Mayor Bloomberg's Parallel Disdain for the NRA and the ACLU

He casts both organizations as "extremist," and his disdain for them makes sense, given his belief system.
Jake Chessum

Progressives are generally sympathetic to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg when he advocates for gun control, trans-fat bans, limits on the salt content of meals, and restrictions on the size of soft drinks. They're more suspicious of the racial profiling of innocent Muslims he has overseen and defended since taking office, and stop-and-frisk, an abusive policing strategy that subjects NYC minorities to a disproportionate number of searches conducted without probable cause. 

There is nothing inherently inconsistent about favoring the former policies and objecting to the latter. Yet libertarians would argue, correctly in this instance, that the same flawed mindset motivates them all -- that Bloomberg's paternalism and dismissiveness toward any individual liberty he finds inconvenient are core to the controversial policies he pursues.

If you doubt the truth of that insight, consider the speech that Bloomberg delivered earlier this week to the New York Police Department, an organization that has many successes in which to take pride, and many failures of which to feel ashamed. "In Washington, some elected officials don't have the courage to stand up to special interests on the right and pass common sense gun laws," Bloomberg told his audience. "And in New York City, some don't have the courage to stand up to special interests on the left and support common sense policing tactics like stop and frisk. We don't need extremists on the left or the right running our Police Department -- whether it's the NRA or the [New York Civil LIberties Union]." That passage inspired a piece at Think Progress titled, "Mayor Bloomberg Equates Civil Rights Group Fighting Stop-And-Frisk With Gun Lobby 'Extremists.'"

That makes progressives who disdain the NRA and venerate the ACLU uncomfortable. There is, however, good reason for Bloomberg to regard them as equivalents, given his world view. The organizations, different from one another in many ways (the awfulness of Wayne LaPierre among them), are equivalent insofar as they both regard the civil liberties protected by the Constitution* as absolutes, not suggestions politicians are free to disregard if they conclude a given right is impractical. Unless the Constitution is amended, certain policies just aren't on the table. Unlike the NRA and the ACLU, Mayor Bloomberg doesn't believe that. (Just last week, he was talking about how the Boston marathon bombing shows that we have to change the way we interpret the Constitution, extending fewer rights to Americans than they are accustomed to.)

Elsewhere in his address, Bloomberg, who apparently retained his predecessor's speech writers, stated, "My message is simple: Stop playing politics with public safety. Look at what's happened in Boston. Remember what happened here on 9/11. Remember all of those who've been killed by gun violence -- and the families they left behind. We owe it to all of them to give our officers the tools they need to protect innocent lives or people will needlessly die and we'll all be responsible."

It's the sort of rhetoric that conservatives mostly love and progressives typically dislike. They should both realize that, when Bloomberg talks about salt, trans fat, and soda as public health issues, he's using the same logic, which ought to make both sides uncomfortable, albeit in different ways.

*Or at least the ones on which they focus
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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