Monday, July 22, 2013

Bloomberg: More dangerous than the Koch brothers

From Salon:

It's one thing to be a rich, dogmatic media owner. To also be a self-financed politician and movement leader? Scary

By Tuesday, Jul 16, 2013

In the trial following their overthrow that led to the execution of Romania’s communist dictator Nicolae Ceacescu and his wife, Elena, a darkly comic moment occurred when Elena told the prosecutor: “Such impudence! I am a member and chairman of the Academy of Sciences! You cannot talk to me in such a way!” A few lines later in the transcript, her husband pointed out: “She was not a deputy prime minister, but the first deputy prime minister.”

One of the things that distinguishes a democratic republic from a banana republic is the fact that the president or first lady is not also head of the air force, chairman of the public utility commission, owner of the biggest bank in the country, director of the national sports franchise and “chairman of the Academy of Sciences.” Which is why I will be glad to see New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg leave office.

I have nothing against Bloomberg, an honorable, intelligent and public-spirited individual. I agree with him on some issues, though not all. But I think that the citizens of a republic must be troubled when a single individual — no matter how enlightened or benevolent — is simultaneously the mayor of America’s second most important city, after Washington, D.C., the owner of a major media outlet, and an important funder in national politics, financing, among other things, the quasi-third-party “No Labels” movement and the gun control campaign. There is such a thing as “civic tact” in a republic, and that means, among other things, that if you are a rich American, you restrain your personal ambition and don’t try to buy too many prizes and too much attention for yourself.

If the plutocratic drift of American politics needs a poster boy, it is Michael Bloomberg. We have had self-financed billionaire politicians, like Ross Perot and Mitt Romney. We have had rich, opinionated media owners, like Rupert Murdoch. We have had billionaire patrons of political movements, including the Koch brothers on the right and George Soros on the center-left.

Bloomberg is Perot and Romney and Murdoch and the Koch brothers and Soros combined. Such a combination of political, media and economic power in a single individual should be a source of concern, even if the individual happens to be decent and public-spirited.

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