Thursday, November 5, 2009

Obama and the Mayoral Race in NYC

If you haven't heard, the mayoral race in NYC ended up being extremely close with independent incumbent Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire, defeating Democrat William C. Thompson Jr. by just 51-46. The mainstream media reported widely on how this was a surprise, because Bloomberg had a good approval rating and spent $90 million on the campaign. Most reported on how that absurdly high level of campaign spending and his repeal of the term limits law to stay in power pushed a lot of voters over to Thompson. Very few, however, reported on how the national Democratic party failed to get behind Thompson. That refusal to get their hands dirty in the NYC race demonstrates a lot about the centrist and even right economic beliefs of Obama and the national Democratic leadership.

Glenn Greenwald wrote a great post on his blog (btw, great blog if you're into civil liberties, antiwar, and media issues) the other day on the tiff between Rep. Anthony Weiner and the administration on this matter. Weiner publicly criticized the President for spending resources to support Gov. Corzine in NJ but not doing the same for Thompson. The Politico reporter allowed a White House aide to respond anonymously, childishly taunting Weiner for deciding not to run for mayor himself.

Glenn focused on so many mainstream media outlets allow Obama aides to comment anonymously. Frequently they use that anonymity to bash those on the left in his own party who criticize him for being such a centrist. He also notes the irony of American media criticizing left-wing leaders in Latin America who change term limits laws to extend their terms and failing to do so in the case of right-winger Uribe in Colombia and Bloomberg.

I think it also says a lot about the Obama administration's stance on political economy. The refusal to campaign for Thompson suggests some level of comfort with Bloomberg on the part of Obama. Bloomberg is a social liberal and is great on environmental issues. However, on economic issues, which a mayor has much more control over than social issues, he is quite conservative. As this Nation article states, Bloomberg opposes a living wage ordinance, favors regressive taxes like the sales tax instead over the progressive income tax, and consistenly favors big developers and big finance. He presides over a higher than average unemployment level while manufacturing has sunk to just 2% of the city's economy. The Nation article predicted a Thompson loss because of his failure to present an alternative economic vision for the city, which I think is right.

The Working Families party, which does have that vision, endorsed Thompson, which suggests that he would be far better on these issues, even if he didn't make them the centerpiece of his campaign. What if Obama had come to NYC and campaigned briefly for Thompson every time he was in the area to do so for Corzine? New Yorkers love Obama; he might have allowed Thompson to close the gap.

The fact that he didn't suggests that Bloomberg's economic policies are just fine with him. It reinforces that Obama is a centrist, not a progressive. He espouses a mostly Keynesian view of debt-funded public investment during recessions with some programs to protect the poor and middle classes and the environment (typically weak ones), but has no intention of reducing the massive socio-economic gap in our country between the super-rich and everyone else.

Bloomberg is a symbol of American finance, as that's where he made his fortune. The Democrats' comfort with him is a symptom of their closeness to Wall Street. Let's not forget that the mildly liberal Corzine, whom Obama backed strongly, is a Goldman Sachs alum. Those of us who want a fair economy need to stop supporting the Democrats without strings attached, because it's not getting us very far.

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