As an op-ed columnist, Frank Bruni was a heck of a restaurant critic.
That was demonstrated once again by his farewell (New York Times, 9/10/13) to outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who Bruni thinks is getting a bum rap from the Democrats who are vying in the primaries today for a chance to succeed him.
Bruni particularly objects to frontrunner Bill de Blasio's
resonant tale of two New Yorks, the wealthy one that Bloomberg is accused of coddling and the less wealthy one that he supposedly showed the back of his hand…. It's a narrative of either-or, of winner-loser, of one group's blessings explaining and in some ways causing another group's deprivations.
Bruni sniffs, in a classic Times formulation: "The truth is less callous and more complicated than that."
Here's the key paragraph of Bruni's supposedly more complicated and definitely cozier view of reality:
It is indeed the case that income inequality in New York City has worsened during the Bloomberg years, to an extent that's morally unacceptable and perhaps socially untenable. But it's also the case that the situation reflects a national trend. It isn't principally Bloomberg's doing, and it surely wasn't his intent.
This is the essence of liberalism-in-the-bad-sense, as opposed to genuine progressivism: Sure, it's too bad that things are the way they are, but it's not really anybody's fault, and surely no one meant it to turn out that way. No one should feel that their blessings in any way caused anyone else's deprivations.
And, frankly, it's hogwash. The massive transfer of wealth to the wealthiest that's taken place over the past 30-odd years has precisely been a tale of winners and losers, of a small group of people reaping the blessings of depriving others. This was not an accident or a natural occurrence, it was the result of policies pushed and implemented by people who would benefit from them. People like Bloomberg, who is the 13th richest person in the world with a $27 billion fortune, and has presided for the past 12 years over the city with the greatest income disparities in the country (City Room, 10/27/11).
Does Bloomberg view his career as a mistake, and work to prevent others from following the same trajectory? If not, then it was his intention to promote rising inequality.
Most of the rest of Bruni's column is devoted to putting a favorable distortion on Bloomberg's record: No, the drop in crime under Bloomberg's watch was not "remarkable"–it was, as Bruni says of inequality, part of a "national trend" (FAIR Blog, 8/23/13). No, he has not managed the parks to benefit "all New Yorkers" (New York Times, 2/18/13). No, New York City charter schools have mostly not been "excellent" (Diane Ravitch, 8/9/13).
Bruni concedes that Bloomberg "seems at times to shrug rather than rail at how precious and exclusive so much of Manhattan and Brooklyn have become." He expects more "railing" from the next mayor, whoever that is. And I expect more shrugging from Frank Bruni.