I watched about five minutes of Mayor Bloomberg's press conference this afternoon before I began to get faintly nauseous. He openly insulted the union, its leaders and its members; and added a few thinly veiled threats at leaders of other unions who had spoken in support of the TWU. He judged the 35,000 TWU members to be common thugs, and urged the courts to punish them to the full extent of the law.
So the NYC crime rate has gone up in one day: we have about 35,000 more criminals in town than we had yesterday. Now what would you predict might be the effect of the Mayor's vicious language this afternoon? Would those 35,000 criminals hear him, look at one another and say, "you know, he's right, we're a bunch of shameful, malicious crooks who are breaking the laws that our soldiers in Iraq are fighting and dying to defend—let's go back to work now"? (I'm not making this up—Bloomberg actually dared to make this connection: Marines in Fallujah are dying to protect and defend the Taylor Law—it would be hilarious if the mass media weren't lapping it up like warm milk).
Oh, and those journalists: what a crowd. A bunch of kittens, purring in the Mayor's hands. I heard more Jeff Gannon questions in those five minutes than I'd heard in the past six months of White House press briefings. Each of these lapdogs competed with the others in offering Bloomberg a further opportunity to sling shit at the unions and at unionism in general.
Am I alone in thinking that hurling insults at people is not the mark of leadership? Am I somehow aberrant to expect of a leader a more constructive dialog, a less divisive tone, a more active role in negotiations than that of a churlish grandstander in a pinstriped suit? What Bloomberg displayed for us today was exactly the same kind of behavior that we've seen before from the seats at Yankee Stadium whenever Pedro Martinez steps out of the opposition dugout.
If this is the sort of behavior that we expect of those we vote into office, then perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to see bodybags sneaked into this country like contraband; perhaps we shouldn't be shocked that Catholic workers' meetings are being spied upon by the CIA and FBI; perhaps we should just accept war, conflict, and international estrangement as our collective karma; perhaps we should resign ourselves to the reality that our once-independent and vigorous national economy is now the property of the Chinese government.
Mayor Bloomberg has chosen the path of hatred and opposition in dealing with a situation that calls for a leader who can shut the doors, turn off the microphones, and firmly lead two competing parties toward a reasonable consensus. But this morning, I saw clear evidence that the Mayor and his underlings have chosen to spread their hatred as far and wide as possible. Here's what happened: I had been offered a seat in a car pool, but I also had an opportunity to go to the Brooklyn Army Terminal to take the ferry boat to Manhattan. I opted for the latter, thinking it would be a contribution toward easing the congestion on the higways, and that it was actually a more environmentally-conscious choice. But when I got to the Terminal, I saw a mob of over a thousand people milling about in a snakelike, barely organized line, in 6-degree windchill, waiting for one boat that wouldn't hold a tenth part of their number. Police walking the line announced to those arriving that the wait would be around two hours, probably more; one of them joked, "the Mayor is also taking a poll to see how you folks all feel about the TWU this morning."
I watched this scene, incredulous, for a while; and then left. What I had seen was transparent enough: this was a roughly choreographed setup, intended to stir up anger and hatred against the union. And guess what—it worked. Maybe not on me, but on many residents of this city; and certainly on the mass media, who are competing to include as many anti-union man-on-the-street one-liners in their reporting as possible.
It is the consciousness, the attitudes we choose that determine our actions; and as long as we choose hatred, malignity, and the demonization of our fellows, our actions will be arrogant, malevolent, and destructive; our relationships polarized and divisive. The Mayor of a great city has chosen the way of hatred—in his attitude, his language, and his government's actions. If this is the leadership we want, then he is the leader we deserve.