The Bloomberg Presidency

Column: Obama puts the priorities of the elite over the people

April 12, 2013

The future of gun control and immigration reform, and how effective or meaningful either law ultimately would be, remains uncertain. What is certain is that neither guns nor immigration is a top public priority, or even close to one.

This has been the case since President Obama’s reelection. A December 2012 Bloomberg poll, conducted prior to the Newtown shooting, found the public’s top priorities were unemployment and jobs (34 percent), the federal deficit (19 percent), and entitlements (11 percent). Immigration was number seven, with only 4 percent of respondents saying it was their top priority. Guns did not make the list.

Newtown changed that. By a mid-January CNN poll, gun policy had moved into fourth place. But it still only rated single digits. The economy was priority number one (46 percent), the federal deficit was number two (23 percent), and health care was number three (14 percent). Immigration was sixth on this list, with 3 percent.

Guns moved into third place in a late January, early February Quinnipiac poll, three points higher than health care but far behind the deficit (20 percent) and the economy (35 percent). Once again immigration was near the bottom of the list.

However, a few weeks ago, when CBS asked, "What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?" only three percent of respondents said guns. As always the economy and the deficit and health care were at the top. This time immigration did not make the list at all.

The American political class, in other words, is debating a set of issues that has little or nothing to do with the priorities of most of the human beings that that class purports to represent. And the American political class is having this debate, in the most vulgar terms, at a time when millions of Americans are out of work, when energy and food prices are on the rise, and when the deficit remains enormous. Why?

Perhaps it’s because President Obama won reelection without having an agenda. His 2012 campaign apparatus, not to mention self-inflicted wounds on the part of the Republican candidate, provided him a narrow victory in the popular vote. But Mitt Romney won a majority of the votes of the 59 percent of Americans who said the economy was the most important issue, and narrowly beat Obama on the question of who would better handle the economy.

Winning an economic election despite lacking an economic agenda and confidence in economic leadership left the president with a challenge: What, exactly, to do? Finally make that "pivot" to the economy the media have promised the American people since Obama wasted the first half of his term passing a health care law the public did not want? Or continue instead to pummel Republicans, this time by using social issues to divide them?

We know the answer. Rather than pursue his American Jobs Act with anything approaching vigor, or authorize a no-brainer such as the Keystone XL Pipeline, or try new approaches that might conceivably attract Republican support, Obama chose the social issues, with an eye to changing control of the House in 2014. His current agenda embodies perfectly the concerns and worldview of the wealthy men and women who fund his party. Republicans are not the only ones affected by "donor-ism." Guns and immigration are perennial favorites of the Bloomberg set—the class of liberal rich that fatuously believes it is somehow "above politics." This isn't the beginning of Obama's second term. It's the beginning of Bloomberg's first one.

The Bloomberg style has several distinctive features. The first is a complete indifference to or dismissal of middle class concerns. In this view, it matters less that the middle class is enjoying full employment or economic independence or a modicum of social mobility or even action on issues it finds important, and more that it has access to government benefits generous enough to shut it up.

Recall that in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy Bloomberg was far more interested in seeing the Yuppie-filled New York City Marathon take place, and in linking the storm to apocalyptic climate change, than in mobilizing the combined forces of municipal and state and federal government to take care of the white working class on Staten Island and in the Rockaways. Similarly, Barack Obama has nothing new to say on the economy or deficit, but delivers speech after speech on gun regulations that would not have stopped the Sandy Hook massacre, while his allies in the Senate work to import low-wage labor on the one hand and high-end Silicon Valley labor on the other. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the nation hopes for better days.

Another hallmark of the Bloomberg style is its insufferable condescension. One need only have heard the tiniest whine of a Bloomberg speech to know what I’m talking about. The preening attitude of superiority manifests itself in a form of moral blackmail. Adversaries of the Bloomberg-Obama agenda are not simply mistaken. There is, it is implied, something wrong with them personally.

Opponents of superfluous gun regulations are viewed as accessories after the fact to the latest mass shooting. Opponents of an immigration amnesty are either racist or nativist or cruel. Skeptics of the relevance or efficacy of efforts to halt climate change are "denialists" similar to the cranks who say the Holocaust did not happen. "The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man’s intelligence," wrote Oscar Wilde. That is a fair description of American political discourse in the age of Bloomberg and Obama, when the rich and liberal exploit pity, shame, and guilt to further their agenda.

What makes the Bloomberg method so insidious is its hold over the media. The vast majority of "content producers" for print and digital and television subscribe to the agenda of rich liberals because they are either part of that class, or wish to be part of it one day, or are directly employed by the companies controlled or likely to be controlled by its members, including the billionaire mayor, who spends much of his time at his $10 million Bermuda mansion.

Consequently, news coverage is distorted beyond repair. Take for example the "debate" over the immigration reform being secretly negotiated in the Senate. It is lopsided to an unquantifiable degree. Hardly anyone in print or on cable television is saying a word opposed to amnesty and increased migration at a time of low wages and suffering incomes.

The debate over gun control is not much better. This is an issue on which supposedly "objective" journalists collapse into a bundle of clichés at the first opportunity. "What would opponents of the bill say to parents of the Newtown dead?"—a line concocted in the bowels of the Obama White House—has been parroted on air whenever an advocate for gun rights appears before a camera. Anderson Cooper had the temerity to say the other day that he does not have a position on universal background checks. If you believe that, I own a $10 million Bermuda mansion I’d like to sell you.

Never does it seem to occur to the representatives of Bloomberg-ism in the White House or on the set of "Morning Joe" that one can only ignore the public’s priorities for so long. The meddling and moralistic overreach of rich liberals generates its own backlash. Bloomberg’s nutrition crusade is a classic instance. The media moan about the obesity of their social inferiors, only to discover the public is outraged when Bloomberg wants to control what they can eat and drink. Then the grand plans for better living through paternalism fall apart when the judges or the voters step in.

It is magical thinking to believe the current liberal moment will persist indefinitely. The gun or immigration legislation could fall apart at the slightest moment—indeed most likely will fall apart if Republicans, or even Democrats who still might like to speak for the working man, wake up and ask why American politics is occupied by the pet issues of liberal elites.

This is not the first time Obama has ignored the importance Americans place on the economy in favor of liberal obsessions. Last time, in 2010, it cost him the House and six seats in the Senate. Now, his approval rating has fallen appreciably since January. Republicans are guardedly optimistic about 2014.

There is, however, one salient difference between Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg that deserves our gratitude. Obama hasn't compelled the legislature to change the law so he can run for a third term. Yet.