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

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:

I mean, Hillary Clinton’s very competent—but there’s no Obama Doctrine that I know of. I don’t know that anybody has enunciated a worldview the way that Henry Kissinger did in his day, or George Shultz, or even [James] Baker. I have nothing but respect for Hillary, but I think the world today is run out of the White House rather than Foggy Bottom and places like that.

On Obama’s biggest failure:

Well, his biggest failure is, he has been unable to pull Congress together—and that’s not to say anybody else could’ve done it either. It may be that it’s just too tough. But that is, in the end, the executive’s job, to pull both sides together, and I think he would—he’s frustrated—he would not say that he managed to get that done.

On how the Tea Party is like Occupy Wall Street:

The Tea Party is a manifestation of frustration. The Tea Party is almost like Occupy Wall Street—they don’t want it. What is “it”? They don’t know what “it” is, there’s just a general feeling that society is not going in the right direction. Now, the people that were in Zuccotti Park versus the people that are parading in conservative America may view what’s wrong very differently, but there’s just this sense of uneasiness in the country.

“We’ve dumbed down, and it’s not good for society.”

On his own regrets:

We haven’t improved the schools as much as we want. We’ve raised graduation rates from 40 percent to 60 percent, or whatever those numbers are, for minority kids as well as whites and Asians, but we’re still, I think, falling behind the needs of industry and the improvement in education elsewhere in the world. And we’ve done a better job than any other big city, far and away.

Presented by

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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