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Why Did Obama Not Help Dems Win the NY Mayor's Office? It Was Probably Bloomberg's Money, Stupid

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To feed the Punditburo's appetite for fact-free speculation and polemic, the Beltway press and the political activist class often manufactures elaborate rationales for fairly simple events. These professional prognosticators refuse to accept obvious explanations, either because they feel the need to produce overdramatized entertainment or because the 24-7 news cycle they create requires them to guru-ize politicians and their minions so as to fill time. And so our political discourse teems with fantastical tales of super-secret pony plans and Rasputin-like geniuses brilliantly playing 57-dimensional chess.

The latest of these tales is that of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Obama. With Bloomberg barely hanging on in his bid to buy a third term, progressives are rightfully asking why Obama didn't more forcefully endorse this plutocrat's Democratic challenger, William Thompson, considering the fact that a more forceful Obama endorsement easily could have moved a decisive amount of votes to Thompson in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.

Attempting to answer this question, the New York Times gives us the standard hackneyed mythology about "a dramatic effort, unfolding behind the scenes" -- a hagiography about supposedly super-sharp Bloomberg and his even more strategically masterful aides brilliantly creating (deceptively, as the election results now prove) an aura of inevitability and simultaneously cajoling a reluctantly compliant White House into keeping quiet.

Incredibly, left out of this labyrinthine mythmaking is an examination of a much more plausible reason for Obama's silence: Bloomberg's billions.

Here you have one of the richest people on the planet running for mayor in a city that is already safely in Democratic hands, in terms of presidential, congressional and New York state elections. This billionaire is desperate to retain his vanity platform as New York's public face.

Thus, what was most likely going on here was something pretty simple: The Democratic Party wanted to avoid antagonizing this billionaire for fear of retribution (ie. campaign contributions to the Republican Party, a vote-splitting third-party run for president, etc.) -- and in fact, the Democratic Party probably aims to court this billionaire for future campaign contributions. And so the Obama White House via Rahm Emanuel (a guy who got his start as a big donor political fundraiser) kept the president quiet and hence appeased this billionaire in a race that doesn't matter a whole lot to the national Democratic Party (even as it matters a whole helluva lot to New York City voters).

Put another way, the Bloomberg campaign to silence Obama wasn't any act of tactical genius or some sort of "sophisticated strategy," as the New York Times insists. It was a basic financial transaction. His billions not only bought the election, but they effectively created a disincentive for national Democrats to try to beat him. If there was any "genius" at all, it was merely that Bloomberg is such an empty suit and such a narcissistic opportunist that he's been happy to flirt with any party willing to sell its soul to him, (and he's made sure not to take any positions that make it impossible for Democratic elites to even tacitly support). That flirting has preserved both the perception of a potential carrot and stick that ultimately backed off Obama -- the potential carrot being future campaign contributions to Democrats, the potential stick being possible campaign contributions to Republicans/anti-Democratic initiatives.

But, then, being willing to align oneself with any party that serves one's short-term purpose isn't really "genius," now is it? Really, it's just a lack of scruples and core convictions. Mix that with billions of dollars, and you get exactly what happened yesterday: Plutocrat Republican-lite Mike Bloomberg winning reelection thanks, in part, to a Democratic president refusing to seriously back the Democratic candidate.

Indeed, it all goes back to the Power of Big Money. Sure, Obama and national Democrats fetishize "bipartisanship" and they've tried to cite their cordial relationship with Bloomberg as proof of their "bipartisan" credentials. And sure, Bloomberg isn't as odious a Republican as, say, Rudy Giuliani. But those were most likely secondary considerations in the Obama-Bloomberg detente in comparison to the influence of cold, hard cash. It's a simple explanation of that electorally decisive alliance -- an explanation that may not be as sexy as glamorizing the "smarts" of Bloomberg, but it's almost surely the dynamic really at play.