Bloomberg’s Tribalism


Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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57 Responses

  1. gregiank says:

    And lord knows limiting people ability to blow smoke in other peoples faces can only be “liberal tribalism” it cannot be a public good or protecting the rights of people not to have nasty noxious smoke in their faces. And he is trying to cut back on salt in food, although i still believe it is legal for people to have a twice life salt lick in the shape of Ayn Rand, which they can do any nasty thing they want to while eating baconater’s and chili fries….oh the tyranny.Report

    • North in reply to gregiank says:

      @gregiank, I’m biased on smoke Greg (hate it so much) but ya gotta admit that at some point we’re getting to diminishing returns trying to ban or outlaw it. People should be allowed to smoke and the last thing we want to do is encourage the prohibition genetics of the Dems. The salt issue is just dumb; it doesn’t work and only has value as a way of appearing to do something about a problem that is kind of out of local governments hands. We should again try to discourage dumb social engineering tendencies in our party.Report

      • Aaron in reply to North says:

        @North, I think that the only reason we can complain about the smoking issue is that we’re all sitting in restaurants, airplanes and public places that are not, in fact, choked with secondhand smoke. It certainly wasn’t always like that, and I have no interest in going back to that. I will also note, in passing, that no one is complaining about “nanny state” regulations against noise, which I would argue is the closest analog to smoking bans. I think we have a legitimate right to not have to sit next to smokers and those with giant boom boxes.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Aaron says:

          @Aaron, how about minarets?Report

          • Aaron in reply to Jaybird says:

            @Jaybird, I’m all for them. When I lived in Bulgaria, I lived near an Bulgarian Orthodox church that played five solid minutes of bells at six each morning, the police station which played patriotic songs every hour from six am until ten pm and the local mosque, and the call to prayer was (by far) the most enjoyable of the three.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Aaron says:

              @Aaron, funny. I’m all for smoking sections in private establishments such as bars or restaurants that are open to the public. A sign on the front of the door that says “we allow smoking in designated areas” pretty much precludes any complaints by people who walk in that door, wouldn’t you think?

              I mean, it’s not like those churches that engage in noise pollution. Hey, keep your offensive materials out of my personal space.Report

            • North in reply to Aaron says:

              @Aaron, Jay, having a smoking section in a restaurant is pretty much the same as having a peeing section in a swimming pool.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Aaron says:

              @North, are there more than two or three males in the pool?

              Guess what?Report

            • North in reply to Aaron says:

              @Aaron, Heh, eah, but if the pool had a little roped off part and a sign that read “Peeing section” then it’d have 0 persons of either sex in it.Report

            • Rufus in reply to Aaron says:

              @Aaron, Okay, what about a smoke-easy bar? Not a section- just a bar for smokers clearly designated as such? I mean, if the swingers and the S&M scenes can have their own clubs, why not people whose kink is inhaling tobacco smoke?Report

        • North in reply to Aaron says:

          @Aaron, yes Aaron, but having won those victories anti-smokers are moving into city wide bans and open air bans which is to say they’re going for nih on full prohibition. I loathe cigarettes, I hate how they took my Grandparents from me or how they make my friends smell like the reeking tailpipe of a malfunctioning diesel care. But at some point we need to stop and let people do idiotic things.Report

          • Aaron in reply to North says:

            @North, Well, I certainly agree with you there — prohibitions don’t work, and are stupid policy in any case. And since a pack of cigarettes is $12 in Manhattan now, I don’t know why they’d want to ban them entirely. Seems like they’re a good source of revenue. My only complaint about that is that it’s a terribly regressive tax measure, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with health concerns.Report

        • Trumwill in reply to Aaron says:

          @Aaron, yeah, but every restaurant? Every bar? Every public place? Demanding that there be places for non-smokers to go where they will not be inundated with cigarette smoke is quite understandable. As a non-libertarian, I don’t oppose the government forcing this where the market won’t bear it.

          But what we’re doing is outlawing smoking in all restaurants, all bars, all places of public congregation. Leaving aside for a moment whether smokers should have the ability to congregate outside their own homes (unless they live in a condo), rules that don’t give smokers a reasonably convenient place to smoke merely results in their ignoring what regulations there are.

          Let the non-smokers have their bar… but is it really such an imposition to give smokers a bar, too? Somewhere? I recognize that before these bans were in place there often weren’t any good non-smoking bars and I don’t want to go back to that. But there is an alternative to what we’re doing, if we’re interested in accommodating people and not just sticking it to those with that filthy habit.Report

          • Aaron in reply to Trumwill says:

            @Trumwill, before there were smoking ordinances in most cities, how many bars and restaurants were willingly non-smoking? I certainly don’t recall any, although perhaps there were a handful of health food stores that did. I think this is one of the cases where libertarianism has a wholly unrealistic view of human nature. “Sure, no bar or restaurant banned smoking before it was illegal, but that’s just because we haven’t given the market enough time to work!”

            There’s a difference between someone eating themselves to death (although, you could argue, and I do think this is an argument with some merit, that their willfully unhealthy actions burden the rest of us via health care costs), but that doesn’t really effect me. Kevin eating six cheeseburgers doesn’t make me eat a cheeseburger. But that definitely doesn’t apply to smoking. When smokers can find a way to smoke around me without me having to breathe it, they’ll be welcome smoke in public places around me. You’ll notice that I’m not calling for chewing tobacco bans in public places.Report

            • Trumwill in reply to Aaron says:

              @Aaron, before smoking was banned in restaurants, there were a lot of non-smoking restaurants. Most family restaurants were already moving in that direction, as were a lot of chains. Bars are something of a different story, but they did exist.

              But as I mentioned in my comment, I don’t mind smoking bans precisely because I think (in the case of bars) non-smokers should have smoke free environments. But that’s not the same thing as saying that they should be able to have a smoke-free environment wherever they want to go. There are things you can do in between allowing smoking at all bars and restaurants and prohibiting it across the board.

              And look, if you don’t believe that non-smokers should be inconvenienced in any way and that they should never have to breathe cigarette smoke… you effectively favor prohibition. That’s the only way to get what you want. The right to smoke cigarettes without a place that they can be smoked is not a right to smoke cigarettes. Except, perhaps, those fortunate enough to have large tracts of property where the wind won’t carry it onto someone else’s property. My wife can smell cigarette smoke from two houses away.Report

      • gregiank in reply to North says:

        @North, but last i checked smoking was legal, just restricted in public places, so i’m just not seeing the issue. Reducing salt in food is not likely to have major effect but i also don’t see how it major problem. Why isn’t limiting a substance which his some serious downsides a public good? Getting rid of lead paint was a good idea. While salt is not lead paint people can still eat all the salt and goo they want. Its a bit of a lazy libertarianism to automatically classify everything as tyranny.Report

    • Sam M in reply to gregiank says:


      “And lord knows limiting people ability to blow smoke in other peoples faces can only be “liberal tribalism””

      I would have no ability to blow smoke in your face if you did not frequent establishments that made it clear that smoking is allowed. You could refuse to go there.

      A lot of people get worked up when people start talking about bans in public places like sidewalks and parks. It seems to be that such bans are MORE defensible, as we all share ownership in such things. We don’t all own the bar.

      People do all kinds of dangerous things in private places. Loud music can hurt your hearing, for instance. Rather than banning loud music as a public health measure, why not just let people decide for themselves?Report

      • gregiank in reply to Sam M says:

        @Sam M, I am all for people deciding for themselves. People can vote for people who pass laws regarding where people can smoke or they can decide not to vote for those people. People can decide to go to public meetings, petition their representatives and all sorts of forms of speech and action to get their view heard.

        You are eliding the issue with smoking in private places. What about the employees of the bar? What about offices where people work? It is not just as simple as going to a different bar. You seem to be setting the standard that people can blow nasty, harmful smoke in the air as the “normal” baseline. Why is that any more a decent standard then we all have to respect the air we all breathe.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to gregiank says:

          @gregiank, yay! Bans on gay marriage!

          Hey, you want gay marriage? Try voting for a politician who wants it, right?

          Personally, I put “but I want to go to Olive Garden without smelling smoke” in the same category as “I don’t want to see gay guys holding hands when I go to the mall.”Report

          • gregiank in reply to Jaybird says:

            @Jaybird, yes people are free to advocate for that….its a free country. But when complaining about things like smoking bans it is easier to never, ever discuss if it is a public good or why people should have the ability to blow smoke in various places. just deploy a poor analogy. Its much easier to argue when you only attack strawmen or the weakest arguments of others.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to gregiank says:

              @gregiank, and that’s where “rights” come in handy.

              Why is what Bloomberg did in this case the right thing? What if I took an opinion poll and showed that 50%+1 opposed the “mosque”?


              Is there a point at which we get to say “nope, popular opinion does not get a say in this”?

              If we agree that there is not, then let us make that official.

              If we agree that there is, then, for god’s sake, let us make that line explicit.Report

          • Aaron in reply to Jaybird says:

            @Jaybird, I have to say, other than the fact that conservatives like the one and and liberals don’t like the other, those two things have nothing to do with each other. It’s not even apples and oranges, which at least are both fruit. This is more like an allen wrench and a particularly ugly shade of green.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Aaron says:

              @Aaron, I see them as two things that are not intrinsically offensive that get moral busybodies screaming to the heavens about how there ought to be a law.

              I say that as a straight guy who doesn’t smoke.Report

  2. North says:

    Yes, Bloomberg and his more quack left wing constituents are terrible on telling people what to smoke and what to eat. They also buy into useless expensive surveillance to sooth the night sweats of security obsessive’s.
    None of that detracts from his being right on the subject of the Mosque. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Also, last I checked Bloomberg et all aren’t trying to force, say, Anchorage Alaska to adopt their New York smoking or food bans. That by itself puts them on an entirely higher plane of responsibility than Palin.Report

  3. Sonny Bunch says:

    I tend to agree that the Ground Zero Mosque stuff is a bit overwrought, but Bloomberg’s casting himself as a defender of private property and warning against the evil of the government telling people what they can and can’t do with their land strikes me as both laughable and perverse. Is there a bigger abuser of eminent domain in the country than New York City?Report

  4. I dislike surveillance by local governments and laws aimed at smokers and overweight people as much as the next libertarian, but the connection to tribalism and identity politics isn’t immediately apparent to me.Report

  5. Ben JB says:

    Shorter Will: I am shocked that people who support one thing don’t support every thing!

    (Note: I think it’s useful to simultaneously celebrate some occasional success and point to previous failings on one issue; but I’m not sure how “building a mosque” and “smoking in bars” qualify here as one issue.)Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Ben JB says:

      @Ben JB, I would say that it’s more that Bloomie is embracing the language of The Fathers when it comes to Liberty in this case… and, tomorrow, he’s going to go back to hemming, hawing, and explaining that you have to understand that the Constitution is not a suicide pact and that’s why you can’t use Crisco to make donuts and it’s perfectly appropriate for the government to regulate that.

      He’d be better off saying, in both cases, you rednecks need us to make the right decision on y’all’s dumbassed behalf and we will drag you, kicking and screaming, to enlightenment and, once there, you will thank us.

      If nothing else, it’d have the benefit of being honest.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Jaybird, There’s that thing about one thing/every thing again. People actually can quote the Founders (who weren’t of one mind on all things, including Crisco…) on some things and not others, People actually CAN value their expressed views on the establishment of a state religion and freedom of worship more highly than their well-known opinions about Crisco and salt.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

          @Michael Drew, werps, italics fail.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

          @Michael Drew, uh-huh. And there are plenty of feminists who just happen to be pro-life (“hey, the choice to use the pill is a choice that *I* am pro!”).

          Liberty is about knowing what is, and is not, your beeswax.

          If you go on for a while about all this stuff of mine that is, in fact, your beeswax (the cooking ingredients I use, the smoking I allow in the smoking section of my restaurant, the salt in the salt shakers on the table) and then, suddenly, start singing the virtues of limited beeswax ownership, I’m sorry but I’m going to compare you to the Republicans who talk about the importance of Fiscal Responsibility.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

            @Jaybird, The Founders were into Liberty, but they codified some of it, and some of it they didn’t. And they disagreed about what mattered.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

              @Michael Drew, Moreover, The Founders were overridingly concerned with, except in certain very limited matters, allowing New York City, under New York State, to pursue New York City’s vision of Liberty, and likewise across the several states. And that mostly stayed like that until 1868.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

              @Michael Drew, some of them had slaves!

              Therefore it’s not a big deal if I tell you that you can’t get an abortion?

              Or therefore it’s not a big deal if I tell you that you can’t eat french fries deep-fried in beef tallow?

              Or therefore it’s not a big deal if I tell you that you can’t marry another dude?

              Or therefore it’s not a big deal if I tell you that you can’t purchase a handgun?Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

              @Michael Drew, But hey, I don’t begrudge you your reaction.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

              @Michael Drew, Some of that might matter to me and some of it might not, and maybe one day I’ll be the mayor of a town and cause the city council to disallow all those things (after certain SCOTUS decisions). But all of that has nothing to do with the point you raised, which was not Bloomberg’s holding some of those positions, but his invoking “The Fathers” in articulating a different one.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

              @Michael Drew, my problem is *NOT* that Bloomie did the right thing here.

              Hurray. Yay. Right things!

              My problem is similar to that of the Republicans singing songs of Fiscal Conservativism.

              It’s not that I don’t believe in Fiscal Conservativism.

              It’s that I don’t believe that they believe in Fiscal Conservativism.

              More than that, I believe that they believe that they can sway me through appeals to this thing that they don’t believe in, but I do.

              Sorry… but I have no reason to believe that any given Republican sees “Fiscal Conservativism!” as anything but a lie that can be leveraged to their own advantage.

              And the same here, when Bloomie talks about Freedom.

              He doesn’t say these things because he believes them. He says these things because I do.

              Whether or not he only happened to do the right thing in this one isolated case.Report

            • Walter McQuie in reply to Michael Drew says:

              @Michael Drew, Jaybird: I don’t follow NYC politics. Has Bloomberg taken actions to restrict religious freedom contrary to his welcome words this week? The analogy to Republicans and fiscal conservatism fails otherwise: that they don’t believe in fiscal responsibility is shown by their actions, not their choice of words. Perhaps you are confident that in his mind freedom from public health regulations–despite a lack of specific mention in the constitution and bill of rights–is as bedrock a principle as religious freedom. But maybe he doesn’t believe as you do that smoking and crisco bans are as significant limitations on freedom as deciding whether and where mosques can be built. In which case maybe that is the problem you have, not that he doesn’t believe in freedom and only uses the word because you like it. But maybe it just looks that way to me because I’m OK with smoking bans and feel that I’m in favor of liberty also.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

              @Walter McQuie, everybody’s in favor of their own liberty, they just don’t believe in the liberty of others. The stuff that they’d never do (or suffer too much temptation to do) is the stuff that they want to make illegal for other folks.

              despite a lack of specific mention in the constitution and bill of rights

              You just violated the 9th Amendment, right there.Report

            • Walter McQuie in reply to Michael Drew says:

              @Michael Drew, Jaybird, I guess I don’t know as much about everyone as you. For myself, I don’t own a gun and have no real intention to. I wouldn’t have chosen to allow people to bring concealed weapons into businesses in the village nearby, but state and local lawmakers have. I feel that guns in the hands of many of the characters around here pose more risks than solutions. But I spoke strongly against our farmer’s market adopting a ban on firearms. It felt very libertarian.

              I guess I was disparaging a right to be free from reasonable public health regulations, but that is only a violation if there is such a right implicit in the constitution/retained by the people. You are of course free to take the position that there is, but I object to your assertion that I am unserious about liberty beyond my own narrow interests because I do not. I believe the ninth amendment was used to articulate the basis for a right to privacy, but my memory is vague on it otherwise. How many supreme court decisions have knocked down local public health regulations on ninth amendment grounds?Report

  6. Rufus says:

    Here’s an opinion I don’t hear expressed very often for some reason: back when it was supposedly a crime-infested cesspool, NYC was a hell of a lot more fun. Sure, there were junkies and hookers, but there was a lot of exciting art and people. Now, the music sucks, the art scene is boring, and everything costs too much. I used to meet so many interesting people there and now, whenever I visit, I meet boring media vampires and yuppies. Yuck! Give me Baltimore any day.

    I mean, a perfect example of this is 42nd street, which these politicians have long touted as having “cleaned up”- it went from cheap grindhouse cinemas, drunks, and trannies to Disney megastores and tourists. This is supposed to be an improvement?!?Report

  7. Michael Drew says:


    My problem is similar to that of the Republicans singing songs of Fiscal Conservativism.

    It’s not that I don’t believe in Fiscal Conservativism.

    It’s that I don’t believe that they believe in Fiscal Conservativism.

    More than that, I believe that they believe that they can sway me through appeals to this thing that they don’t believe in, but I do.

    Sorry… but I have no reason to believe that any given Republican sees “Fiscal Conservativism!” as anything but a lie that can be leveraged to their own advantage.

    And the same here, when Bloomie talks about Freedom.

    He doesn’t say these things because he believes them. He says these things because I do.

    Whether or not he only happened to do the right thing in this one isolated case.

    The issue here is that, unlike budget deficits, which are pretty clear-cut: certain numbers have to be equal to or less than other numbers according to certain measures, with Liberty, it really is not clear-cut at all. We make trade-offs all the time – even you. So did the The Founders, purposely. People do value different parts of their liberty more than others, and that is allowed, even among officials. It is the law, not pure fealty to Liberty, that tells them what aspects of Liberty they cannot give short shrift. When you say you don’t believe he means “it” when he talks about Liberty (which he doesn’t actually; your problem before was his referencing “The Fathers,” which he also doesn’t), you mean, and can only mean by “it” what you take Liberty to mean. But we knew the you and Bloomberg don’t share a common vision of Liberty. He doesn’t have to adopt yours, even if he wants to adopt the rhetoric of Liberty (which he doesn’t in this speech), because among his Liberties is the liberty to have a different conception of Liberty than others. It is only Constitutional process that determines what conception prevails, not any one person’s take on The Fathers.

    And that would all be very relevant is Bloomberg really had prattled on about Liberty-in-general in this speech. But this is the only passage in the speech that reflects on general ideas about freedom at all — and note that the reflections are not in any way generally about Liberty at all:

    “Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. And it is a freedom that, even here in a City that is rooted in Dutch tolerance, was hard-won over many years. In the mid-1650s, the small Jewish community living in Lower Manhattan petitioned Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant for the right to build a synagogue – and they were turned down.

    “In 1657, when Stuyvesant also prohibited Quakers from holding meetings, a group of non-Quakers in Queens signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition in defense of the right of Quakers and others to freely practice their religion. It was perhaps the first formal, political petition for religious freedom in the American colonies – and the organizer was thrown in jail and then banished from New Amsterdam.

    “In the 1700s, even as religious freedom took hold in America, Catholics in New York were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion – and priests could be arrested. Largely as a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780’s – St. Peter’s on Barclay Street, which still stands just one block north of the World Trade Center site and one block south of the proposed mosque and community center.”

    Unless you are saying that no one can talk about any of our Liberties, ever, explicitly separating them out from Liberty at large, without thereby making broad claims about his own fealty to Liberty at large, I really don’t see what your beef here is. The implication would be that an official would have to have a perfect record on all public policy questions that relate to Liberty as you understand it in order to ever talk about how he thinks a particular Constitutional protection of Liberty should affect a policy question.

    You and I can certainly say that Bloomberg is wrong to place religious tolerance above other liberties (if he does), or in taking certain actions that in our opinion restrict Liberty, but based on what he says here, I don’t see where you can say he is talking about Freedom as though he is claiming he believes in it in the same way you do. He is talking about religious freedom specifically. You can absolutely fault him for not talking about Liberty-full-stop, or believing in it in the same way you do, or governing like he believes in it that way. But you can’t fault him, in this speech at least, for talking like that when he doesn’t believe in it or govern like he does, because he didn’t.Report