The Romney/Bloomberg Dichotomy
Apropos of Scott Galupo’s “how did it come to this” question about the Romney nomination, I think it’s worth comparing and contrasting public and elite attitudes toward Mitt Romney and Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg is vastly, enormously more wealthy than Romney. Like, about two orders of magnitude wealthier. Romney’s wealth is sufficient to buy himself a seat at any table. Bloomberg’s wealth is sufficient to buy the table.
Romney made his money the new-fashioned way, playing the game of modern finance capitalism. One can debate whether this game mostly serves the cause of making capitalism more efficient or whether this game mostly consists of tax and regulatory arbitrage and rent-extraction – it’s easy to come up with anecdotes for either case – but the point is: he played the game, and it’s a money game, nothing more.
Bloomberg, by contrast, was more of a classic entrepreneur. He developed a service that proved invaluable to the growing hoards of new-style financiers, then sold that service in large volume for a substantial profit, then parlaying this asset into an empire of related media properties.
Both Bloomberg and Romney ran for and won office in northeastern states as reform-minded, business-friendly executives who wouldn’t challenge the liberal cultural consensus but would provide a check on the liberal interest groups and public-sector unions that dominated the legislatures in their respective jurisdictions. Both, when originally elected, were seen as more moderate than their recent Republican predecessors (in Romney’s case, Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci; in Bloomberg’s case, Rudy Giuliani). Both passed the kinds of legislation that wins support from reform-minded centrists, Bloomberg in the area of education, Romney in the area of healthcare.
If all you knew was the above, you’d assume that, if anything, Bloomberg would be the more attractive candidate to a national GOP audience. Knowing personal details – Romney’s large family and personal religiosity versus Bloomberg’s bachelorhood and religious indifference – would probably swing things the other way, but not necessarily decisively; Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich each had many conservative admirers despite their operatic personal lives. But, of course, Mitt Romney set out partway through his single term as governor to remake himself into a fire-breathing movement conservative, to position himself for a run for the Republican Presidential nomination, and it is Bloomberg that has been the perpetual darling of centrist dreamers like Tom Friedman, and, to mainstream Republicans, is a symbol of out-of-touch elitism.
What conclusion do I draw from this comparison?
The take-no-prisoners defense of unbridled finance capitalism is not a feature of Mitt Romney. It’s a feature of modern American politics in general and of the conservative movement in particular. Mitt Romney did not run for governor of Massachusetts on a platform of promoting the interests of the wealthy above all else. He ran as a moderate, centrist, business-friendly custodian of the public fisc. Kind of like Michael Bloomberg. So expelling Mitt Romney will do nothing to change the fact that a critique of the financialization of American capitalism has barely begun anywhere in American politics.
If you want to change that, start supporting politicians who are known primarily for their opposition to Wall Street, even if they are not “sound” on other matters. One such is running for the Senate in Massachusetts right now.