Bill Thompson and the Silence of Obama
Yesterday morning, the day after the election, I woke to a feeling of dread contemplating over coffee four more years of Mike Bloomberg in City Hall. The feeling was similar if less devastating than the morning after George W. Bush’s curious victory in 2004. On the coffee table in front of me lay the handful of Bill Thompson posters and pamphlets I did not find a home for in what was my first experience as a volunteer in a political campaign. Truth be told when I was moved to volunteer I was motivated more by disgust at and rage toward Mike Bloomberg than I was by love of Bill Thompson but the more I heard the man the larger a man he seemed to me to be.
Did I think he had a shot? Well, I knew there was a well-spring of rage out there over Bloomberg’s over turning of term-limits and I knew many people who were sick and tired of the onslaught of luxury condos and the like but… for me it was more an act of faith and one of self respect than anything. I needed to sleep at night knowing I did all I could do not to simply accept what I considered and consider an act of extreme violence against all democratic principles and any notion of fairness. I am, of course, referring to Bloomberg’s coup via City Council.
Of course, I was aware of the endless polls predicting a Bloomberg landslide and, such was the onslaught via all of the senses, that no sensate being could be unaware of the ceaseless ads for the greatness of Mayor Mike and ( especially toward the end ) the untrustworthiness, incompetence, recklessness and poor dental habits of the poor loser Bill Thompson. I was also aware of how very powerful and wily players in the city’s Democratic orbit – chief among them but hardly alone the shameless Christine Quinn — had soiled themselves and completely betrayed their party and whatever principles they may have once pretended to believe in to please the mayor who would be king.
But I also knew that t there were some — John Lui and Bill De Blasio, chief among them, who had stuck to their guns and dignity and refused Mike Bloomberg’s entreaties to disgrace themselves for the betterment of Mike. These people were with Thompson despite his seemingly hopeless, futile campaign. It was a matter of party loyalty and it was matter of principle.
Now here it was the morning after and, to the shock of almost everyone in the city, the all-powerful Bloomberg had squeaked in by a margin of less than 5 %. I sipped my coffee and studied one of the posters. On the right was a confident looking Thompson, arms folded, looking straight into the camera. On the left was President Barack Obama, smiling staring into the distance into nothing in particular. The poster, as it turned out, was about as close as Obama would get to Thompson, a man of his own party and a man heroically — and I do not mean that word ironically — standing up to a figure who publically urinated on the rights of all eligible voters in New York City and paid not even a quality of life ticket while vowing to spend upwards of $60 million dollars to crush any mere mortal who dared oppose him. Bloomberg would eventually spend close to $ 100 million dollars. No matter. After all others fled, Thompson stood his ground. The press all but ignored him. The man would have to set himself aflame to get any attention. No matter. Thompson pushed on. Day after day. Month after month. Against enormous odds.
There in the dawn light I asked myself, where was the president ? Where was Obama ?
Why did he not help this man ? Was Thompson not standing up to everything a good democrat and a good Democrat should stand up to: plutocracy, immense wealth, and the sleaziest kinds of politics possible. Did he not stand for the things that a good democrat and a good Democrat would stand for: working class people, community control, affordable housing and so on. So why was Obama silent ?
Oh yes, he endorsed Thompson, kind of, via a spokesman even as he visited New Jersey three times actively campaigning for Gov. Jon Corzine. Two weeks ago when Obama was actually in New York, he barely said hello to Thompson.
In effect, Obama abandoned Thompson. In his silence you might even say he betrayed him. Worse, Obama’s pathetic and feeble endorsement could easily be read as a tacit, weasely endorsement of Bloomberg. I kept thinking about that 5% margin. Imagine if Obama had spent a single afternoon actively campaigning for Thompson with even half the enthusiasm he campaigned for Corzine. Imagine if he had made but one commercial for the man. Imagine he had done anything more than the nothing he did and you do not have to imagine Bill Thompson as the new mayor of New York.
The question, a question as far as I know nobody has yet bothered to ask Obama, is why? Why did the President of the United States do nothing, nothing at all, to help a fellow Democrat become mayor of the greatest and most influential city in the United States?
Why would Obama not help a Democrat running against a billionaire ( who voted for John McCain ) who so transparently believes himself to be above the law ?
The mind boggles. Dark thoughts seep in. Obama has spent a good deal of the first eight months of his presidency proving again and again and again he is not what he appeared to be, not what we so desire him to be, not what we need him to be.
The question remains: What is he ? Who is he ? What does he stand for ?
I hope for the sake of this nation that I’m wrong but I think Barack Obama has more in common with Mike Bloomberg than he does with Bill Thompson. More, I do not think it beyond the realm of possibility that some kind of hidden deal was made between the two. Consider the issue of education “reform.” Consider that President Obama wants to do for the entirety of the United States what Bloomberg has done to a considerable extent in New York: he has corporatized education, the better to privatize. Consider that before his disastrous selection of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education, President –Elect Obama was seriously considering the even more disastrous NYC Chancellor of Education Joel Klein, he who wet dreams over reducing teachers by 30 % and replacing them with the miracle of “distance learning.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/22/nyregion/22bigcity.html?emc=eta1 )
Consider that Joel Klein, federal prosecutor with no education experience whatever, was hired to undermine the teachers’ union via non union charter schools, evisceration of tenure, idiot schemes such as “merit pay”, data based evaluations of teachers based on their students test scores, and endless intimidation and pressure. Consider that Barack Obama’s and Arne Duncan’s revealingly named “Race To The Top “ education reforms are demanding from states across the nation the exact same insanity for such states to be even considered for federal stimulus money they so desperately need to need to survive.
Now consider that if elected Bill Thompson vowed to immediately fire Klein and replace him with a professional educator. Consider that Bill Thompson spoke repeatedly and passionately about the craziness of endless testing and necessity of subjects such as music and art.
Could this be the reason that Obama did nothing to help this decent, thoughtful and righteous man? Could this be the reason Obama, in effect, abandoned him like a dog on a highway ?
Make no mistake about it. As our manufacturing base drifts from one slave wage nation to the next slave wage nation, education has come into the radar of the same kind of ruthless predators who so desperately desired to privatize social security. Note well that the biggest financial backer of charters school is Wal-Mart. Note well that No Child Left Behind has mandated the federal government into every school in every nook and cranny across the continental United States. Note very well that there are billions and billions to be made in textbooks, tests, test prep, reading systems, writing systems and on and on and on — and let us not forget charter schools. What Bloomberg wants is what Obama wants: the privatization of the public school system.
If this happens in the major cities – Chicago, Las Angeles, New York – the rest of the country will follow. But first the unions must be destroyed or undermined.
Bill Thompson finds such schemes silly or even insane. Mike Bloomberg finds them visionary.
This, I believe and I fear is the reason for the silence of Obama. And what a cost, this silence.