Michael Bloomberg’s true colors

Why a liberal gun control crusader endorsed a Republican who's opposed to a federal assault weapons ban

By Steve Kornacki

Published July 26, 2012 4:21PM (EDT)

After last week’s Aurora massacre, Michael Bloomberg emerged as something of a liberal hero by almost single-handedly forcing gun control into the national debate.

Within hours of the tragedy, the New York mayor said in a radio appearance that “soothing words are nice, but maybe it's time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country.” He made the same call in a national television appearance over the weekend, leading a crusade on an issue that the Democratic Party once championed but essentially abandoned a decade ago. President Obama’s call last night for “violence reduction,” hesitant and non-specific though it was, is testament to the traction Bloomberg’s shaming campaign gained this past week.

And now, to follow this all up, Bloomberg is going to host a fundraiser for … a Republican senator who expressed his opposition just this week to reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons.

Granted, Scott Brown, the beneficiary of the Aug. 15 New York City fundraiser Bloomberg is planning, is unusually flexible on Second Amendment issues, at least by the standards of today’s Republican Party. As a state legislator in Massachusetts, he voted in 2004 to extend the state’s assault weapons ban (though he sided against banning the sale of weapons purchased before the ban went into effect). And as a U.S. senator, he broke with the NRA to oppose a bill that would require states to recognize concealed carry permits from other states.

Brown has been leaning on states’ rights to balance his home state’s liberalism on gun issues with the anti-gun control fervor that grips the national GOP, arguing that the federal government has no business passing new laws but that states should be free to do so. This is how he justifies his opposition to reinstating the federal assault weapon ban, which expired eight years ago.

The non-cynical reading of Bloomberg’s decision to raise money for Brown is that the mayor wants to reward what amounts to a modest break with GOP gun control orthodoxy, and to deliver a message to other Republicans that he’s willing to help them if they do the same. At some level, it’s surely a factor here.

But it’s hard to ignore the other major issue that might attract Bloomberg to Brown’s side: Wall Street. This has a little to do with Brown, who voted for the Dodd-Frank reform law but also worked to make it much weaker than it could have been, and a lot to do with his opponent, Elizabeth Warren, whom the Wall Street crowd is treating as its biggest enemy running for office this year.

When the Occupy Wall Street movement emerged last fall, Warren boasted that she’d created “much of the intellectual foundation” for the movement’s top 1 percent/bottom 99 percent messaging. Bloomberg, meanwhile, called the protests “not productive” and said that “what they're trying to do is take the jobs away from people working in this city.” More recently, Bloomberg argued that President Obama, who is calling for the end of the Bush tax cuts for incomes over $250,000, has “not only embraced the frustration expressed by Occupy Wall Street protesters—which was real—but he adopted their economic populism.”

Bloomberg’s decision to raise money for Brown tells us a lot about his ideology, which is commonly portrayed in the media as centrist and independent. But that’s not really where he’s coming from. On most issues – guns, abortion, gay rights, the environment -- Bloomberg is a standard-issue liberal Democrat. On economic issues, he’s a Wall Street Democrat, not averse to raising taxes (he’s even said the Bush rates should expire for everyone) but mindful of and often deferential to the sensitivities of the financial services sector. This puts him on the same page as Bill Clinton, Cory Booker and the many, many other Democrats who’ve cultivated mutually beneficial relationships with Wall Street over the past two decades. Obama himself benefited from Wall Street’s help in 2008, although that won’t really be the case this year.

In this sense, Bloomberg’s support for Brown isn’t really a sign of how independent he is as much as it is an indicator of how far removed Warren is from where most elite Democrats are on Wall Street issues.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki is an MSNBC host and political correspondent. Previously, he hosted “Up with Steve Kornacki” on Saturday and Sunday 8-10 a.m. ET and was a co-host on MSNBC’s ensemble show “The Cycle.” He has written for the New York Observer, covered Congress for Roll Call, and was the politics editor for Salon. His book, which focuses on the political history of the 1990s, is due out in 2017.

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