September 24, 2009 @ 4:19 pm
Michael Bloomberg’s progress not politics is the perfect Madison Avenue campaign slogan. Based on focus groups and polling data, it’s a typically slick piece of political hype. I can almost see the boyz sitting around the table tossing around ideas — Eureka! Progress not Politics. We can sell that.
It fits the Bloomberg public persona — above politics — and his modus operandi — the hired help does the politics, not me. Thus, voters don’t sense any discord between the man and the message, an essential element of a successful campaign slogan. There’s a kind of honesty to it. It is not a slogan that Rush Limbaugh could use. Bloomberg has been selling himself not as New York’s mayor, but as its CEO. He decides what’s best for us (i.e. progress) and he goes forward with the policies and programs to get it done — politics be damned.
Michael Bloomberg has the same contempt for politicians and politics as do many corporate executives, government bureaucrats, and much of the public: Elections are a nuisance, an obstacle to progress (i.e. our agenda). For Bloomberg perhaps, it’s the sacrifice I make for doing public service. Those corporate guys are just in it to protect their narrow interests. However they rationalize what they do, it is the world view of these executive types that the world would be a better place without politics. You don’t need opinion polls and focus groups to tell you that; if citizens didn’t already feel contempt for politics and politicians, Bloomberg’s operatives would come up with a different slogan.
Elected officials understand the phenomenon of course. They spend vast sums trashing opponents as “politicians” and denigrating the policies with which they disagree as “political.” This phenomenon is perhaps the most serious threat to a political society – the only kind of society with any claim to legitimacy. One group’s idea of progress is a package of basic social services and the imposition of constraints on corporate activity; another group regards these things as excessive government interference and a threat to the culture of self reliance and innovation. One group stands to gain and another to lose. Politics within a constitutional and legal framework is the way in which complex societies resolve these competing social interests.CEOs like Bloomberg are accustomed to and more comfortable with hierarchical systems.
To be sure, there are other forms of government in which competing interests are resolved through fiat and violence. Fortunately ours is a political society. But politics cannot survive in any meaningful way un less strong groups within society favor it over some other form of governance. Why do we – why do you need politics? Why do you care? As long as he’s managing things and isn’t taking bribes, what’s the big deal? Here is how Bernard Crick put it in his wonderful essay In Defence of Politics
“The person who wishes not to be troubled by politics and to be left alone finds himself the unwitting ally of those to whom politics is a troublesome obstacle to their well meant intentions to leave nothing alone.”
For me, these observations have particular resonance in this mayoral election. The manner in which Bloomberg bought the Republican and Independence Parties, the arrogant manner in which he has governed, his all encompassing plan for New York City (attract and hold a million wealthy people to manage New York’s global financial enterprise), his tendency to leave nothing and no one alone, his dismissal of two referendum, his earlier attempt to get rid of partisan elections, and his effort to overwhelm the electoral process with cash are profoundly troubling. Bloomberg is unique. This election is important. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: this election isn’t about Thompson v. Bloomberg — it’s about us — The People v. Bloomberg. Thompson’s slogan eight years is enough, doesn’t capture it. Don’t give your vote to a person who doesn’t respect it.
I’m the first to admit there’s a lot wrong with modern politics. There are too many people whose bottom line is to gain or hold power at all costs. In other words, they have no bottom line. There are too many people who take the cash and more or less do what they’re told by the people who give it to them. With all the tools of modern propaganda available to the people on both sides of the transaction, often they can convincingly explain why what they do is in the public interest — progress not politics. We are afflicted with such people, not only Republicans, but Democrats as well. This is the meaning of the Bloomberg phenomenon, and the campaign slogan reflects it: Bloomberg the CEO has the same contempt for politics and politicians that the person who pays the bribe feels for the person who accepts it.
The financial deals he made with George Pataki, Joe Bruno, Alfonse D’Amato, Rudy Giuliani, and the Republican county leaders to allow him to run as a Republican, and the more recent deal with the City Council speaker to override term limits are not the kind of politics we need; those are insider intrigues — palace politics fueled by cash. There hasn’t been much written about them. Nobody’s talking.
I fear that Bloomberg has sold the progressives or those who think of themselves as progressives — the people Thompson needs — on the idea that he is above politics, above the self-interested games that small time politicians play to curry favor with the hoi polloi, their own constituents. And in a sense he is. But beginning with his slogan, his campaign is full of lies, half-truths, and fraudulent statistics. Yes, he will govern honestly in the narrowest sense of that word. He will not be bribed. His pernicious influence, that of the giver is largely ignored.
Not only doesn’t he take the money but he isn’t the brutish Frank Rizzo in Philadelphia or the nasty Rudy Giuliani. Bloomberg is civilized. He won’t embarrass us. Best of all, he won’t bow to the unruly dissenters; if the truncheon becomes necessary he won’t hesitate. The candidate with the perfect campaign slogan.
Here’s ours: Don’t Give Your Vote to The Person Who Doesn’t Respect It.
– Neil Fabricant