Obama Veepstakes: Michael Bloomberg

09/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Jan 14, 2012

This past March, Barack Obama delivered an economic address at the Cooper Union in New York City, where he was introduced by none other than the Democrat- turned- Republican- turned- independent mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. The junior senator from Illinois and the billionaire businessman-turned-philanthropist mayor had not shared a public stage since the two performed a little breakfast ditty for the press one auspicious day last November. Back then, Obama was a long shot in the race for the Democratic nomination and Bloomberg was considering a third-party run for President. Ostensibly.

Partisanship: Bi-, Non-, and Anti-

Few politicians fit the nonpartisan bill and Obama's call for a "new politics" better than Mike Bloomberg. Bloomberg usually terms his political stance 'nonpartisan,' but as one of the most powerful, high-profile and unabashed *opponents* of the two-party system in American politics, he is perhaps more aptly described as antipartisan. As the "Republican" mayor of New York, he has not bridged the party gap so much as he has pugnaciously, and at times bitterly, rejected it. In a 2007 speech in Los Angeles, Bloomberg announced: "We do not have to settle for the same old politics. We do not have to accept the tired debate between the left and right, between Democrats and Republicans, between Congress and the White House. We can and we must declare a ceasefire - and move America forward." The rhetorical resonances with Barack Obama are palpable here.

John McCain, his campaign staff, and his supporters are still trying to decide how to spin and package the Arizona senator's intermittent bouts with bipartisanship in the course of his career, and are probably working hard to shore up a convincing, consistent response to the question, "Just what sort of maverick is John McCain, anyway?" Meanwhile, Obama has relied on and propagated a negative view of partisan machinations throughout his campaign, going so far as to ridicule the pervasive 'Washington mindset' that automatically assigns issues such as ethics reform or faith-based initiatives, for example, to the liberals' domain or the conservative agenda respectively. Of course, these tactics and Obama's anti-Washington stance in general have been wildly successful, and they are perfectly in synch with Bloomberg's. It follows that so long as we take Obama's core principles seriously, or believe that he takes his own core principles seriously, we shouldn't expect him to choose anyone with celebrated Democratic party credentials, any player in the Clinton administration, or anyone who has previously been on a national Democratic ballot. These constraints would disqualify Bill Richardson, Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, current Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (who formerly chaired the DNC), and even Wesley Clarke (who is, nevertheless, my #2 pick for #2).

It's worthwhile to remind the readers that neither Obama nor McCain will choose a fellow senator as his VP - that would be folly. So c'mon, everybody, put a line through Chuck Hagel's name right now (and Evan Bayh's, and Joe Biden's). All of the senators. Thank you.

Economic slowdown/recession/depression

Any way you dice it, Bloomberg is a choice candidate for a job that requires knowledge and experience on economic matters - to his opponents' chagrin. Not only did Bloomberg earn billions in the private sector after years on Wall Street, he earned his billions as a media mogul. Since then, he has played an important, if not eminent, role as a representative of the national interest in the world economy. Only recently did Bloomberg break with Obama on an issue and state his preference for McCain's position. The issue? NAFTA and free trade. Choosing Bloomberg for VP would create the perfect opportunity for Obama to distance himself from all the protectionist pander he delivered to blue-collar workers during the primaries. "I'm taking my number two's advice," would be all Obama would have to say to explain his shift in position: "Mike's expertise in economic matters is far greater than mine - and that's principally why I asked him to join me on the ticket." Potential flip-flops on NAFTA aside, Bloomberg's economic savvy would be generally indisputable, not to mention attractive to the citizenry of a nation apparently in grave economic danger.

Foreign Policy /National Security/ (War on) Terrorism

Foreign policy has been widely perceived as Bloomberg's major failing when it comes to pursuing executive title, yet this argument can only be furthered effectively where 'foreign policy' reads as 'waging foreign wars.' Concerning global environmental policy, for instance, Bloomberg is forward-thinking enough to use models that have already been used and proved effective in other nations, and though he recently lost the battle for traffic congestion pricing to the NY state assembly, he fought passionately and articulately for it. Bloomberg also delivered high-profile speeches at both the Environmental Defense Forum in Bali and at the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change conference in December of 2007.

Furthermore, as the mayor of New York for the past seven years, no one can accuse Bloomberg of inexperience when it comes to protecting Americans from terrorist attacks. Sworn in as mayor right on the heels of Sept 11, 2001, Bloomberg was faced with the task of not only rebuilding but also rethinking and updating the city's surveillance and security apparatuses. Faced to debate John McCain's team on national security issues, then, Bloomberg is actually a strong candidate, one who would emphasize the importance of domestic preparedness and who would advocate sophisticated and strong defensive approaches to responding to foreign threats -- this in contradistinction to the sort of offensive military tactics that are currently running us, and Iraq, aground.


1. A Black guy and a Jew?

Anyone who (despicably) contends that the first African-American general election candidate for President shouldn't or wouldn't dream of teaming up with a Jewish Vice-Presidential candidate must understand that this is patently the sort of thinking that Obama individually, and his campaign strategically, refuse to entertain. It's also hard to imagine anyone who otherwise would have voted for Obama refusing to do so purely because he chose to run with Jew.

Bloomberg's ethnicity is much more of a pro than a con, of course: He would bring the doubting -yet-Democratic Jewish voters to Obama's camp in full force, thereby putting Florida back in play and requiring McCain to make public appearances at (gasp!) retirement homes in the last months of the campaign. The support and enthusiasm of he Democratic Party's Jewish base in crucial states like Pennsylvania and Ohio would be great for Obama.

2. Bloomberg is divorced and has a girlfriend. He is also quite short.

Yes, this is true. John McCain is also divorced (and short). Not only is McCain divorced, but he cheated on his first wife and lied about it in his own memoir.

Superficialities are absolutely important when it comes to presidential politics, so let's indulge in some more: Bloomberg, like Obama, has two nice-looking daughters. Bloomberg's daughters are college-aged, and their daddy is 65 years old - 18 years older than Obama. But there needn't be worries about Bloomberg's seeming more senior or more prominent a figure (politically or physically) than the man at the top of the ticket :not only is Bloomberg a mere mayor, he is also about six inches shorter than Barack. Obama's image advisors might want to avoid choosing a rotund or overweight VP (Obama-Richardson would create a serious tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum image problem, I think), or the verbal confusion prompted by Obama-Kaine/Oba-MaKaine enunciations. Obama and Bloomberg look good together.

3. Most people have no idea who Michael Bloomberg is.

Right. Most of America isn't familiar with Kathleen Sibelius, Jim Webb, or any of the other veepstakes mentions, either. Policy wonks: just how familiar were you with the Texas Rep. that Nancy Pelosi threw in the VP ring on Meet the Press last Sunday?

4. What about the larger swing-voting blocs?

Bloomberg is extremely and vociferously pro-immigration - more so than Obama or McCain. In fact, it's pretty much impossible to be any more pro-immigration than is Michael Bloomberg.

5. Bloomberg doesn't want to be VP! Bloomberg answers to no one!

That's not what he has said. He has said that he doesn't think anybody would choose a short, divorced, Jewish guy for VP.

Other Obama-Bloomberg convergences

Although Bloomberg has also shown his friendly support for McCain in this campaign season, he has only endorsed one of the Republican's policies. The rest of his policy endorsements have gone to Obama. Bloomberg persistently refuses to give his official support to either candidate, which leaves one wondering what he could possibly be waiting for.

Obama and Bloomberg both articulate a firm belief that the judgment and ability to surround oneself with good advisors is a crucial aspect of sound leadership.

Both vigorously emphasize the need for *measurable* standards when it comes to governmental accountability.

Obama and Bloomberg have angered the teachers' unions by supporting charter schools and merit pay for teachers, and Bloomberg publicly acknowledged his and Obama's agreement on the issue of merit pay in a speech last fall.

Obama and Bloomberg echoed one another's response to the second amendment ruling by the Supreme Court last month.

Obama and Bloomberg make very similar statements about the importance of investing in the nation's infrastructure, as "unsexy" as they both claim the issue to be.

Both Obama and Bloomberg argue that health care must be reconceived so as to prevent, rather than treat, disease and both believe that government assistance must be *earned* in recompense for working, participating in the civic life of the nation, and acting responsibly.

According to Obama, Mayor Bloomberg owes him a steak dinner.

Both men are outsiders to Washington, wildly popular with their constituencies, frequently described as charismatic, and represent minority groups. Bloomberg is also the 65th richest man in the world (according to Forbes), leaving Obama with all the reasons in the world to take his cash.

In the end, what makes Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg such a desirable team is not so much that their personas, politics, or ideals are identical or even necessarily similar, but rather that they are fundamentally compatible. Obama often explains his political ideology as "bottom-up" politics, while Bloomberg calls his "capitalism." Put those two terms together, and America just might swoon. Talk about a dream ticket.