Collins: The revenge of Magic Mike Bloomberg

New York TimesJune 13, 2013 

Gail Collins

Collins

EARL WILSON

Right now you're probably asking yourself: What would I do if I had $27 billion to toss around?

Michael Bloomberg has to ask himself that question every day, people. He has a dual identity, like an action hero. By day, he's the mayor of New York City. By night — well, actually, all the time, but stick with my metaphor — he unleashes his special power. If we lived in “The Avengers,” Bloomberg would be Money Man. The Incredible Hulk turns green; Bloomberg would just shower it. The crowds racing to catch the falling $100 bills would knock down his enemies, crushing them in the stampede.

All of which brings us to Mayors Against Illegal Guns. This is an organization of many mayors, but only one of them ever gets talked about, because only one of them has enough money to buy Wyoming.

The Mayors/Bloomberg are currently seeking revenge against the four Democratic senators who voted against a gun regulation bill earlier this year. Some gun control advocates regard this as a disastrous example of tone-deaf politics: the war on Big Gulps writ large.

Recently, Bloomberg ponied up $350,000 to run ads in Arkansas, castigating Sen. Mark Pryor for opposing the bill, which would have expanded background checks for gun purchases. The ads made Democratic leaders furious, because Pryor has a very tough re-election race coming up in a year that is chock-full of difficult contests for their party. They're having trouble just finding people to run for some of the seats being vacated by Democratic senators. (Really, public-spirited citizen, if you have nothing else to do for the next couple of years, consider moving to West Virginia, registering as a Democrat and running for the U.S. Senate. There's an opening.)

Then, this week, Bloomberg wrote to the thousand biggest Democratic donors in New York and told them not to give the same senators any money. “I want to tell people what these four stand for,” he told Nicholas Confessore and Jeremy Peters in The New York Times.

The Democratic leaders are privately double-furious. (Not publicly, because they do not want to be squashed by a mob of people chasing floating $100 bills.) They argue, with absolute accuracy, that if the Democrats lose control of the Senate in 2014, there will be no gun bill to vote for, because Mitch McConnell, as majority leader, would never allow one to get to the floor.

And what's the point? The two senators in question who are up for re-election — Pryor and Mark Begich of Alaska — are going to be opposed by Republicans who are even more averse to weapons regulation. Right now it looks as if Begich's opponent will be Joe Miller, a tea party stalwart who would be an improvement only to people who believe that the one thing this country needs is to bring back Sarah Palin.

There's one really good argument on Bloomberg's side. Maybe the only way to get serious gun reforms passed in Congress is to convince our elected officials that people who believe in reasonable gun control are as insane as the forces of the National Rifle Association.

Gun control is the classic example of an intensity-of-preference issue. Most people support it, but not enough to hinge their vote on it. Suppose you are a member of Congress and you knew that 60 percent of the people in your district favored improved background checks on gun purchases, but not in an obsessive way. Forty percent opposed them and — most important — 20 percent will hate you forever if you thwart their will. They won't care if you vote to open a prison camp for puppies as long as you go their way on guns. You could leave your wife, beat your children and starve the family hamster to death, and they will still vote for you as long as you're OK on the Second Amendment. The political path is obvious.

Bloomberg leaves his mayor's job at the end of this year, and everyone in politics is thrilled/terrified to see what he'll do next. The possibilities, in a world where the Supreme Court has pretty much lifted any barriers on what rich people can spend on elections, are endless. (Except for running for president. New York City mayors make terrible presidential candidates. You might think they look appealing, but remember Rudy Giuliani. And Bloomberg wasn't all that adorable to begin with.)

If you were ranked the seventh-wealthiest man in America by Forbes magazine, what would you do? Bloomberg has had lots of causes — from health research to education, to helping the environment by abolishing taxis that tall people can fit in. And then there's gun control, which he thinks he can win on even if the short-term results of his efforts are a 2014 U.S. Senate that hates the concept entirely.

Well, it's a complicated world to be heroic in. Just ask The Incredible Hulk.

Email Ms. Collins at editorial@nytimes.com.

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