To the consternation of news bureaus, political consulting firms and has-been politicians, the Wall Street Journal’s poll last month shows that America is hostile to an independent presidential candidacy by Michael Bloomberg. The New York mayor is viewed more unfavorably than favorably by voters. In head-to-head general election polls, he gets crushed everywhere, losing even the city he now governs.
Yet, despite the unprecedented enthusiasm for the major parties’ 2008 presidential contenders, the media and political gatekeepers keep floating the possibility of Bloomberg’s candidacy, showing just how much change frightens the status quo.
To review: Bloomberg is the billionaire who spent roughly the same amount to buy New York’s mayoralty as Bill Clinton spent on his entire national presidential campaign in 1992. By most measures, he is the antithesis of what Americans want in a president.
He is a CEO at a time when his own Bloomberg News polls show Americans overwhelmingly distrust CEOs. He heads a media conglomerate and is considering an independent presidential candidacy in an era when Gallup surveys show voters strongly distrust media companies and are satisfied with the current field of major-party candidates.
Bloomberg is an icon of Manhattan’s effete aristocracy in an election pivoting on working-class voters in Ohio and the Mountain West. He is the caretaker mayor of a city that is an embarrassing spectacle of economic inequality – at a moment when Americans are worried about inequality.
Even on foreign policy he is out of step. With the public outraged at the Iraq War, Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald has documented Bloomberg’s pro-war extremism echoing right-wing attempts to dishonestly connect 9/11 to the conflict; telling America to support President Bush because of the war; and offering a post-“Mission Accomplished” parade for the president.
Bloomberg is positioning himself as an issues-based alternative to both parties’ aspiring nominees. Yet his confidante admits the Bloomberg candidacy would be a Seinfeldian display of arrogance: a campaign about nothing, other than one egomaniac’s self-importance. “It isn’t about which candidate Mike could live with,” the Bloomberg friend recently told New York magazine. “All Mike cares about is whether he can win or not.”
Regardless, the portrayal of Bloomberg as Principled Savior continues. Late last year, Newsweek’s editor penned a brown-nosing front-cover love letter to the mayor, lauding his “American odyssey.” In January, Doug Schoen, a Bloomberg pollster, popped up in articles pushing the Bloomberg candidacy. Just weeks ago, a group of retired lawmakers trumpeted a Bloomberg run.
Some of the motives are obvious. Washed-up politicians are looking for White House jobs. News executives and political consultants see dollar signs in potential Bloomberg for President ads. Reporters would like to ingratiate themselves to the head of a burgeoning media empire. Power-worshiping pundits see in Bloomberg a fellow upper-cruster they can relate to at social gatherings.
But this is about more than just Cabinet slots, cash, careerism and cocktail parties.
In years past, campaign contributors controlled figurehead candidates like Bush, and corporate front groups such as the Democratic Leadership Council pummeled threatening challengers like Howard Dean. These were reliable instruments of corruption that enforced what Alexander Hamilton once called the Establishment’s “permanent will.” Now, though, voters are forcing both parties to ignore that “permanent will” and embrace real, unbridled change.
The Wall Street Journal notes that the ascendance of Republican John McCain, a sometime opponent of corporate America, is downright “nerve-wracking” for insiders already “jarred by intensifying populist attacks from the Democratic field.” Barack Obama (D) is now hammering away at lobbyist-written trade deals that help companies outsource jobs, and even Hillary Clinton (D) – the candidate who has taken the most cash from the health care industry – is criticizing health insurance profiteering.
Thus, the elite are desperate for a stooge, and in Bloomberg, they’ve found one. Politically repugnant to most Americans and representing no mass constituency whatsoever, his wallet nonetheless imparts “legitimacy,” and his corporate career ensures a candidacy working to suppress the change impulse under meaningless bromides about “bipartisanship.”
Bloomberg’s machinations will be the subject of ongoing media speculation. However, the real story is not about one prima donna, but about the entrenched interests pushing him to run in the first place. Whether this billionaire becomes a candidate or not, you can bet those interests will keep working hard to trip up change on its way to the White House.