Mayor Bloomberg's statement opposing the confirmation of Judge John Roberts to the Supreme Court generated among many New Yorkers a rush of disgust. It epitomizes everything that many of us see as the disappointing side of the mayor - his spinelessness, his tendency to pander, his disregard for political loyalty, his self-righteousness when it comes to what he defines as matters of "public health," his special interest-driven politicking accompanied by blather about how he isn't motivated by politics. His allegiance only to himself. His abuse of public resources. His arrogance. His hypocrisy. His combination of grandiosity and smallness.
Not since Senator Kerry have we seen a politician who can be as oleaginous as Mr. Bloomberg. Here is a man who claims to be a Republican and who posed at the Republican National Convention as a loyal supporter of President Bush. Yet when the president and leader of his party is facing a national emergency in Katrina and a war overseas and experiencing a dip in his approval ratings, Mr. Bloomberg seeks to insert a shiv into the back of his nominee for chief justice of the United States. The mayor's commitment to the Republican Party is like his commitment to cutting taxes - it's a commitment that lasts only until it starts to become inconvenient to him personally, at which point he abandons it.
There was an element to the mayor's statement that was worthy of Gifford Miller. It was clearly a political statement calculated to advance his campaign, a statement that had nothing to do with his duties as the mayor of New York. Yet Mr. Bloomberg issued his statement against Judge Roberts in his official capacity as mayor, in a press release that came from the city, not from his campaign. Aren't taxes in the city high enough already without spending public funds subsidizing the mayor's campaign against Judge Roberts?
The mayor likes to claim that because he is a billionaire funding his campaign himself and not accepting campaign contributions, he is not beholden to special interests. Yet there are times when Mr. Bloomberg can tarnish himself right up there with the most appalling City Council Member up to his eyebrows in credit card debt and panhandling for campaign contributions among lobbyists and developers. Listen to how Mr. Bloomberg accepted the endorsement of the abortion lobby: "NARAL Pro-Choice New York is an incredibly effective and important force in protecting and expanding women's access to reproductive health care. I am grateful for this endorsement."
And beyond all this is the substance. The mayor tried to cloak his pro-abortion extremism in a concern for health. "What I was hoping to hear was the same simple affirmation of Roe v. Wade, a decision which has had a long-lasting, profound impact in improving women's health and lives. There can be no turning back and for that reason I oppose the nomination of Judge Roberts as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court," Mr. Bloomberg claimed in a statement divorced from the substance of the laws and precedents.
It may be that Mr. Bloomberg watched Judge Robert's confirmation hearing on some special television set in the office of Gail Collins. Most Americans saw a hearing in which it was clear that there is a code of judicial conduct and ethics that forbids Judge Roberts from answering in detail questions about how he'd rule on abortion. It's different from questions about Brown v. Board of Education, because abortion is likely to come before the court again, unlike government racial segregation. On abortion, Judge Roberts is nowhere near as far to the right as the man he is replacing, William Rehnquist, who dissented from both landmark abortion rulings, Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Rehnquist was still ushered to his grave with Senators Kennedy and Leahy and Schumer enthusing on what a fine chief justice he'd been.
The mayor's statement made not even a nod to the notion that it is desirable to make abortion rare or to make adoption an option. President Clinton, Senator Kennedy, and the Nassau county executive, Thomas Suozzi, all Democrats, have both taken that more moderate position, while Mr. Bloomberg seems unwilling to concede that the state or the father have any interest at all in protecting an embryo or a fetus or an unborn child, even if one believes, as the mayor put it, that the "life-altering decision as to whether or not to have a child must be a woman's decision."
By insisting that the federal court-ordered right to an abortion be protected at all costs, Mr. Bloomberg effectively declared himself and other state and local elected officials not up to the task of using their own institutions and laws to protect the right to either privacy or to an abortion. Reasonable people can differ on abortion based on their religious views and other deeply held beliefs. This paper does not favor an absolute ban on abortion in New York City. But whatever view one may have on abortion, it is hard to come away from a look at Mr. Bloomberg's behavior in the matter of Judge Roberts than without a diminished opinion of the mayor, one that is all the more painful because of the mayor's many virtues.