19 April 2012

Rule us, o Billionaire!

The Founders believed in man's potential for disinterested benevolence -- the ability to act or deliberate in the community's best interest without any consideration or expectation of personal gain. For the most part, they also assumed that only the "gentleman," -- the financially secure individual who had retired from everyday business -- was capable of disinterested benevolence. The poor, they presumed, would use political power to take wealth from the wealthy, while the active businessman would try to manipulate laws to enrich himself or immunize himself from fair competition. Never mind that disinterested benevolence was transparently a matter of self-styled gentlemen protecting their position and prestige from the mob and the ambitious capitalist alike -- the belief persists today. In the 21st century the ideal of disinterested benevolence is the billionaire who calls for higher taxes. The idols of disinterested benevolence are the likes of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates -- and Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire "independent" mayor of New York City.

In his latest New York Times column, "radical centrist" Thomas L. Friedman once more begs Bloomberg to condescend to run for President of the United States. Although Friedman concedes that it would be practically impossible for Bloomberg to win after entering at such a late point, he believes that the mogul could do the country good if he chose to "give the two-party system the shock it needs."  As readers of this blog and Friedman's columns will recall, he believes a "radical center" third party necessary because neither of the two major parties is committed to the entirety of the "grand bargain" Friedman deems necessary to "weatherproof" the country. The grand bargain, in short, consists of austerity plus tax increases. You can see why it appeals to neither Democrats nor Republicans. If austerity, why tax hikes? If tax hikes, why austerity? Friedman's answer is that we need "hard choices, smart investments and shared sacrifices." Besides raising more revenue to meet deficits or pay debts, the country needs to invest in education and infrastructure while retrenching on entitlements. The government must raise more money than Republicans want and spend it differently from how Democrats want it spent. But at least Friedman doesn't kid himself on the current constituency for such a policy. His best-case scenario for Bloomberg is 20% of the popular vote -- right around Ross Perot's total in 1992. But why does he think Bloomberg is the best person to make the case for radical centrism?

I still believe that the national debate would benefit from the entrance of a substantial independent candidate — like the straight-talking, socially moderate and fiscally conservative Bloomberg — who could challenge, and maybe even improve, both major-party presidential candidates by speaking honestly about what is needed to restore the foundations of America’s global leadership before we implode...

 Bloomberg doesn’t have to win to succeed — or even stay in the race to the very end. Simply by running, participating in the debates and doing respectably in the polls — 15 to 20 percent — he could change the dynamic of the election and, most importantly, the course of the next administration, no matter who heads it. By running on important issues and offering sensible programs for addressing them — and showing that he had the support of the growing number of Americans who describe themselves as independents — he would compel the two candidates to gravitate toward some of his positions as Election Day neared. And, by taking part in the televised debates, he could impose a dose of reality on the election that would otherwise be missing. Congress would have to take note. 

Friedman is old-fashioned not just in his belief in disinterested benevolence -- people like Bloomberg and pundits like himself are routinely accused of lust for power these days --  but in his quaint faith in Americans' shared capacity to be swayed by reasoned arguments. You have to believe in a silent majority of radical centrists or principled moderates not to assume that most voters are already immovably convinced by the propaganda of one major party or the other. Friedman isn't exactly a voice in the wilderness -- his books are best-sellers -- but have his efforts changed anything? Why should Bloomberg do better? He presumes, or at least hopes, that the mayor is capable of "offering an inspired vision of American renewal that might motivate such sacrifice" on the part of rich and poor alike. But running for office and winning in New York City is no proof that Bloomberg, a moderate Republican turned independent, can best a dogmatic conservative in debate or persuade a viewer to rethink conservative dogma, while as a billionaire, however philanthropic, he embodies the "1%" who already rule and ruin the country in the minds of many liberals and progressives.  If many in the Republican party consider Mitt Romney too "elite" for them, why should they listen to the apostate Bloomberg, who could probably buy Romney, on any subject? I can't help but think that, no matter how congenial Friedman himself finds Bloomberg's notions, he expects others to be impressed by his wealth and the implicit disinterested benevolence of his policies. Americans are no respecters of class in this ideological age, however. Friedman wants to convince Bloomberg of a patriotic duty to run for President. The real question may be why Friedman doesn't run himself?


TiradeFaction said...

I don't know how "Moderate" Bloomberg really is, just look at what how he described a plan by the city legislature of NYC to raise the wage of (something along the lines of only about 500 employees) to 10 USD per hour. http://irregulartimes.com/index.php/archives/2012/04/14/centrist-billionaire-michael-bloomberg-says-a-living-wage-for-workers-is-downright-soviet/

I do believe Bloomberg is moderate, a moderate libertarian that is. He's all for social liberalism (per it's classical definition) in terms of being pro abortion, pro same sex marriage, pro gun control (though in that case, that's more the modern "American" definition) but he's essentially for the same economic package that the Republican (and much of the Democratic party) offer. The only thing that doesn't make him a big L libertarian is he doesn't go as far as "Ending the Fed!!" and "RETURN TO THE GOLD STANDARD!!", and well, he also seem to disregard civil liberties as when it comes to political rights (IE OWS, manipulating the rules to run for a third term, increasing spy culture of the NYPD)

Anonymous said...

I'd have to agree. Face it, from the left wing perspective, can there really be such a thing as a "moderate conservative"? As far right as the country has been pushed since the Reagan era and it still isn't enough for them.