Whether in a business bureaucracy or in government, there are few higher compliments than saying someone is a safe pair of hands.
The characterization does not imply that the person so described is perfect; it simply means they have proven themselves to be one of that rare and valuable group in any organization that tends to not drop the ball.
As U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg heads into his first chance to debate tonight, he has many strikes against him. Like the current U.S. president, he is a plutocrat — an even richer multibillionaire who has run in the past as a Republican.
But as the U.S. seems mired in confusion under the unpredictable stewardship of U.S. President Donald Trump, it may be that Bloomberg’s greatest political asset will be the public impression that, by whatever means, he will bring order to the chaos, particularly when it comes to economic growth.
The prospect of some kind of tyrannical efficiency to ensure the U.S. economy is on stable footing going forward might not persuade supporters of current Democratic front-runner Bernie Sanders. He has called the stop-and-frisk policies Bloomberg defended during his tenure as New York mayor racist, saying they caused “African Americans and Latinos to live in fear and humiliation.”
Bloomberg’s candidacy has unleashed a storm of outrage from the left of the Democratic Party, which declares he is using his personal wealth to buy power.
There are also self-described moderates who reject him. Among some who have said they will support whichever Democratic candidate wins the nomination, Bloomberg remains a deal-breaker.
“I have given it very serious thought, and while I would happily vote for Elizabeth Warren, grudgingly vote for Joe Biden or Amy Klobuchar, or secure an entire bottle of Southern Comfort to get sufficiently hammered to vote for Pete Buttigieg, I will not vote for Mike Bloomberg in November if he is nominated,” wrote Ryan Cooper in an article in The Week titled “Mike Bloomberg is Not the Lesser of Two Evils.”
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To those who feel the U.S. is now so close to the kind of social transformation proposed by candidates like Warren and Sanders that they can taste it, Bloomberg — who previously killed a hike in minimum wage despite currently running in favour of one — is a would-be destroyer of dreams.
A recent New York Times commentary saying “Bloomberg Is Right About the 2008 Financial Crash” threw the candidate into the middle of a ferocious debate that highlighted how he blamed the government’s liberalized mortgage rules for the 2008 credit crisis, rather than predatory lending and absurd derivatives created by irresponsible financial institutions.
Pile-on in Vegas
Perhaps at tonight’s Democratic debate he will try to extricate himself.
No one will be surprised if the Las Vegas bun fight — for which Bloomberg just qualified after a rule change to allow self-financed candidates to participate — is a pile-on by all the other candidates, pointing out not just his similarities to Trump, but the idea that the presidency is not for sale to the highest bidder.
Seen as a candidate ultimately in favour of the existing system that made people like him rich, Bloomberg clearly identifies with the markets chronicled by the Bloomberg News agency that he forged to dominate other leading business-information services.
There is no question that in business, he was a success.
Despite the fact that unemployment has reached some historic lows and markets have risen from peak to peak under Trump, for some, the feeling persists that all is not well in the United States — a place where a book titled with the Trump self-description A Very Stable Genius is understood to mean the exact opposite.
….to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!
There is a theory that at times of uncertainty what the electorate wants are not specific solutions to its specific problems, but rather a leader with a strong hand.
“It looks for the man on the horse — the strong man,” pollster Frank Graves once told me.
That was the theory that brought rightist governments, including Italy’s Benito Mussolini, to power. Amidst the chaos of the 1920s, popular lore now has it that Mussolini was seen as the leader with a firm hand who could “make the trains run on time.”
Despite many articles in which the authors are falling over themselves to deny that fascism was a success in making Italian trains efficient, the term persists in the collective imagination as the idea that strong leaders create efficiency and success.
But as with the title of that Stable Genius book, the expression comes with a second meaning, reminding us to beware what we wish for.
For those who have watched Trump and his administration dismantle the structure of global trade, discredit venerable U.S. institutions, such as the FBI, the foreign service and the Justice Department, and generally disrupt the conventions of the White House, it is tempting to imagine a new pair of safe, business-proven hands on the tiller.
Those hands have built up a giant corporation from scratch. As a three-term mayor, they brought increased order to the pandemonium of New York City, including its transit system — although some say at too high a cost for the city’s minorities. And they have conjured support for an economic green transition to fight climate change.
But should the power of the U.S. presidency end up in such seemingly safe hands, Democrats may feel they will not get many important changes that they thought were finally within their grasp, from health care to greater equality and fairness.
So the fear remains that they might instead end up with a candidate more concerned with business efficiency and the welfare of people like himself than someone worried about the hopes of ordinary voters.
And perhaps right on schedule, tonight’s debate will reveal more.
Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis