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Elections for Sale

Michael Bloomberg’s recent election as Mayor establishes a very dangerous precedent: that candidates can circumvent the city’s 4:1 campaign financing system, the most progressive of its kind in the nation, and fund their campaigns out of their own endless pockets.

At a recent post-election analysis session, one of Bloomberg’s key advisers suggested that the reason for the new Mayor’s electoral success stemmed less from the amount of money he spent, than from “how he spent it.”  Yet with 74 million dollars to dole out (and plenty more, if necessary), Bloomberg was able to saturate the local media market with his message, the gist of which was that his experience in the private sector better qualified him to be Mayor than did his opponent’s career in government.  In one interview, Bloomberg went so far as to state that Mark Green’s record as a public watchdog “was not germane to the job.”

One can only imagine the response if someone went to a shareholders meeting and suggested that their experience as a public official made him more suited to run the company.

Bloomberg’s means of getting elected thus seem inseparable from his ends—i.e. to further privatize the public sector.  And so if New Yorkers wish to restore a positive role for the city’s government, then serious steps should be taken to insure that only candidates who believe in government’s basic premise can run for office.  Forcing future candidates to abide by the 4:1 scheme is a necessary first step.

Of War and Football

The bombing of Afghanistan began at kickoff, or—what’s more important in media circles—preempted coverage of it.  Since then, hardly a day has passed when some war cheerleader or other has failed to deploy a gridiron metaphor.  Our destruction of the Taliban, says William Safire, has given us the “Big Mo,” meaning we should march downfield (sort of) to pummel Iraq.  Neither is any weekend game complete without endless shots of overzealous fans who’ve traded their team colors for stars and stripes, or of service men overseas assuring us of their love for football and country.

Yet football is not like war, at least not in the contemporary meaning of the term.  Surely the language of battle is similar, whether “bombs,” “trenches,” “ground attack,” and so on.  The spectacle of violence, reward for the use of force, the bureaucratic chain of command—these too make the game superficially similar to warfare.  What is acceptable on the battlefield, as well as who gets to make that determination, are entirely different, however.

Football, unlike modern war, is played by clearly defined rules, administered by referees who are both all-powerful and independent of either team.  Conversely, under the emerging Bush Doctrine, the Times reported recently, “the use of force is unrestrained by borders or allies.”  Football takes place on a precise, familiar playing field, which the game’s combatants willingly enter, knowing full well the dangers at hand.  The opponents on either sideline are armed equally.  To date, expanding the action to include either supporters of the other team or innocent bystanders near the stadium is not part of the game.

Most historians say that once the Germans used mustard gas in the trenches during World War I, the rules that bound 19th century warfare fell by the wayside.  In football, such foul play on the lines would at least draw a penalty, and possibly an ejection.  “They’re the real heroes,” one veteran football commentator said of the servicemen featured prominently during a recent holiday telecast.  “What we’re doing here is just a game.”  “And over there they’re using real bullets,” added his partner.  Unwittingly, perhaps, they were right: 21st century war is no longer like a game, especially because only one team is making all the rules.


The Brooklyn Rail

JAN-FEB 2002

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