Sunday, 2 November 2008

Fugue in B Mayor

The peculiar Mike Bloomberg probably can buy himself a third term, but he may well live to regret it. That is, if people in his airy realm still have that word in their dictionaries.

Bloomberg, the proud possessor of some eight billion dollars as well as the mayor’s office, just rammed through the City Council a suspension of the two-term limit that would apply to mere mortals. Given his famous pockets, that should be enough to shoo him into a third four-year stint.

But the move threatens the key to his success. Bloomberg has benefited from a long American tradition of the anti-politician, the weary ‘outsider’ trope now being reprised by Sarah ‘Shopping Spree’ Palin who rails against ‘greed and corruption’ while charging her daughters’ airfares to the state. Saint Ronald was the master of this chorus as he solemnly exhorted the populace not to expect government to solve any problem because, as he quipped to a round of yuks, ‘Government IS the problem!’

The faux-populist message in its essence goes something like this: Potholes should be filled and fires extinguished for free. Government should provide the services that make my life more comfortable, but I should not be compelled to pay for them.

There is a faintly royalist hue to this worldview. It would fit nicely if we were ruled by absurdly rich princes who magnanimously bestowed their favors upon us, their peons, upon which we gratefully repaired back to our fields rubbing our calloused hands and remarking upon the fine lord’s largesse.

That’s why anti-politics fit His Bloombergship so well after his accidental stumble into the mayor’s job in a post 9/11 fluke. He doesn’t draw a salary and isn’t directly beholden to the monied interests because he can buy and sell them and so comes up with one policy scheme after another, ranging from the brilliant (smoking bans) to the hare-brained (the Westside stadium). Whatever you think of them, you know they spring fully-formed from his exalted forehead, and his alone.

But the crude railroading of special rules through the Council, dismissing two citywide plebiscites on term limits with a wave of his patronage-laden wand, has given Mayor Mike feet of clay, and New York is still enough of a mob town that you don’t want them to harden into cement. Instead of a selfless public servant, Bloomberg now looks like a rich bully-boy and will enter an eventual third term tarnished just as the populace is about to experience the shock of recession in the flesh and gets ready to denounce either the deprivations to come or the nasty chore of paying money to avoid them. Or both.

The anti-pol pol routine is a great electoral strategy, and if you’re a lucky s.o.b. like Reagan, you can carry it right into the grave while the political class you spent your life dissing sings hosannas and showers your bier with rose petals. Somehow I don’t think Mr Bloomberg’s going to enjoy a similar fate.

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