Will anyone listen?
Michael Bloomberg is an exceptional politician, one who is genuinely bipartisan and in a position — as the extremely wealthy mayor of New York City — to express his political views without fear of dire consequences. It’s too bad his message for both Democrats and Republicans probably won’t be heeded by either party, or perhaps even many voters, in this year’s presidential election.
In a recent newspaper interview, Bloomberg volunteered his observations about both candidates, and they weren’t exactly favorable. Of Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, he said: “I do think that Romney’s business experience would be valuable, but I don’t know that running Bain Capital gives you the experience to run the country.”
Referring to President Obama, the New York mayor said: “This business of ‘Well, they can afford it; they should pay their fair share?’ Who are you to say ‘Somebody else’s fair share?’”
And, about both candidates, he added that “their economic plans are not real, I think that’s clear.”
Maybe yes, maybe no. But it’s a rare politician who, with credibility, would step up and make that claim about the two men who are jousting to win the election next month.
As the New York Times reporter who interviewed Bloomberg wrote: “Mr. Bloomberg was speaking for voters everywhere who feel exasperated by a presidential campaign that has been fought in sound bites and bromides as problems at home and abroad multiply.” Bloomberg, he added, implied that neither Obama nor Romney was taking “leadership and standing up to do things that aren’t going to be popular.”
And isn’t that a real problem? To win election, candidates believe they must appeal to the most popular trains of thought and beliefs and, whether reluctantly or otherwise, steer clear of any big ideas that may alienate those voters who cling feverishly to ideas they’d rather not have disturbed. Isn’t that why there has been virtually no discussion of gun control, for instance, in this year’s election?
Here’s more about Bloomberg that’s relevant to this discussion: He has formed a group called Independence USA PAC that has pledged to spend as much as $15 million in the next two weeks on state, federal and local candidates whose views align with his in support of gun control, same-sex marriage and overhauling public schools. Bloomberg’s central argument is that they were too hemmed in by partisan obligations and special-interest intimidation to tackle problems head-on.
Well, speaking of tackling problems head-on, consider this: We Americans are quite capable of self-delusion and this applies especially to the concept of “American exceptionalism” (fiercely defended by some politicians). We’re conditioned from childhood to regard America as the greatest nation in the world; any candidate suggesting otherwise risks committing political suicide. But we can’t tackle problems if we deny they exist.
Yet, in child poverty we rank 34th in the world. On educational achievement, America is 28th in the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool and 14th in the percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds with a higher education. In infant mortality, we’re worse off than 48 other countries and territories, and America is behind most of Europe, Australia and Canada in social mobility. In energy use per person, we consume twice as much as Germany. The list goes on and on, yet largely we ignore it.
Most candidates won’t speak candidly about such matters because they don’t enjoy Bloomberg’s rare immunity from political consequences. So we voters must demand greater candor and a serious national debate about these issues. How else can we resolve them?