Michael Bloomberg's Centrism Combines the Worst Instincts of the Right and Left
In the unlikely event that the former New York mayor wins the Democratic nomination, the 2020 election will pit a billionaire busybody against a billionaire bully.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is reportedly entering the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, presenting himself as a moderate alternative who can beat Donald Trump. That mantle had been claimed by Joe Biden, but Bloomberg, who previously said he was staying out of the race, apparently has been disappointed by the former vice president's performance so far.
It's highly doubtful that Democratic primary voters will find Bloomberg, who until recently was a Republican, more appealing than Biden. But in the unlikely event that Bloomberg wins the nomination, the presidential nomination will pit a billionaire busybody again a billionaire bully, a match-up that might be entertaining but will not offer an obvious alternative for voters who favor limited government.
Bloomberg is hardly unusual among Democrats in favoring stricter gun laws and all manner of paternalistic restrictions on individual choice. But he has shown a special enthusiasm for both projects, as illustrated by his financial support for anti-gun lobbying and a campaign to ban flavored e-cigarettes. As mayor, he supported a litany of taxes, restrictions, and bans aimed at tobacco products, salt, trans fats, and big beverages.
Bloomberg's reaction to the legal defeat of his ban on large sugary drinks was telling. "We have a responsibility as human beings to do something, to save each other, to save the lives of ourselves, our families, our friends, and all of the rest of the people that live on God's planet," he said. "And so while other people will wring their hands over the problem of sugary drinks, in New York City, we're doing something about it." Bloomberg honestly believed he was saving the world, one slightly smaller serving of soda at a time.
At a 2011 U.N. conference on "the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases," Bloomberg explained the rationale for a nanny state that meddles in people's lives for their own good. "There are powers only governments can exercise, policies only governments can mandate and enforce, and results only governments can achieve," he said. "To halt the worldwide epidemic of non-communicable diseases, governments at all levels must make healthy solutions the default social option. That is ultimately government's highest duty." On Bloomberg's to-do list for government, in other words, defending us against our own unhealthy habits ranks above defending us against foreign invaders or marauding criminals.
While Bloomberg's paternalism may not faze progressives, his approach to crime control should. Under his administration, notwithstanding his admission that he had smoked pot and "enjoyed it," arrests for marijuana possession in New York City soared to record levels. This year he said legalizing marijuana, a policy supported by almost every other Democratic presidential contender (with the notable exception of Biden), "is perhaps the stupidest thing we've ever done."
Bloomberg was (and is) an ardent defender of the NYPD's "stop, question, and frisk" (SQF) program, which involved detaining, questioning, and searching young (and overwhelmingly black or Hispanic) men, often without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Although the threat posed by hidden weapons was the official justification for stop-and-frisk pat-downs, they almost never discovered any, and a federal judge ultimately ruled that the program was unconstitutional.
Bloomberg actually conceded that point, probably without realizing it. He defended SQF not as a method of disarming criminals but as a way of deterring young men from carrying guns in the first place. To his mind, the tiny and declining percentage of stops that yielded guns showed the program was working. According to the Supreme Court, however, police must have reasonable suspicion that a particular person is armed before patting him down.
Bloomberg is either oblivious to that requirement or believes ignoring it is necessary to prevent gun violence. When The New York Times asked him about the constitutionality of suspicionless searches last fall, he said the ends justify the means. "I think people, the voters, want low crime," he said. "They don't want kids to kill each other." Never mind that property and violent crime rates in New York City—which peaked in 1988 and 1990, respectively—were already falling before SQF, or that there is no clear relationship between the number of stops and the rate of decline.
On this issue, Bloomberg sees eye to eye with Trump, who thinks "stop and frisk" is a no-brainer. Notwithstanding their differences in style and deportment, both men share a belief that constitutional niceties should not get in the way of policies they think will be effective, regardless of what the evidence actually shows. If that's what moderation means, we need less of it, not more.