Brave Thinkers 2012 November 2012

The Bloomberg Way

The mayor of New York on his soda ban, why he doesn't worry about approval ratings, governing in the age of Twitter, and the dumbed-down media

If I finish my term in office … and have high approval ratings, then I wasted my last years in office. That high approval rating means you don’t upset anybody. High approval rating means you’re skiing down the slope and you never fall. Well, you’re skiing the baby slope, for goodness’ sakes. Go to a steeper slope. You always want to press, and you want to tackle the issues that are unpopular, that nobody else will go after.

On regulating metzitzah b’peh, the practice during circumcision whereby the mohel sucks the blood from the infant’s wound:

I think it’s fair to say that nobody else would take that on. I mean, come on! … Who wants to have 10,000 guys in black hats outside your office, screaming?

And yet, I said to the rabbis again yesterday: The science is not perfect, and it is to some extent an art—medicine—but there is a reasonable chance that this is dangerous to kids’ health. There have been some kids who we believe die or have brain damage from the practice. My obligation is to protect the citizens … The job is not to have high ratings.

On the president’s communication with the press:

I talk to the press five days a week … The president—how often does he talk to the press? His press secretary talks to the press every day, okay. But I happen to think the public should demand he should. I think he should; I think that’s his job.

On doing the tough stuff first:

In an election year, just before the election, maybe I cut you a break. Where I don’t cut you a break is the day after the election. I believe you do the tough stuff first. Why? Number one, you have an obligation to those who voted for you, to do what you promised. Number two, if you believe they’re the right things, you need some time to let them work out, adjust them, explain them, maybe cancel and change them—or whatever—before the next election.

And remember, I have a four-year term; presidents have a two-year term, because the midterm elections are so important.

On keeping track of commitments:

We have a scorecard—we haven’t updated it in about a year, but we are starting to do that again—which we will have done five or six times in my 12 years, where we listed every single campaign promise, and then mark them “Completed,” “In Progress,” “Still Good Ideas; We Haven’t Gotten to Them Yet,” or “Ain’t Going to Happen” …

And the thing that I find the most frustrating is that the Fourth Estate never picks up on it. They’ll write a story about those things that you said were a dumb idea, or those things that didn’t work, and never give you any credit for the other things. And never hold other elected officials to task. Now, there are private groups that do this. They keep track of how you vote in Congress and that sort of thing. But the public doesn’t get that information in a form that gets their juices going … Take a look at what Obama ran on, or what Romney did in Massachusetts, with guns. Romney signed a bill, which he lauded, stopping the ability to carry assault weapons. Obama campaigned on passing a bill to ban assault weapons. Neither did anything.

“For the first time in the history of the world, this year, more people will die from the effects of too much food than from starvation.”

On the low tax rate charged on “carried interest,” a benefit to hedge funds and private-equity investors:

The next tax bill should get rid of carried interest, which is a joke … My friends in the private-equity business think this is such a joke, even they can’t keep a straight face.

On how President Obama alienated Wall Street:

He had enormous support three years, or three and a half years, ago. An awful lot of Wall Street—for sure, more so than the business community, I think, across the country—is much more liberal than you’d think. They may be wealthy, but you know, the entertainment industry and Wall Street are traditional hotbeds of Democrats as much as Republicans, maybe even more so.

I think a lot of them were frustrated that he didn’t give the change that they had expected. I think a lot of them thought he’d be more of a centralist and less of a populist once he got elected.

On what people get for their campaign donations:

A lot of people support both sides. I know some people, not well—there are two brothers—one’s a very big giver to the Democratic Party, one’s a very big giver to the Republican Party. This is not an accident. This is deliberate, and they have a business that has a phenomenal protection … They get an enormous protection from the federal government for their company, their industry …

In Washington, they do take money—I know it’s open, though it’s hard to identify—they take money from the same people they regulate. Now, in New York City, you would never get away with that …

And when the guy says “Yes, I took money, but it didn’t influence my vote”? Oh, come on. The company that’s giving you the money thinks it is going to influence the vote. Why else would they give you the money?

On Obama’s biggest success:

I suppose, well, you can step back and say: showing that the country has gotten beyond the ethnicity or religion or whatever of an elected official. That was a big deal.

On whether he meant that Obama’s biggest success was just getting elected in the first place:

Just getting elected … And you can make the argument that JFK did the same thing, getting elected as a Catholic, or Mitt Romney running as a Mormon. I think that issue has come and gone. Nobody does any polling anymore [asking] “Would you vote for a Mormon or not?,” I don’t think … He’s got enough baggage—he’d be better off if that were the issue, because then he’d have the civil libertarians fighting for him rather than against him.

On another Obama success—education—and his education secretary, Arne Duncan:

I cynically say the president could’ve done a lot more. But he did stand up to a typical Democratic constituency, the teachers union—somewhat—and certainly has a secretary that the unions don’t like.

On whether Obama deserves credit for ordering the raid that killed Osama bin Laden:

That’s like giving Harry Truman credit for dropping the bomb: any president would’ve pushed that button, any president would’ve dropped the bomb. Harry Truman stood up to Douglas MacArthur. An awful lot of people wouldn’t have done that. Harry Truman integrated the Army. A lot of people wouldn’t have done that. Harry Truman had the Marshall Plan—if in World War I we’d done that, we wouldn’t have had a World War II. But dropping the bomb, no, and I don’t think, in this case, Osama bin Laden.

Giving Obama credit for killing Bin Laden is “like giving Harry Truman credit for dropping the bomb: any president would’ve pushed that button.”

On the lack of a clear Obama worldview:

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James Bennet is the editor in chief and a co-president of The Atlantic. Prior to joining the magazine in 2006, he was the Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times. More

"I wanted a profound and extreme talent who led quietly, was generous to others, and comported himself with collegial respect," remarked Atlantic Media chairman David Bradley when announcing his selection of James Bennet as the magazine's fourteenth editor in chief in early 2006. "On all scores, but surely these, I have conviction on James' appointment." Before joining the Atlantic staff, Bennet was the Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times. During his three years in Israel, his coverage of the Middle East conflict was widely acclaimed for its balance and sensitivity. His much-lauded long-form writing for The New York Times Magazine was responsible for catching the eye of David Bradley during his year-long search for a new editor. Upon accepting the position, Bennet told a Times reporter that he saw the Atlantic job as "a chance to help, encourage and preserve the practice of serious, long-form journalism." Bennet is a graduate of Yale University who began his journalism career at The Washington Monthly. Prior to his work in Jerusalem, he served as the Times' White House correspondent and was preparing to join its Beijing bureau when he was offered the Atlantic editorship.

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