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Bloomberg the Authoritarian Oligarch

Tom Friedman writes a love letter to his favorite wealthy authoritarian (no, not the Saudi one):

And this candidate is now rising steadily in the polls. This candidate is Michael Bloomberg. This candidate has Trump very worried.

Bloomberg has managed to buy some support in national polling for the low, low price of $300 million spent so far on ads, but there is still not much reason to believe that most Democratic voters would want him as their nominee. He is skipping the first few contests, so we won’t know for sure just how little support he has until March, but he seems as much of a poor fit with the Democratic Party electorate as ever. His attempts to “apologize” for the stop-and-frisk policy in New York would be more meaningful if he weren’t lying through his teeth about his support for it. According to Bloomberg, this was a policy that he merely inherited before getting rid of it, but the truth is that he escalated it and was forced to stop it because of a court order:

Ultimately, a federal judge found in 2013 that stop-and-frisk intentionally and systematically violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of people by wrongly targeting black and Hispanic men. Bloomberg blasted the ruling at the time, calling it a “dangerous decision made by a judge who I think does not understand how policing works and what is compliant with the U.S. Constitution.”

Bloomberg’s record on civil liberties in general is abysmal. Alex Pareene recounts how Bloomberg had hundreds of protesters arrested ahead of the Republican National Convention simply to keep them off the streets:

Over the course of the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, the New York Police Department arrested nearly 2,000 people at protests. The mass arrests were indiscriminate. Bystanders and journalists were among those hauled to a filthy bus depot terminal that served as a makeshift holding pen.

Hundreds of people were charged with minor crimes so that they could be kept in jail for the duration of the convention. A judge held the city in contempt of court for failing to abide by a state policy that gives people in jail the right see a judge or be released within 24 hours. And the city lied about how long it took to process the fingerprints of its detainees. In the end, no serious charges were brought against anyone, because the entire point was to keep people off the streets while Bush and his friends enjoyed their parties, and to dissuade others from attempting any further disruption.

Even then, it was clear that the arrests were illegal. They were, as the civil rights attorney Norman Siegel put it at the time, “preventative detention.” The cops knew it, the city’s lawyers knew it even as they denied it, and the mayor knew it.

The intrusive surveillance of Muslims that he approved as mayor was as outrageous as it was unnecessary. Conor Friedersdorf explains:

And he cannot be trusted to respect the civil rights of Muslims, as he illustrated after 9/11, when he presided over blatant religious profiling. Starting shortly after the attacks, officers infiltrated Muslim communities and spied on hundreds or perhaps thousands of innocents at mosques, colleges, and elsewhere.

These officers “put American citizens under surveillance and scrutinized where they ate, prayed and worked, not because of charges of wrongdoing but because of their ethnicity,” the AP reported, citing NYPD documents. Informants were paid to bait Muslims into making inflammatory statements. The NYPD even conducted surveillance on Muslim Americans outside its jurisdiction, drawing a rebuke from an FBI field office, where a top official charged that “the department’s surveillance of Muslims in the state has hindered investigations and created ‘additional risks’ in counterterrorism.”

Bloomberg defended the NYPD’s counterterrorism efforts as necessary to keep New Yorkers safe, yet “in more than six years of spying on Muslim neighborhoods, eavesdropping on conversations and cataloguing mosques,” the AP reported, “the New York Police Department’s secret Demographics Unit never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation.” The police acknowledged, in court, having generated zero leads.

Bloomberg’s heavy-handed, abusive policies weren’t just egregious violations of civil liberties, but they were also doing nothing to make the city more secure. Despite this, Bloomberg was a fervent defender of his policies until he realized that they would be a political liability for his current presidential campaign. Now he delivers unconvincing, dishonest “apologies” in an attempt to make people forget what he did. He still wants to use his time as mayor to argue that he is qualified for higher office, but he has to run away from one of his signature policies because he cannot justify it to Democratic voters. Bloomberg can’t stand by his record because his record on these issues was awful, so why would voters trust him enough to promote him to an even more powerful position?

Friedman may think that the man is “a moderate progressive with a heart of gold” (yes, he said that), but the reality is that Bloomberg is an authoritarian oligarch whose contempt for Americans’ constitutional rights runs like a red skein through his entire record. Pareene puts it this way:

Bloomberg said and did all these things because he is an authoritarian. He has explicitly argued that “our interpretation of the Constitution” will have to change to give citizens less privacy and the police more power to search and spy on them. In fact, he does not seem to believe that certain people have innate civil rights that the state must respect.

Like many other so-called “centrists,” Bloomberg is a defender of intrusive state power and massive concentrated wealth. We are already familiar with how awful his foreign policy views are. Conservatives, libertarians, and progressives all have good reasons not to want him in charge of any government ever again. The thought of someone like this running the executive branch with all of the power that it possesses is terrifying.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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