Is there a politician out there these days more entertaining and provocative than Michael Bloomberg?
Bloomberg is no longer the mayor of New York. But in the past week, he's given a world-class demonstration of how he plans to remain relevant even while out of office.
Wednesday, at the Town & Country Philanthropy Summit in Manhattan, Bloomberg talked about the advantage that private philanthropy has over government spending.
"Innovation by definition sometimes involves failure and if there's anything that scares elected officials, not to mention their consultants, it is failure," he said. "The press magnifies failure. They harp on it and they sensationalize it, and opponents exploit that, so politicians play it safe."
It's somewhat amusing that Bloomberg, who owns a news organization that employs thousands of journalists, would denounce the press with such a broad brush. His own business journalists have been known, from time to time, to harp on and sensationalize failure in the businesses that they cover. It's also somewhat amusing that a mayor who spent a lot of tax money trying to solve problems as mayor—and, to be fair, had some success at it—now sees the private sector as the leading edge.
Bloomberg's remarks at the philanthropy summit are particularly interesting in the context of his commencement speech the next day at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., which got a lot more press attention. There, Bloomberg complained that "the federal government has abdicated its responsibility to invest in scientific research." Well, maybe the Thursday Bloomberg should have a talk with the Wednesday Bloomberg to find out about the advantages of private philanthropic funding over government spending.
The Thursday Harvard speech was so newsworthy in part because it contained a denunciation of left-wing bias on university campuses.
Bloomberg said that "In the 2012 presidential race, according to Federal Election Commission data, 96 percent of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees went to Barack Obama. Ninety-six percent. There was more disagreement among the old Soviet Politburo than there is among Ivy League donors."
He said, "When 96 percent of Ivy League donors prefer one candidate to another, you have to wonder whether students are being exposed to the diversity of views that a great university should offer. Diversity of gender, ethnicity, and orientation is important. But a university cannot be great if its faculty is politically homogenous. …When tenure was created, it mostly protected liberals whose ideas ran up against conservative norms. Today, if tenure is going to continue to exist, it must also protect conservatives whose ideas run up against liberal norms."
Said Bloomberg, "a liberal arts education must not be an education in the art of liberalism."
Terrific stuff. But Bloomberg went on, in the same speech, to advocate for his own liberal views on gun control and climate change. Maybe the Bloomberg from the beginning of the Harvard speech should have a talk with the Bloomberg from the end of the Harvard speech to find out about how a college commencement isn't the place for indoctrination in left-wing political views.
Bloomberg used the Bloomberg View platform of his Bloomberg financial information and news company to post a version of his Harvard Commencement speech and also an article under his own byline praising President Obama's regulations that will shut down coal-fired electricity plants. Both articles were also posted at MikeBloomberg.com, a web site that, political-campaign-style, collects email and zip code information from visitors who want to "stay informed."
And all this happened just after Bloomberg returned from Israel, where he was feted with the Genesis Prize at an event with an amazing video that included praise from Presidents Obama, Clinton, and George W. Bush, Mayor Giuliani, Bill Gates, and Bono.
If Bloomberg were only a few years younger, it could all form the basis of an independent presidential campaign in 2016. If the Republicans were to nominate a firebrand like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz and the Democrats were to nominate Elizabeth Warren, it would be easy to see a space for a Manhattan establishment candidate with backing from the press, Wall Street, and the Council on Foreign Relations crowd to defend Park Avenue against pitchfork populism.
Or maybe Bloomberg's age isn't the obstacle we think it is. Bloomberg's mother lived until she was 102, and plenty of other billionaires, such as Rupert Murdoch, Sheldon Adelson, and Sumner Redstone, are on their games well into their 80s.
Even if a presidential campaign doesn't happen, expect to see a lot of Bloomberg in the coming years.