Michael Wolraich's picture

    Bloomberg's Gun-Control Campaign: Right Idea, Wrong Guy

    Former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg has a bold plan. He hopes to single-handedly revive America's comatose gun-control movement with a $50 million cash infusion and a fresh political strategy. He has money, connections, and an astute appreciation for what it will take to counter the gun-rights mania that has hijacked national politics. Too bad he's not the guy to pull it off.

    Bloomberg's plan is simple: Politicians from either party who vote against gun control should pay a price. “We’ve got to make them afraid of us,” he told the New York Times. It's not an original idea; Bloomberg cribbed it from his chief opponent, the National Rifle Association. “They say, ‘We don’t care. We’re going to go after you,’” he said of the NRA, “‘If you don’t vote with us we’re going to go after your kids and your grandkids and your great-grandkids. And we’re never going to stop.’” He promises to respond in kind to politicians who vote against gun control.

    Some Democrats worry that this scorched earth strategy will backfire by replacing gun-friendly Democrats from red states with gun-friendlier Republicans. These concerns are short-sighted. Yes, if Bloomberg is successful, some Democrats will lose, but that will not hurt the cause. The Democratic majority that dominated Congress from 2006 to 2010 passed only one minor gun control bill. What we need is not a Democratic majority but a gun-control majority, and we will never achieve it by sacrificing issue for the sake of partisan gain. To combat gun violence in the United States, politicians must be motivated to run on gun-control rather than from it.

    The NRA has already demonstrated the long-term effectiveness of a single-issue offensive directed at both parties. When it launched its gun-rights campaign in the 1970s, many Republicans supported gun control. It took a decade to purge these Republicans from the party and twenty years to achieve a congressional majority, but the NRA has succeeded so spectacularly that it has rolled back all the legislation that passed in the interim and now commands a formidable army of gun-rights fanatics.

    Bloomberg understands that to achieve effective gun control, America needs an army of gun-control fanatics. To replicate the NRA's accomplishments, he is looking beyond the usual volley of political ads. He plans to invest in fieldwork and organization to create a robust, enduring advocacy movement modeled on Mother's Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Underscoring the "grassroots" ambitions of the new operation, he has even given it a grassroots name, Everytown for Gun Safety.

    There is only one problem. Michael Bloomberg wouldn't know a grassroot if it were surgically implanted in his scalp. That's not because he's a rich man from New York. America has had plenty of rich, east coast leaders with populist appeal like Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, and JFK. But Bloomberg lacks their common touch. As mayor of New York, he was notoriously autocratic.  Many of the initiatives that he rammed through city government succeeded, such as education reform and a ban on trans-fats. Others failed when grassroots leaders defied him, including the proposed Jets stadium and the east side development project.

    In 2013, exasperation with Bloomberg's governing style catalyzed Bill de Blasio's populist campaign for mayor, which focused on a growing income gap in the city. Bloomberg reviled de Blasio's "Tale of Two Cities" rhetoric. In a ham-fisted effort to derail the campaign, he insisted that the influx of foreign oligarchs into the New York's real estate market was good for the tax base. "Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the Russian billionaires to move here?" he mused. Despite twelve years in the mayor's office, he failed to appreciate that ordinary New Yorkers don't want foreign oligarchs to bankroll the city. They want a city owned and run by ordinary New Yorkers.

    Likewise, the citizens of "Everytown" don't want a rich New Yorker to ram through gun control laws for their communities. For Bloomberg to succeed, he will have to recede into the background and cultivate independent movement leaders far from New York City. That's not impossible. The Koch brothers may not not the most charming men in America, but that has not stopped them from nurturing a populist right-wing movement. They have succeeded in part by keeping low profiles and letting more charismatic leaders own the limelight.

    Unfortunately, Michael Bloomberg's reputation for high-handedness as mayor suggests that he won't be able to keep his ego from overshadowing his organization, and his tone-deaf scolding of populists like de Blasio imply that he doesn't appreciate the need. That's a shame. America needs the citizens of "Everytown" to hold politicians accountable for facilitating gun violence. The movement for firearm control was once a powerful force in national politics. With the help of passionate, determined grassroots proponents, it could become so again.

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    I could rant about how much we need more dems to caucus in both houses or how half of America is nuts or how we lost our battle against the NRA decades ago or...

    If the right seems to understand (on some level) that 'we' will never round up and exile 12 million illegals, how in the hell are we on the left going to get rid of 300 million guns?

    Bloomberg is one of a few multi rich folks who wishes to fight the good fight and he has billions and his new enterprise might make jobs for left wing folks who hate guns?

    Anyway, one proposition of the left is to keep gun free zones, just like Wyatt Earp. hahahah

    Well, it turns out that gun shows all across this nation, the gun shows that end up selling illegal weapons to illegals are a gun free zone.

    I cannot find the regular site I read on this subject but...


    The justification and the hypocrisy of this position of gun shows just amazes me.

    But we should be able to walk into schools and libraries and colleges and bars (for chrissakes) with loaded weapons.

    I hope that Bloomberg, a reputable oligarch (but an oligarch nonetheless) succeeds in employing a lot of folks in his new endeavor!

    Some of the shooters were not criminals until they pulled the trigger.

    This is what's missing from the discussion about good guys and bad guys, criminals and non-criminals, using guns.

    No one's born a criminal; they become one, and until that moment, they were law-abiding citizens.

    If Russian oligarchs want to buy property in NYC, how is a Mayor deBlasio going to stop them? 'Tale of 2 cities' line sounds like campaign malarkey, very true, but this is after all America where money has Constitutional rights.

    Sounds like a great book on TR.  Great title. No shortage of unreasonable men in today's GOP, men with far different objectives than those of the early 20th century.

    Bloomberg supported the construction of luxury high-rises that appealed to foreign investors. De Blasio can't stop individual investors, of course, but he can discourage these projects.

    I'm glad that you like the title. It opens with an epigraph from George Bernard Shaw:

    The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

    A thing about the Koch Brothers that is different than Bloomberg is that the Koch's have very active business interests in the American heartland.  Bloomberg's business is big but very urban, very New York-based and though I'm sure Bloomberg llc could show us truly global penetration, pretty specialized.  The Kochs, meanwhile, have interests in a whole lot of construction, asphalt, planning, infrastructure, mining and energy businesses so even if they are, in fact, wealthy New Yorkers with wings of big Manhattan institutions named for them, they are not necessarily seen as carpet baggers elsewhere in the country where they have wide and widely known interests.

    Also, there's the problem of type of rhetoric.  Bloomberg is an unapologetic scold.  As you say, he doesn't know much about grass roots.  That's not his style.  He lectures the lawn about the best way for it to stay green and healthy.  If it knows what's good for it, the lawn listens.  The Kochs lecture too, they are are top down as Bloomberg is, but they're selling "freedom" not "eat your broccoli."  

    The Koch lecture starts, "we're not here to lecture you."  The Bloomberg lecture starts, "You're eating the full fat cream cheese?  Really?"

    "we're not here to lecture you."

    "Just leave us alone to eat your lunch and we'll save a bit for you. A 'bit' that's bigger than you could get otherwise. Some day, you couldn't possibly be as rich as I am, but everyone needs a dream. Sound good?"

    The Kochs aren't sitting down with regular Americans for breakfast. 

    No, they're not.  But regular Americans are having breakfast and then going to work for Koch companies...

    A while back wasn't there a down to earth kinda guy political leader like us, someone you'd like to have a beer with, who was selling freedom, gun lobby favors, cutting taxes, talking about God's gifts and going to the mall and other good stuff?

    America needs someone like that again.

    Maybe so, but the Kochs have popularity problems too, which is part of the reason they keep low profiles. It's easy to find Bloombergs' lectures. Koch lectures? The only one I've heard was the infamous WaPo op-ed from a few weeks ago. Bloomberg was at least popular enough to win mayoral elections. It's hard to imagine the Kochs winning any political campaigns.

    Oh, definitely the Kochs aren't winning any beauty pageants.  But, in a weird way, that also works in their favor.  You know, a lot of people don't understand non-political power at all.  Heck, some of these people think that mayors are more powerful than billionaires.

    TR's last SOU summed up the difference between Koch and Bloomberg:

    Democracy is in peril wherever the administration of political power is scattered among a variety of men who work in secret, whose very names are unknown to the common people. It is not in peril from any man who derives authority from the people, who exercises it in sight of the people, and who is from time to time compelled to give an account of its exercise to the people.


    Even if Bloomberg wasn't a nebbishy looking Jewish billionaire from NYC, and even if he knew something about the grassroots, gun control is not going anywhere soon.  But I highly doubt that Bloomberg is planning on being the face of this campaign, which puts him in the same boat as the Kochs, no?  What's the difference in a financing sense?  Zero.  

    I have no doubt that least common denominators might focus on Bloomberg's pedigree in response to this campaign.  But it's not because Bloomberg isn't good with real Americans who like guns and other toys.  It's because guns have been placed in some mythical dimension of an America that never was.  

    P.S.  Saw La Boheme last night.  Wow. 

    Yes, gun control is a long-term goal by necessity. But what's wrong with that? Imho, Democrats tend to be overly obsessed with cobbling together a bare majority in order to pass some bill, any bill, asap. Remember the ill-fated background-check bill? That's short-term expediency in a nut-shell.

    In writing, "guns have been placed in some mythical dimension," you chose the passive voice, but guns didn't just become mythologized. Gun-rights leaders mythologized them. It took them a long time to popularize and propogate the myth. It may take gun control supporters even longer to deflate it, but that is what must happen.

    Love La Boheme, but I haven't seen this production.

    It may take gun control supporters even longer to deflate it, but that is what must happen.

    Agreed and then some.


    Bloomberg pushed controversial causes, and for the most part the public likes them*, with an approval rating still around 50%. *sugar drinks and his school reforms being the exceptions.

    The bring in the billionaires quote is roughly a "soak the rich" strategy. Not sure why that makes him evil, even though some question his stats on how good things are going.

    I'm not sure why he's supposed to do a traditional grassroots approach when he's been fairly successful doing things his way. The bigger issue is simply ceding no ground to the NRA, who's been great at shutting down the debate with every shooting catastrophe. 

    Anyway, I imagine he'll get more support for this cause than banning big soda, and happy seeing someone make the effort.

    BTW - I'm surprised to see 28% of blacks supporting stop-and-frisk.

    Via Emptywheel, Obama invited hundreds of the young rich soon-to-be-heirs to trillions of dollars to the White House to discuss philanthropy and the public sector - I guess it's better than Bloomberg building apartments to attract the rich & connected - this way we can form an early formal cartel with the young, beautiful, well-heeled and well-funded to cover the lapses in government services as we cut our tax base - think of it as Social Security 2.0. Every time you dine at T.G.I.F., you can think about how you're supporting America's future.

    Marriott, Rockefeller, Johnson & Johnson, Carlson Hotels - rather than Paris Hilton going rogue, it's nice to get the gang on-track and on-message - no bootleg sex tapes from this bunch. And it's not like it wasn't official work - Liesl Pritzker of the Hyatt chain - up-and-coming at only $500 million - can hob-nob with her billionaire cousin Penny Pritzker, Secretary of Commerce, US business and philanthropy and tax write-offs can merge to create a unified vision of public/private wealth - win-win, no?

    And with 26-year-old Zac Russell representing Russell Investments with assets of $240 billion (maybe more with their fortuitous timely insurance before last weeks' stock fall), it's almost like having our charity slush fund, the 1% working for *us*! Think of it as America's team! what could go wrong, giving young rich moguls White House access and insider info on all our public infrastructure, legislation and large-scale social programs? It's like we're finally working together - I bet they even have Facebook and Instagram accounts, aside from importantly looking like Justin Bieber - just too cool.


    And, of course, by controlling philanthropy, the wealthy will decide who is worth of help and who is not.  The wealthy will decide what they have to do to get that help. The wealthy will decide what causes society should pursue.  It's an extension of private power, packaged like a gift.

    Listened a bit to Tom Ashbrooke's On Point this evening on this very topic.

    One of the challenges is that the facts--e.g., do gun laws reduce gun violence, do NRA members want background checks--have been completely muddied.

    Unless you sit down and pore through the stats, you just can't cut through it all. Every fact has a plausible-sounding anti-fact. And it just goes on.

    Then there are the constitutional issues...and the "common sense" arguments...

    I see that Bloomberg is adopting a Tea Party-ish scorched earth policy, but I wonder what sort of messaging strategy he has to move the electorate.

    We have people being recalled successfully (see CO) because of how they voted on gun control. All in all, I'm very discouraged on this point and, unlike Momoe, I believe the Democrats will lose the Senate this coming election.

    How many people have to die before Americans' love of guns fades? Hard to say.

    I can think of a few fertile avenues off the top of my head:

    1) Cigarette strategy: The gun industry kills for profit

    2) Mom strategy: Your children are in danger

    3) Law & order strategy: Criminals and psychopaths are buying guns

    4) Class strategy: The poor are dying so that the rich can play with guns

    Just pre-ordered your book Kindle edition and tweeted it!  Looking forward to learning a little more history. Nice website you have for it, too.


    Thanks! I still have a little work to do on the website, but I plan to have an "unveiling" when it's done.

    It was disappointing to read that Bloomberg has gone from trying to launch a third political party to dictating to using mothers to guilt people into behaving as he thinks they should. From appealing to reason to appealing to authority to appealing to emotions. Definately a downward spiral.


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