Bloomberg Could Tie Centrists in Knots By Laura S. Washington

If the New York mayor runs, he will stymie the ability of the Democratic nominee to play both sides of the fence on issues like guns, gay rights, immigration and choice

Dandelion Salad

By Laura S. Washington
In These Times
July 24, 2007

When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg looks at himself in the mirror, what do you suppose he sees?

A hard-nosed, no-nonsense businessman? A non-partisan political operator? Perhaps a nuts-and-bolts manager? Kingmaker, spoiler, billionaire? The next president of the United States?

It’s a perplexing picture that offers up a cornucopia of possibilities. Bloomberg has newly declared himself an independent. Independent runs for the presidency can be treacherous.

“Ralph Nader” became two very dirty words after a certain megalomaniac ensured the debacle of Election 2000. His ill-timed and ill-conceived independent bid ushered in an eight-year horror story.

What does the man in the mirror mean for the left? How will a Bloomberg candidacy—or even its potential—affect the role of the left in presidential politics?

Bloomberg’s recent declaration of political independence last month sent shock waves through the Democratic and Republican sides of the burgeoning presidential contest.

A plethora of candidates from both parties—nearly 20 at last count—are scrambling for their respective nominations. If a third-party Bloomberg candidacy jumps into the fray, the presidential campaign would start to resemble a reprise of Cheaper by the Dozen.

Progressives may be too quick to dismiss the publishing magnate as too far off the reservation. In Gotham City, a surprisingly diverse number of pols and civic types are slyly and quietly trumpeting the possibilities.

With good reason. Take an issue like gun control. Bloomberg is right on the money. Listen to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama speak in nuanced and tremulous tones about balancing gun violence and civil liberties. They don’t want to irritate the deer hunters of Pennsylvania, a la Al Gore.

Then listen to Bloomberg. In January 2006, he announced he would use his second mayoral term to campaign against what he called “the scourge of illegal guns.”

According to the New York Sun, Bloomberg proclaimed he would take his gun-control crusade to “Albany, to Washington, and to every capital of every state that permits guns to flow freely across its border.”

Then listen to Tom Teepen, a columnist for Cox Newspapers in Atlanta, who wrote: “If there were an Oscar for sanity about guns Bloomberg not only would deserve it but alas, also would probably be the only nominee.”

Gun control is also a signature issue for many progressives. By mid-June of this year, gun violence in Chicago had claimed the lives of 34 public-school students. Two notable civil-rights activists, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest, were arrested during a protest outside a busy gun store in Riverdale, a Chicago suburb. This is a gut issue for urbanites, and many were rooting for the Revs, including me.

Would a Bloomberg run, propped up by a very sturdy anti-gun plank, affect the presidential dialogue? You bet.

The Republicans may be shameless, but they are not stupid. My guess is that they won’t commit political hari-kari and allow the Iraq War to dominate the 2008 election.

Here’s the plan: move Iraq off the front page. Spin the troop stand downs, partial withdrawals, and whaddaya know—an 11th hour “victory.”

When the air clears, domestic issues will take front and center. If Bloomberg runs, he will stymie the ability of the Democratic nominee to play both sides of the fence on issues like guns, gay rights, immigration and choice.

About those guns. Bloomberg has become a favorite target of the National Rifle Association, and he doesn’t give a whit. That’s because he has money, money, money. Prognosticators are predicting nominee wannabes will have to surpass the $100 million fundraising mark to stay in the game.

Yawn. The architecture of the ‘08 race would be bent out of shape by a Bloomberg bid. Michael Bloomberg is worth about $5.5 billion, according to the latest billionaire roster from Forbes magazine. A third-party bid by Bloomberg could inject some seriously filthy lucre into the race.

Massive media buys by Bloomberg would drive the debate on domestic issues.

Those kinds of bucks will create a contortion even a yoga instructor couldn’t handle.

No one knows if Bloomberg will run. If he does, he could complicate the centrist tendencies of the Obamas, Clintons, et al. And that could be a very good thing.

Laura S. Washington, an In These Times senior editor, teaches journalism at DePaul University and is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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