall Street.) For a lot of years, Bloomberg was a foul-mouthed creep of a boss who simply didn’t seem to see his female employees as human beings. If upon hearing of your wife’s pregnancy, her boss told her to “kill it,” you would want to beat the tar out of the guy.
Perhaps you see a common thread between Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein and Bernie Madoff and Aunt Becky and the other wealthy folks buying their idiot kids a spot in an Ivy League school, and the collapses of Theranos and WeWork, and Martin Shkreli hiking the prices of drugs, to the Lehman Brothers executives who invested so recklessly, and the Sacklers making oodles of money off the opioid epidemic. (The Sacklers reached out to Mike Bloomberg for public-relations help to deal with the opioid profiteering scandal.)
If there’s a common thread, it’s that extremely wealthy people believe that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, and everyone else has to accept the consequences. As a powerful man once put it, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the p****. You can do anything.” If you see this as a serious problem in American life, entrusting the presidency to Mike Bloomberg seemed like an enormous gamble that Bloomberg’s conscience would provide a check against his ego, ambitions, and the temptations of power. None of this is a defense of Donald Trump; it’s an observation that an egomaniacal New York billionaire doesn’t become better just because he’s in a different political party.
Bloomberg will still be around as a big spender in American politics, but he’s never running for office again. That’s something worth smiling about.
Apparently, Somebody Thinks the Coronavirus Can Be Cured by Bigger Deficits
Over in The Atlantic, a classic of the genre of “this sudden crisis means that I should get the policies that I wanted all along” commentary:
Leaders understandably need to reassure their citizens on the economy even as they prepare for the worst—hence the recurring rhetoric about the economy remaining strong. However, to limit the depth of the recession that would accompany a pandemic, they should institute an economic initiative, possibly including a stimulus of government investment, to keep the global economy afloat.
The U.S. government is slated to spend nearly $5 trillion this year. That’s not enough stimulus?
Stronger states must provide assistance to countries with weaker capacity to deal with the exigencies of the crisis, even if the countries are adversaries. Toward that end, the U.S. and others can look at temporarily lifting certain sanctions on vulnerable countries, such as Iran and North Korea, where necessary to fight the virus. There will be ample opportunity to reimpose the restrictions when the emergency has passed.
If we develop a vaccine, we should send it to everyone, including hostile states. If we have spare medical equipment — do we have spare medical equipment? — we should send that, and we should send it to our allies first, then non-allied countries that don’t begin parliament sessions with “death to America,” and then we should send it to hostile countries. Beyond that, I don’t understand why we would rescind economic sanctions on countries for aggressive or reckless behavior.
Maybe We Should Self-Quarantine to Avoid People Who Are Breaking Their Own Self-Quarantine
It’s one thing to declare a quarantine, it’s another thing to enforce it:
When an employee of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire showed signs of possible coronavirus last week, a medical worker who had examined him told him to avoid contact with others, pending further tests. Instead, he went to a mixer at a crowded music venue.
Three days later, he was confirmed as the state’s first coronavirus case.
When those who work in medicine think quarantines are optional, how likely is it that everyone else will honor them? And if this story sounds familiar, it’s because it is. “NBC News said on Thursday that its chief medical correspondent, Nancy Snyderman, is leaving the network months after the doctor made a controversial decision to break an Ebola quarantine to get take-out soup from a restaurant.”
As Kevin Williamson observed, “Americans are bananas, and American public policy has to take the whole banana bunch into account.”
In that light, should we have a bunch of men and a woman in their 70s, some with past health issues, running around the country shaking hands with lots and lots of people and traveling on planes?
Speaking of protecting candidates, some good news: “The Secret Service is working through plans to provide protection to presidential candidates after protesters stormed the stage of former Vice President Joe Biden’s victory rally in Los Angeles late Tuesday in a harrowing scene.”
Just think, all this time we were worried about Islamists and white nationalists, but the anti-milk activists were lurking out there, waiting for the right moment to strike . . .
ADDENDUM: If you haven’t checked out the National Review Institute, you’re missing out on a lot. NRI is running a Regional Seminars series this spring. These half-day conferences will take place in Newport Beach (March 24), San Francisco (March 25), Dallas (April 14), Houston (April 15), New York (May 11), and Philadelphia (May 12) and will feature National Review contributors and leaders like Charlie Cooke, Kevin Williamson, Ramesh Ponnuru, Kyle Smith, Jay Nordlinger, and Maddy Kearns discussing the perennial fight against socialism and the importance of culture. Rich Lowry will be giving the keynote address at each event on his latest book, The Case for Nationalism. For more information and to register for the seminars, visit www.nrinstitute.org.