Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bloomberg: Silence is Golden

The NY Times has a long and seemingly pointless article about the mayor's new penchant for public speaking:

"MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG is not, by his own admission, much of a wordsmith. He is forever mispronouncing names — even those of his own commissioners. He is impatient with speechwriters. And he rarely, if ever, practices his remarks. “His mentality,” concedes his top speechwriter, Francis S. Barry, “is not one of rehearsal.” But despite his rhetorical handicaps and a reputation for perfunctory prose, New York City’s uneasy speaker in chief is doing something unexpected in his third term: embracing grand-scale oratory with fervor."

Puleeze! Why anyone-but particularly Mike Barbaro over at the Times-would want to wax eloquent about a man whose eloquence is, to be charitable, in very short supply is beyond us. Mike Bloomberg's major contribution to public dialogue is silence-and when he does reach for grand oratory, as he did with the GZ mosque, the results are more cacophonous than the rhetoric itself.

What Bloomberg is now doing is styling because he no longer has to worry about the backlash from his jarring inability to put a comprehensive and mellifluous sentence together: "Mr. Bloomberg, of course, rarely shies from speaking his mind, a quality that has long grated and gratified New Yorkers in equal measures. But in these lengthy and lofty speeches, even those closest to the mayor sense a new found liberation — from worries about polls (which remain middling), re-election (impossible) or the White House (a dream abandoned). "

What truly funny, however, is that the Times observes that the mayor's newly discovered rhetorical flourishes are designed to distract from what has long been considered-although wrongly in our view-his forte: bureaucratic expertise; "It is a striking shift for Mr. Bloomberg, 69, whose reputation as a bureaucratic maestro has been dented by a series of managerial missteps, leaving the administration eager to burnish his legacy and elevate him above the daily dramas of municipal government."

That Barbaro writes this straight faced is dripping with irony. Now that his bureaucratic expertise has been exposed as a hoax the mayor is going to resort to some kind of rhetorical renaissance to literally talk his way out of the failed paper bag that he finds himself in? Isn't this silly? And why does Barbaro-a first rate political reporter-find himself writing seriously on a topic that should have been relegated to a humor column?

The CitiTime scandal, the exposed failures of the public schools, and the snow storm debacle-not to mention his handling of the Goldsmiith resignation-has left the mayor's reputation for managerial expertise in tatters. That he wants to change the subject by reaching for an eloquence above his considerable pay grade is simply risible.

But back to the putative eloquence surrounding the GZ mosque:

"The intense national debate during the summer of 2010 over the proposed Islamic center, to include a mosque in a building only blocks from ground zero, did much to change that. The mayor, the first major public figure to express forceful support for the project, insisted on giving a rousing speech that he tinkered with and tweaked endlessly, even on the 10-minute ferry ride out to Governors Island, where he delivered it. In an unapologetic tone, he argued that the government had no right to tell a religious group where to pray, and that tolerance was at the core of New York life."

This was an issue that directly was connected to core constitutional values-at least as Bloomberg saw them. That he was at the same time tone deaf about what a majority of New Yorkers saw as an inappropriate siting issue, well, who cares-Mike Bloomberg was never one to consider the feelings of his inferiors. What's ironic for us is that Bloomberg''s defense of Constitutional rights, his faux eloquence, was extremely limited-and never was expanded to, let's say, property rights.

The issue of the mosque never involved freedom of worship-it was a land use matter. The taking of private property, however, is a core Constitutional issue-and that Bloomberg doesn't give a rat's ass about the rights of Jake Bono, Irene Presti and the others at Willets Point speaks volumes about his priorities and values.

The entire discussion of the mayor's bully pulpit is downright farcical-and by focusing on it the Times elides the more serious discussion of the fact that the emperor stands clothesless before history-having failed in better than a decade to distinguish himself in any area of public policy. That he now feels he even has a bully pulpit we find deserving of nothing but scorn. Mike Bloomberg's major contribution to the public dialogue would be a merciful silence.