I used to think that the final victory of al-Qaeda would be the petty indignities inflicted daily upon U.S. citizens by the T.S.A. Now I know the true indignity belongs to the T.S.A.—an entire national agency reduced to a pack of pocket-snooping, shoe-sniffing paranoids, peeping on old grandmothers’ panties for the latest stains of terrorism.
This is, in my mind, the proper way to remember Michael Bloomberg. The prevailing “balanced” view may see him as a flawed but competent mayor, whose well-intentioned policies had the unforeseen effect of being petty and infantilizing to the nation’s largest city. But even victims have a shred of dignity. Regarding Bloomberg, one must recall that the word “brutalize” means chiefly “to make someone a brute”; so it is often the aggressor, as it were, who brutalizes himself.
The job of the mayor is to manage the city. In the nanny and disciplinarian Michael Bloomberg, one found a literal-minded micromanager, whose anal retention verged on hemorrhoidal constipation. From cigarettes and candy to one’s office or one’s vehicle, one could hardly walk through New York City without tripping on some prohibition or another. Who should feel undignified: the inconvenienced public, or the finicky paternalist and professional party-pooper?
It is said that a hallmark of totalitarian regimes is a distinctive ideology, so the least that one can say is that the brownshirts were principled. The modern age has brought the rise of a new totalitarian, whose only guiding vision is to find new things for governments to do.
The problem, I suppose, is institutional. As a rule, governments must limit themselves to the proper functioning of the civilized world. With each successive generation—and as politics becomes a profession—government must justify its existence by broadening the scope of what are seen as threats to civilization, if not downright to invent new problems then to solve. (For a trivial example, consider the agendas and non-platforms of student governments, which serve principally and primarily to waste paper and campus space.)
Bloomberg should be shamed forever as the mayor who insisted on his right to molest collectively (though with a singular fondness for tall, dark, handsome men) the entire New York City. And this was only the most conspicuous ploy of a committed, inveterate creep. I am uncertain whether young Michael was a playground bully or an obsequious bootlicker; but his mayoral reign was a bit of both as he shaped the city in his groveling, wholesome image.
Los Angeles, 2013.