Michael Bloomberg has learned nothing.
That seems to be the main message to come out of the candidate’s presidential campaign so far—at least where race, and more specifically stop-and-frisk, is concerned. At Wednesday night’s CNN town hall in South Carolina, just as he had the night before in a debate, the former New York City Mayor again spoke about the racist policing policy in terms that suggested it was a good idea that just needed a bit of tinkering.
“We just did it much too much and an awful lot of innocent people got stopped who didn’t have guns,” he stated, “and it was my mistake and I apologize for it.” He also said that “the first right is the right to live, so you’ve got to make sure that you’re safe, and stop the guns,” begging the question of what exactly the “it” was that was his mistake and that he was apologizing for.
Not much later, Bloomberg more explicitly refuted the idea that the policy was inherently racist while also resurrecting the disingenuous idea that he ended the policy of his own volition, instead of under court order. Then he said something about not being able to rewrite “history” and suggested he was ready to move on, and that we all should.
It was the latest indication that Bloomberg has settled on an oops, my bad approach to addressing the issue of racial profiling in policing. He simply vomits words around the word “apologize” and pretends that’s good enough to trust that he wouldn’t do a similar thing with the vast powers of the presidency at his disposal. It’s not. Not even close.
There’s been a decent amount of coverage since Bloomberg entered the race on how damaging stop-and-frisk was for New York City’s black and brown communities, how it made communities less safe, and the low-grade terror communities experience when police declare treat everyone in their neighborhoods as suspects, or worse. But it seems clear that Bloomberg still thinks stopping and frisking millions of New Yorkers was a worthwhile program that’s been given a bad rap by data collectors and mental-health practitioners, and is apologizing just enough for his signature policing program over 12 years in office to make himself a viable candidate in a Democratic presidential primary just six years later.
Politicians are bad at correcting course, and billionaire politicians might be the worst of all. There’s a fundamental unwillingness among people who’ve spent a lot of time around paid sycophants to recognize that maybe they’ve screwed things up, or to see an apology as anything more than a formality.
Bloomberg, who spent decades as the namesake head of a company where roomfulls of people laughed at his jokes about sexual harassment and using sex to make the sale that they eventually collected in a vanity volume they gifted to him, once declared himself “a member of the ‘never apologize, never explain’ school of management.” Sound familiar? Sad!
We already have a billionaire president who insists he knows more than anyone in every room—including trained experts—about everything from trade to taxes to “the horror of nuclear.” Bloomberg, while offering a more polished and sophisticated kind of racism, is yet another example of a rich white guy who can’t imagine that he’s ever really stepped in it. Add billion dollar blinders to the already blinding veneers of whiteness, and you end up with people who are seemingly incapable of recognizing how their policies impact others, because they exist in rarified spaces where those impacts are essentially invisible. That’s evidenced by the way Bloomberg behaved when he held public power, not by his weak apologies as he tries to get his hands around it again.
If one baseline test for being the Democratic standard-bearer is, at the very least, successfully pretending you’re listening to the criticisms that you receive, Bloomberg keeps failing that basic test. This is a man whose only criticism of stop and frisk before he ran for president was that it—much like redlining—actually wasn’t racist enough. He’s said nothing to suggest that he really gets the damage his policies wreaked in black and brown lives.
President Bloomberg might be more dangerous than President Trump in a sense, since his policies don’t immediately betray the kind of racist creep they contain.