Friday, January 18, 2008

Ego Trips

Mayor Bloomberg kicked off his presidential campaign unofficially yesterday when he gave his annual State of the City speech.

The speech was the usual self-aggrandizing pat on the back rah-rah pom-pom moment you usually get from a politician getting ready to jump to higher office, so I'm not going to bother you with the details.

Suffice it to say that if you work at a vocational high school in the New York City public school system (as I do), Mayor Bloomberg has got some reform for you starting in September 2009!

But let's leave that horror show for another post and get back to the real story (at least in much of the major media's eyes): will he or won't he run for president and if he does, can he win?

Now Bloomberg's been playing coy this last year or so, ordering his administrative minions and political aides to tell the press to ask the mayor publicly at press conferences if he's going to run for president or not so that the mayor can get all smiley and deny he is running but say boy the candidates who are surely suck.

You see, that's his strategy for creating an opening in the race. He wants to create as much dissatisfaction with the current crop of presidential candidates as he can while his political aides and paid shills (including the supposedly "independent" Unity 08 ticket so lovingly trumpeted by "post-partisans" like Sam Waterston, Sam Nunn, Bill Cohen, David Broder, etc) prepare a 50 state strategy for getting their hero on the ballot and competitive in the '08 race.

Bloomberg has a billion bucks to drop in this race and he knows that the current right track/wrong track numbers are so bad (about 19/75 in the latest Washington Post/ABC News and NY Times/CBS polls) that people are desperate for some sort of "change" from the current direction.

So he's doing the best he can to stir up excitement among his true base - the media and press corps - so that they in turn will write glowing stories like this one from David Broder that describe what a competent, post-partisan genius he is and how he is tanned, rested and ready to take on America's problems.

They're also selling him as a businessman who handled the post-9//11 economic problems in New York City so well that he will make mincemeat out of the current mortgage mess/housing slump/coming recession and make America into the beautiful smoke-free, trans-fat free, fiscally solvent land the Founding Fathers envisioned .

But there's only one problem with all these theories: when Survey USA conducted a 50 state poll to see what Bloomberg's support is and the kind of base his potential candidacy would appeal to, they found something quite startling - he garners little support anywhere across the country, never receives more than 13% in any state including New York, wouldn't even win in New York City as a presidential candidate no matter who the Democratic or Republican candidates are and has little effect on the presidential race except that he takes some votes away from Republicans.

In other words, as of now he has no shot to win the White House as an independent.

Now it's true he has a billion dollars or more to drop on advertising to sell himself and his candidacy to America and it's true that a billion dollars in advertising can change opinions awfully fast. Think about how he outspent his opponents in both 2001 and 2005, sold himself to the electorate and bought City Hall. But even so, Bloomberg's got a long hard slog to do it and I don't think even a billion dollars and glowing columns from David Broder would pull it out for him in the end.

As for the rationale behind his candidacy, Bloomberg likes to sell himself as the change agent in the race, a post-partisan figure who will bring the parties together and stop the fighting in Washington, but we already have one of those in Barack Obama, the Democrat who claims Ronald Reagan is his hero.

Bloomberg also likes to sell himself as the competent businessman who can clean up the fiscal mess left behind by George W. Bush, but we also have one of those candidates already in the race and his name is Mitt Romney.

Bloomberg's supporters also like to sell him as a candidate without the personal baggage of a Rudy Giuliani or Hillary Rodham Clinton, one who has no skeletons in his closet and will not be hit with personal or public scandals as president.

But let us not forget that Bloomberg has been slapped with a plethora of sexual harassment lawsuits in the past and settled them all and got non-disclosure agreements from the victims. Let us also remember that his company, Bloomberg LP, is being sued by the federal government for gender discrimination and that his own role in the discrimination problem is being eyed by the feds.

Bloomberg is NOT a candidate without personal or public scandal baggage.

Bloomberg's supporters also say that Bloomberg needs to run because people are fed up with politics as usual and only a post-partisan independent like himself can restore America's interest in politics.

And yet how turned off from politics can America be when interest in the election is so high and turn-out in the primaries and caucuses this year is at a record high? (See here and here for that story.)

It doesn't seem to me like people are being turned off politics these days. If anything, the Iraq war and the tanking of the economy have heightened interest in politics and the '08 elections among all segments of the America - including young people.

So at the end of the day, why is Bloomberg going to run for president?

Well, given that the man feels the need to put his name on everything he owns (Bloomberg LP, Bloomberg News, Bloomberg Radio, Bloomberg TV) and given that the man seems to only be happy when he's the center of political attention and everybody's calling him a political genius, I'd have to say it's nothing more than ego for both the Little Mayor himself and the "wise old men" of Washington and the media who are trying to sell him as just what the nation needs.

Or as Glenn Greenwald put it:

A Bloomberg candidacy would have no purpose other than satisfy his bottomless personal lust for attention and bestow the wise old men threatening the country with his candidacy with some fleeting sense of rejuvenated relevance and wisdom. His political views are conventional in every way and he's little more than an establishment-enabling figurehead. The whole attraction to his candidacy has nothing to do with any issues or substance and everything to do with an empty addiction to vapid notions of Establishment harmony and a desire to exert control, whereby our Seriousness guardians devote themselves to a candidate for reasons largely unrelated to his policies or political views, thus proving themselves, as usual, to be the exact antithesis of actual seriousness.


POSTSCRIPT: One last thing about Bloomberg's poll numbers. Right now his approval in NYC is high - in the 65%-73% range. But if you look at his Q poll numbers over the course of his time in City Hall, you will see that his approval numbers are completely tied to how the economy in the city is doing. When Wall Street is doing well, unemployment is okay and the tax receipts are rolling in, Bloomberg's numbers are quite high. But when the economy was bad, as it was in 2003-2004, his poll numbers sink and he has higher disapproval numbers than approval numbers.

With the economy either falling into a recession or already in one and with financial institutions like Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan Chase, Bear Sterns and a bunch of others writing off almost a a hundred billion dollars, and as lay-offs, inflation and recession start to take a toll on the city economy (as the mayor warned it would in his State of the City speech yesterday), you can bet the mayor's approval numbers are going to plummet as they did during the worst of the 2003-2004 economic downturn.

Which means he may not be as popular as he (or his paid shills in and out of the media) think he is.
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