Elisabeth Meinecke
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Michael Bloomberg’s pragmatic paternalism represents a threat to American liberties nationwide.

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From Townhall Magazine's September feature, "America's Most Dangerous Mayor," by Kevin Glass:

“There are powers that only governments can exercise. Results only governments can achieve ... government at all levels must make healthy solutions the default social option. That is the government’s highest duty.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke these words to a gathering of the United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2011. These aren’t the words of a politician with high-minded rhetoric who rarely puts his promises into action, however. Throughout his tenure as mayor of New York City, Bloomberg has shown absolutely no qualms about using his office to further government paternalism.

There is no aspect of New Yorkers’ lives that Bloomberg thinks should be safe from government intrusion. While his food nannyism usually generates the most attention, Bloomberg also advocates the city government as an ever-watchful eye, armed with traffic cameras and questionable stop-and-frisk laws.

The Political Aspirant

It wasn't always this way.

On January 1, 2002, Michael R. Bloomberg assumed office as the new mayor of New York City. He was only the fi fth Republican to hold the office in over 100 years and the first in the city’s history to be elected on the back of a previous Republican officeholder.

Bloomberg’s predecessor was the pragmatic Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani’s popularity was sky-high following his successful handling of New York’s response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, and his endorsement of Bloomberg likely helped quell any questions New Yorkers may have had about the business mogul’s entry into politics.

“If he can have half the success with New York City that he has had in business,” Giuliani said at the time, according to The New York Times, “New York is going to have an even greater future.”

While it wasn’t expected that Bloomberg’s election would herald a new conservative age in the Big Apple, the fact that he was even Republican was a boon. Bloomberg had been a lifelong Democrat. New York City’s Democratic machine, however, made it difficult for an outsider to simply hop in, so in 2001, he switched parties. Backed by a personal fortune in the billions, he easily overwhelmed his Republican rivals in the primary campaign and pulled out a very close victory in the general election. He spent $74 million on his election campaign, which was a record amount of money for a non-presidential election in the United States—even for governorships and U.S. Senate races—and an amount that would be broken again by Bloomberg himself in his 2005 re-election race.

Once he’d made it as a legitimate politician by winning reelection, he decided that his temporary dalliance with Republicans was inconvenient. In 2007, Bloomberg availed himself of party labels and declared that he would become an Independent, and in 2008, he pushed to change New York’s law on term limits so that he could run yet again. Where Rudy Giuliani failed to change election law and extend his tenure in the wake of September 11, Mayor Bloomberg succeeded and won an unprecedented third mayoral term in 2009.

It’s this disdain for labels, tradition and laws that most informs Bloomberg’s policy thinking as mayor. And, combined with his wealth and the prestige of his office, it’s what makes him the most dangerous mayor in America.

Your Health Is His Business

&The term “Big Brother” is thrown around with impunity when it comes to Big Government, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg really does believe that government’s highest calling is not staying out of people’s way but restricting their liberties to supposedly keep them safe.

New York City has a lot of concerns to address, but Bloomberg places food as Enemy No. 1. Like many leftists, he sees obesity as a society-wide problem that can—and must—be controlled with government restrictions.

Trans fats—a common variety of unsaturated fat used in cooking—were the subject of one of Bloomberg’s first experimental forays into food nannyism. In late 2006, New York passed a regulation that would phase in restrictions on trans fats in restaurants, culminating in their complete elimination in 2008. For the most part, there wasn’t much outcry from customers. As food bans go, it was relatively minor. Restaurants switched cooking oils or spreads, and life went on. However, scientists have gone back and forth on the health benefits and drawbacks of saturated versus unsaturated fats for decades, and a government simply deciding to make a decision is hasty and dangerous—not to mention that canola oil, the most common replacement for the trans fat-filled vegetable oil restaurants typically use, is more expensive.

 


But the ban was emblematic of the attitude that Bloomberg takes toward liberty: he’s willing to limit freedom, exaggerate benefits and ignore costs in the name of protecting New Yorkers from themselves.

In July 2008, Bloomberg proved himself to be on the cutting edge of food nannyism. New York City became the first place in the United States to institute a calorie-labeling law. While it applied only to fast-food restaurants, the idea quickly spread to higher levels of government. Other municipalities quickly toyed with the idea of forcing restaurants—and not just fast food ones—to post calorie counts on their menus. Despite evidence that these labeling laws don’t actually work—a recent NYU study found that customers “did not actually purchase fewer calories”—progressives claimed victory. In President Obama’s health care overhaul, there’s a small provision that stipulates that restaurants with 20 or more branches must post counts on all their menus.

Read more analysis of Bloomberg's nanny state in the September issue of Townhall Magazine.

 

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Elisabeth Meinecke

Elisabeth Meinecke is TOWNHALL MAGAZINE Managing Editor. Follow her on Twitter @lismeinecke.