November 1, 2012

The man who could walk away with the Jewish vote is giving his to Barack Obama.

In a column in today's Bloomberg News, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave his endorsement to President Barack Obama.

Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-Independent, cited the President's policies on climate change as the primary reason for his decision.

“We need leadership from the White House — and over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption,” wrote Bloomberg. “including setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. His administration also has adopted tighter controls on mercury emissions, which will help to close the dirtiest coal power plants (an effort I have supported through my philanthropy), which are estimated to kill 13,000 Americans a year.”

Bloomberg pointed out that as governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney supported the science of climate change and pursued policies to address it, but as a presidential candidate has backed off both positions.  He writes:

Mitt Romney, too, has a history of tackling climate change. As governor of Massachusetts, he signed on to a regional cap- and-trade plan designed to reduce carbon emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels. “The benefits (of that plan) will be long- lasting and enormous — benefits to our health, our economy, our quality of life, our very landscape. These are actions we can and must take now, if we are to have ‘no regrets’ when we transfer our temporary stewardship of this Earth to the next generation,” he wrote at the time.

He couldn’t have been more right. But since then, he has reversed course, abandoning the very cap-and-trade program he once supported. This issue is too important. We need determined leadership at the national level to move the nation and the world forward.

Bloomberg stacked up some other reasons for his endorsement: Obama's record on women's rights, abortion, and gay rights, as well as his Race to the Top education initiative:

Nevertheless, the president has achieved some important victories on issues that will help define our future. His Race to the Top education program — much of which was opposed by the teachers’ unions, a traditional Democratic Party constituency — has helped drive badly needed reform across the country, giving local districts leverage to strengthen accountability in the classroom and expand charter schools. His health-care law — for all its flaws — will provide insurance coverage to people who need it most and save lives.

When I step into the voting booth, I think about the world I want to leave my two daughters, and the values that are required to guide us there. The two parties’ nominees for president offer different visions of where they want to lead America.

One believes a woman’s right to choose should be protected for future generations; one does not. That difference, given the likelihood of Supreme Court vacancies, weighs heavily on my decision.

One recognizes marriage equality as consistent with America’s march of freedom; one does not. I want our president to be on the right side of history.

When and how did the mayor make up his mind?  In a long interview with Atlantic magazine this month, Bloomberg declined to endorse either candidate.   In fact, he criticized Obama for failing to engage the Wall Street community, for using polarizing language and for failing to work across the aisle.   He still has those criticisms:

In 2008, Obama ran as a pragmatic problem-solver and consensus-builder. But as president, he devoted little time and effort to developing and sustaining a coalition of centrists, which doomed hope for any real progress on illegal guns, immigration, tax reform, job creation and deficit reduction. And rather than uniting the country around a message of shared sacrifice, he engaged in partisan attacks and has embraced a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it.

But it seems the fury of Hurricae Sandy, whose Ground Zero has been New York and New Jersey, has reinforced in the mayor's mind the critical need to recognize and address climate change. “One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet,” wrote Bloomberg, “one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.

The big question is how a Bloomberg endorsement, coming just days before the election, will influence independent voters, and Jewish ones. Bloomberg is enormously popular among Jews– notwithstanding a smaller percentage of Orthodox Jews riled by his stand on the practice of metzizah b'peh in circumscision.  In Bloomberg Jews find a leader whose politics and positions are fiscally prudent and conservative, but socially liberal.  It's these same qualities that led Bloomberg to believe he didn't stand a chance in a Republican primary.  When speaking to Jewish groups about politics, I always find a wide concensus that Bloomberg is the politician who they most admire.

So, question one is how will that translate into Jewish votes in crucial swing states like Ohio and Florida?  

Question two is what led Bloomberg to endorse at all.  He told the Atlantic that as mayor he will have to work closely with whoever wins, so why risk alienating the wrong guy?  Maybe Bloomberg, a savvy investor, has decided to play his hunch.

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