(Image courtesy Hrag Vartanian/Enzio & Nio)
Elected mayor of New York City two months after 9/11, Michael Bloomberg has changed political affiliations three times in the last decade, made exponential billions by digitizing our lightspeed information economy, evolved beyond a person into an elite corporate personhood, and, after extending his cosmopolis’ term limits, served three historic terms, lately trying to figure out how to dampen down Occupy Wall Street’s populist uprising.
For all those purposes, according to a thinly veiled speech attacking career federal and state politicians, Bloomberg boasts his own army, and he doesn’t seem afraid to use it.
“I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world,” the 69-year-old Independent — who used to be a Republican that used to be a Democrat — explained in a late November speech at MIT. “I have my own State Department, much to Foggy Bottom’s annoyance. We have the United Nations in New York, and so we have an entree into the diplomatic world that Washington does not have…Unfortunately, people at the federal level or the state level typically spend their whole lives in politics, and they’ve never been an executive and it shows.”
But despite all of the arguably arrogant positives that allegedly place his resume well above that of comparatively inexperienced beltway politicians, Occupy Wall Street has stripped away much of his independent facade and exposed him as an enabling engineer of our current political and economic misery, as well as a controversial civil-rights offender with a taste for panoptic totalitarianism. Which does not bode well for what The Atlantic called last September “not just [a] mayor, but also effectively the head of a de facto city-state.”
Indeed, far from being more experienced than the career federal and state politicians he openly lampoons at MIT, Bloomberg now finds himself in what could be a can’t-win political proposition.
“Bloomberg will be under incredible pressure from downtown bankers to wipe away the protestors by force if they are still hanging around this spring,” Rolling Stone‘s excellent muckraker Matt Taibbi told me. “If he doesn’t send in the troops, he’ll lose the financial services industry, and he needs those people to govern New York. But if he becomes the face of a violent move against Occupy Wall Street, it could destroy his national political career. So no matter which door he picks in this Let’s Make a Deal episode, he comes out a loser. It’s kind of awesome.”
The tragic dimension of that thicket is that the one-percenter Bloomberg seems, unlike almost all of the current Republican candidates for president, at least somewhat connected to what master hyperrealist Karl Rove once derided as the “reality-based community.” Instead of treating the LGBT community like benefits-hungry zombies, he’s come out in support of same-sex marriage and is staunchly pro-choice. Rather than fall back on paranoid protectionism, Bloomberg has embraced immigration to America as a millennial reality untouchable by any militarized solution. Last September, his administration threw its support behind a city council bill that would problematize federal officials ability to detain and deport foreign-born inmates on Riker’s Island. “New York remains the most immigrant-friendly city in the nation,” Bloomberg’s chief policy adviser John Feinblatt told the New York Times, in no uncertain terms.
Bloomberg is even an ally in the reality-based community’s infuriating war on compromised climate-change deniers in industry and politics. Last July, Bloomberg donated $50 million to Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, a third of its operating budget for the next four years, arguing that “Coal is a self-inflicted public health risk, polluting the air we breathe, adding mercury to our water, and the leading cause of climate disruption.” By 2012, Bloomberg promised that New York City taxi fleet will either be hybrids or electric vehicles. He’s banned trans-fats in restaurants and smoking in public parks, plazas, beaches and boardwalks. He’s even called taxes a “necessary evil,” and complained loudly on his radio show that high unemployment has incited riots across the world.
“That’s what happened in Cairo,” Bloomberg correctly argued in mid-September. “That’s what happened in Madrid. You don’t want those kinds of riots here. The public is not happy. The public knows there is something wrong in this country, and there is.”
But barely a day later, Occupy Wall Street predictably showed up on Bloomberg’s figurative porch, and all manner of revisionist hell broke loose. Bloomberg wrongly complained that the movement wasn’t “productive,” that protestors were trying to “take the jobs from the people working in the city,” and that New Yorkers need to “help the banks” that utterly jacked them in all kinds of inscrutable ways. All while his ludicrously militarized police force pepper-sprayed women, entrapped citizens, and transformed Zuccotti Park into a surveillance prison after violently evicting occupiers and trashing their libraries, technology and overall civil rights.
No wonder New York’s finest rapper El-P once called him “Mayor Doomberg” in his incendiary hip-hop anthem “Smithereens.” That wasn’t long after Bloomberg, then a Republican, hosted George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the entire neoconservative nightmare machine at the 2004 National Republican Convention in New York. It should be noted that, even in 2004, Bloomberg’s police penned protestors like animals, swept up innocents like trash, and generally abused the citizenry’s civil rights without due process. After Bloomberg’s Occupy Wall Street hypocrisy, Taibbi upped El-P’s ante in a Rolling Stone rant entitled, “Mike Bloomberg’s Marie Antoinette Moment,” throwing in a capitalized “FUCK YOU” as a chaser.
“Bloomberg had the good fortune to be a politician existing outside the traditional two-party structure at a time when public confidence in the two parties reached all-time lows,” Taibbi explained. “This is a political gambit only someone with a billion dollars can afford to take; otherwise you need the support of party hierarchies to win elections. I’m not sure if this is smart or just another advantage of having a lot of money. There really is no upside to shackling yourself to the fortunes of a political hierarchy if you can win without them. I guess Bloomberg gets credit for seeing that much, because not all rich politicians do.”
But despite Bloomberg’s bloviations about private armies and independent power, how much longer will he settle for occupying only a single American office? Today, power-hungry opportunists have no business being mayors or governors. “Power is being the president,” a smug George W. Bush once proclaimed. So how long before Bloomberg caves and runs for the White House?
“It depends on how Occupy Wall Street plays out,” Taibbi added. “But I seriously doubt Bloomberg would try a run at the presidency during a time when popular anger at Wall Street is rising. Bloomberg would have had a better shot in 2004.”
Yet he passed up that opportunity, and probably not just because he was kissing the Republican establishment’s ring at the time by hosting its national convention in his city, against massive popular protest in New York and elsewhere. He began serving his second mayoral term in 2005, and has exploded his net worth ever since. In 2009, Bloomberg enjoyed Earth’s greatest wealth increase, which Forbes reported at $4.5 billion, giving the mayor an overall $16 billion stash. As of last March, that stash stands taller than Zuccotti Park at over $19 billion, making him the 30th richest person in the world. Perhaps he knows that becoming an American president is the same as becoming a loss leader.
And perhaps he should, since it is during Bloomberg’s three mayoral terms that Wall Street has destroyed not just our economy but what remains of last century’s American exceptionalism. That he walked away from this insanely securitized screw job richer than ever tells you all you need to know about his ability to profit off of misery created by those on his watch, which includes conscienceless banksters, brutal cops and worse. So it’s altogether logical that Michael Bloomberg spent his time at MIT lambasting federal and state politicians because he probably thinks they’re bottom-feeders incapable of profiting off of the lucrative opportunities hiding in disaster capitalism’s endlessly engineered crises. Whereas he can make even more billions staying at home and putting down populist uprisings, while condemning the very income inequality he helped create.
“Bloomberg is good at creating the illusion that he’s a moderate,” award-winning New York-based journalist Steven Wishnia concluded. “But he’s really a hardline plutocrat.”