By Bob Barr
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a number of qualities that tend to impress – including business acumen and entrepreneurship – but courage of conviction is not among them. This is an omission that should seriously concern independent voters and business leaders who might be inclined to support his strengthening presidential bid.
As I opined in this publication in January, Bloomberg is a candidate to be taken seriously; but now more by Democrats in the primary than by Republicans in the general election.
His wealth remains mind-boggling, as does his willingness to part with it in his quest for the presidency. Mayors, congressmen and myriad other elected officials who have benefitted from his largesse over the past two decades, already are lining up as early endorsers.
The most noteworthy hallmark of Bloomberg’s overall success is his well-earned reputation for success in the financial arena. Bloomberg LP is a brand known and respected around the world and made its progenitor one of the richest men in the world.
Bloomberg’s rise in the political arena, while successful, has not been marked by the same degree of consistency and stability as the trajectory exhibited by his success in business. A registered Democrat long before he decided to throw his hat into the ring to succeed Rudy Giuliani as Mayor of New York, Bloomberg exhibited no angst whatsoever in switching his party affiliation from “D” to “R” then to “Independent” and now back to “D.”
The ease with which Bloomberg floats from one side of the political aisle to another appears not to trouble many Democrats. To be sure, throughout the modern political era leaders in both major parties have shown themselves quite flexible and forgiving in this regard. Lack of consistency is easily overlooked if not forgotten altogether, when balanced against short-term electoral success. With Bloomberg, however, such shifts and other recent pronouncements by the candidate represent a deeper and more fundamental character flaw.
Any individual seriously considering supporting Bloomberg should be deeply troubled by the ease with which he openly and cravenly discards not only ideas which formed the bases for his prior actions, but the actual policies themselves. His unseemly (actually, embarrassing) apology for the “stop-and-frisk” policy that was a key factor in his administration’s successful program to drive down the crime rate in the city he led, should telegraph to every supporter and potential supporter that at his core, the man is weak and untrustworthy.
While some Bloomberg supporters may remind us that Republican Richard Nixon, for example, more than once switched his position on key policies, there is a difference.
During his six years as President, Nixon did in fact anger many conservatives by signing pieces of legislation that institutionalized liberal environmental and workplace policies. Arguably, however, such moves were made by Nixon as bargaining chips in a larger game designed to institute what to him were far more consequential achievements in the international arena; and in this he largely succeeded. In other words, Nixon made conservatives upset, but did so according to a plan that accomplished what at least in his view, were other more important conservative goals.
In Bloomberg, there is no such plan against which to weigh his inconsistencies; nor has there in the past been one. In seeking voters’ support now, Bloomberg apologizes for doing something that he claims not to have understood then. This is blatantly and pathetically false. Bloomberg is smart; of this there is little doubt. During his tenure as Mayor, he knew exactly what the stop-and-frisk policy was doing, to who, and why. Recordings now public establish beyond any doubt that “Mayor Mike” knew exactly and full-well what “stop-and-frisk” was.
In asking voters now to forgive him for what he claims not to have known then, he is asking them to overlook the fact he is a liar, but even more important, a weak leader.
I recently enjoyed watching a dark comedy about politics in the former Soviet Union – The Death of Stalin. As the anti-Stalin plotters walk from the closing scene, the character playing Nikita Khrushchev voices concerns to a fellow conspirator, “I’m worried about Malenkov, though. Can we trust him?” The co-conspirators question in reply is far more crucial — “Can you ever trust a weak man?”
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He now serves as President of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation based in Atlanta, Georgia.