Thursday, February 13, 2020

A Guide To Bloomberg Country

One of my favorite historical works of political journalism is James Q Wilson's "A Guide To Reagan Country: The Polical Culture of Southern California," published by Commentary in 1967. It was written to explain the political appeal of Ronald Reagan the year after his election to California governor. Wilson saw that appeal rooted in the lower-middle class suburbs where he grew up.

As Mike Bloomberg has forcefully entered the presidential race, we can trace his rise in a similar fashion by looking at the local culture that birthed him. While I am not from Bloomberg Country, I have worked in it for almost a decade as a teacher at a private school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

If you take a look at the 2009 mayoral election, Bloomberg got the votes of registered Democrats in the Upper West Side, despite being a Republican.

Something about Bloomberg made Democrats vote for him there. What was it?

The Upper West Side is very white and very affluent. At the same time it touts its progressivism, rare for a place where wealthy white people live. But we should interrogate the version of "progressive" politics fancied in that region. Upper West Siders are very pro-choice, pro-LGBT rights, pro-immigrant, and anti-gun. At the same time they dislike unions, taxes, and welfare. They were unconcerned about stop and frisk. To their minds the aggressive behavior of the NYPD was totally warranted. After all, wasn't it keeping them safe?

They have also been involved in some ugly incidents around school zoning. White Upper West Siders talk a big game about diversity, but are not all that interested in integrating the public schools. In this regard they do not differ from white Americans in less tony parts of the country.

Folks in Bloomberg Country duitifully vote for Democrats in national elections, but they prefer a version of the Democratic party very different from the one represented by AOC and Bernie. They do not want the libertarian hellscape preferred by the Republican Party, but they recoil at free college and Medicare for All. They tout their opposition to racism, but don't really care about the horrors of mass incarceration.

It's not just a matter of policy, but also of style. They work in the corporate world and thus see Bloomberg as one of them. They want efficient, technocratic leaders who lead with competence, and have little patience for mass politics and the rabble behind them. They don't like Trump, but they fear a social democratic wave almost as much.

The denizens of Bloomberg Country are important because they show issues the Democrats are going to have if they try to move more to the left. The national media spends too much energy going to rural Pennsylvania diners talking to the locals. To understand another, equally crucial demographic, they also need to go to the cafe section of Zabar's.

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