Bloomberg Displays Republican Sellout

In nearly all the media coverage devoted to mogul and

would-be Mayor Michael Bloomberg, two themes predominate over politics: money,

as in the millions he will lavish on television advertising, pollsters and

sundry consultants; and sex, as in the mating preferences of a swinging,

socially desirable billionaire (which brings the subject back to money again).

News coverage and titillating gossip converged years ago, but it is still

startling when the New York Times

Op-Ed columns about Mr. Bloomberg resemble private Internet chat more than

political analysis.

So perhaps the only way to open any discussion of what the

Bloomberg candidacy means politically is to describe its significance with

financial and sexual metaphors. After so much macho boasting about the

rightward trend represented by the Mayoralty of Rudolph Giuliani, the Republican

Party in New York appears both bankrupt and impotent.

Bankrupt because the party’s local leaders so eagerly sold

their nomination to a candidate whose most attractive quality is his asset

portfolio. Impotent because that candidate is, by every measure, a liberal

Democrat who openly scorns their professed conservative ideology.

For Republicans, this is a sorry case of squandered

opportunity. Back when Mr. Giuliani was running for reelection, at the height

of his influence, the city’s new G.O.P. establishment proclaimed proudly that

they had won the debate over the city’s future. Conservative academics at the

Manhattan Institute had a hotline to City Hall, where policymakers contemplated

private-school vouchers and an end to rent regulation. The Mayor was no

doctrinaire right-winger, particularly on social issues, but he was promoted by

Republicans both locally and nationally as the harbinger of their party’s urban

resurgence.

That was then, and Mike Bloomberg is now. While the brash

billionaire refuses to say how he cast his votes in last year’s Senate and

Presidential races, public records show that he has donated hundreds of

thousands of dollars to Democrats in recent years, while giving little to

Republicans. His campaign Web site promises that, if elected, he will fight to

maintain rent control and will reject any experiment with school vouchers. The

Web site also neglects to use the word “Republican,” except to announce an

endorsement by the gay Log Cabin Republican organization. But then, he didn’t

mention the R-word in his announcement speech, either.

Mr. Bloomberg’s Democratic and liberal leanings are

apparently acceptable to four of the city’s five Republican county leaders;

only one, Guy Velella of the Bronx, has held out against Mr. Bloomberg in favor

of his quixotic primary challenger, Herman Badillo. But their favored candidate

has an odd way of showing his gratitude.

So far, Mr. Bloomberg has treated the Republican leaders who

eagerly solicited him to run on their line with much less delicacy and tact

than a tedious date. To him, their opinions are so inconsequential that he

seizes every opportunity to express admiration for the woman they hate most. It

must burn the Republicans whenever they hear their candidate sending unrequited

valentines to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who humiliated them so thoroughly last

fall, but Mr. Bloomberg doesn’t care. When he isn’t serenading the junior

Senator, he’s sending out press releases praising Senator Chuck Schumer, who

also happens to be a Democrat. He has yet to issue any comparable encomium to

George W. Bush or even to George Pataki, who is helping to engineer the

nomination for him.

Nor has much of Mr. Bloomberg’s lavish spending ended up in

Republican pockets, though presumably that was one reason for the G.O.P.

leaders’ enthusiasm about him. The most notable Republican on the

Mike-for-Mayor payroll is pollster Frank Luntz, a lonesome figure among the

many Democratic stalwarts in the Bloomberg consultant legion. The Republican

county organizations have garnered a few bucks in pocket change for circulating

Mr. Bloomberg’s nominating petitions, but that only emphasizes how cheaply they

sold out.

Most Republican and conservative commentators have averted

their gaze from this sordid transaction-although the editor of the National Review , headquartered in New

York, couldn’t help but note in passing that “Bloomberg’s embrace by the G.O.P.

is another sign of the rotten state of New York’s Republican establishment.”

True enough, but the

Bloomberg takeover is no mere aberration. Aspects of the same phenomenon can be

observed in Albany, where Mr. Pataki has governed and is campaigning for

reelection as if he were his old opponent, Mario Cuomo; in Los Angeles, where

the Republican mayor will be replaced by a liberal Democrat; and in Washington,

D.C., where Senators Jim Jeffords, John McCain and Lincoln Chafee have upended

the agenda of the Bush White House and the DeLay Congress just when

conservatives thought they had triumphed.

An illusion of right-wing hegemony remains, largely because

Democrats and liberals are neglecting to articulate the alternative. But the

Republican adoption of Democratic candidates and themes suggests how quickly

that hegemony is evaporating.