A Billionaire’s Conceit


Skipping that messy process of democracy, Bloomberg drafts himself as a presidential candidate

It doesn’t matter that New York’s mayor, Mike “Michael” Bloomberg, hasn’t formally announced a bid for president. He’s running, as only this billionaire can: Standing in the shadows, waiting to see how the absurd process shakes out, eager to play a game of cash-as-cash-can.

Reuters reported yesterday on a Quinnipiac poll:

Fifty-two percent of New York City voters say Mayor Michael Bloomberg would make a good president but only 34 percent would vote for him, a poll released on Wednesday said.

By several measures, the Quinnipiac University poll showed less than majority support for a Bloomberg presidential campaign by voters who twice sent him to City Hall and still give him a 73 percent approval rating.

Just sixteen percent would like to see Bloomberg run for the White House, the poll said.

Political analysts see the billionaire mayor of New York as a potential independent candidate for president who could self-finance his campaign, although Bloomberg has repeatedly said he is not a candidate.

Y’all out in the hustings may want to listen up about Bloomberg. Few New Yorkers knew anything about him until he skipped the democratic process a few years ago and bought Gracie Mansion, succeeding Rudy Giuliani.

The best take on Bloomberg comes from my colleague Tom Robbins. (Full disclosure: I edit Robbins’s copy, but he is responsible for its beauty and vigor.) Here’s a snatch of his cover piece on Bloomberg from this week’s Voice:

His candidacy was a dead certainty as soon as his picture went onto the covers of Time and Newsweek magazines, honored for accomplishments that stood out mainly because he is fabulously wealthy. Look, said the stories, rich men can do more than make fools of themselves on TV game shows: They can speak seriously about the environment, about guns that shouldn’t be sold, and about schools that don’t teach. His solutions for these ailments are only modest and of the most pedestrian variety. But he has been elected mayor of New York twice and he is hugely wealthy, so he must be taken very seriously.

His platform, so far, consists of a vacuous rhetoric that lets listeners read into it whatever they want. He would end “the tired debate between the left and the right, between Democrats and Republicans.” Oh really? He would pull Washington out of its “swamp of dysfunction.” How grand!

Michael Bloomberg, who couldn’t get a crowd to stand on its feet and cheer with real enthusiasm to save his life; Michael Bloomberg, who raises the temperature in the room only when he reaches for his wallet; Michael Bloomberg, who has managed to duck every tough question about the direst issues confronting our country, from Iraq to Iran. Michael Bloomberg will run for president because he hears America calling for change. He alone hears his own name in that same wind, but no matter. He can do so because he can afford to. And that’s that.

The only hitch in his game plan would be if the Republicans, in a moment of unlikely sanity, nominate John McCain, who is both a war hero and preaches the same kind of ideology of reform. That might steal a little too much of the Bloomberg thunder. The same difficulty could arise if the Democrats pick Barack Obama, who has spent his entire life grappling with our most hideous ailment, race, and who talks about hope, change, and bipartisan leadership in a manner that actually convinces people he means it. That, too, could be a little too close for Bloombergian comfort.

As to whether Bloomberg is a Republican or Democrat? He’s neither, as Robbins pointed out in an earlier piece. The guy is more like our version of Lee Kuan Yew, the Singaporean despot who was always willing to sacrifice civil liberties in the cause of making the streets safe for corporations.

Luckily, New York was spared the 2012 Olympics, despite the city’s costly campaign. If the city had won the North American bid, Bloomberg would have “cleaned up” the place, stifling the disorder of street vendors, dissidents, and commoners that makes the city such a vibrant place.

Bloomberg is prevented by term limits from acquiring another term as mayor and the presidency is up for grabs, so you might want to look out for that limousine drive-by on our democratic — deeply flawed but democratic — process of picking a prexy.