Two Cheers for Bloomberg

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on June 2, 2014

The following is an excerpt from’s “Best of the Web” written by the editor, James Taranto.

Two Cheers for Bloomberg
Michael Bloomberg has never been this columnist’s favorite politician, but he gave a speech yesterday at Harvard’s commencement that we can’t help but applaud. The generally left-liberal three-term former New York mayor forcefully defended the old-fashioned liberal values of free expression and inquiry against the postmodern left’s relentless attacks. An excerpt:

There is an idea floating around college campuses–including here at Harvard–that scholars should be funded only if their work conforms to a particular view of justice. There’s a word for that idea: censorship. And it is just a modern-day form of McCarthyism.

Think about the irony: In the 1950s, the right wing was attempting to repress left wing ideas. Today, on many college campuses, it is liberals trying to repress conservative ideas, even as conservative faculty members are at risk of becoming an endangered species. And perhaps nowhere is that more true than here in the Ivy League.

In the 2012 presidential race, according to Federal Election Commission data, 96% of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees went to Barack Obama.

Ninety-six percent. There was more disagreement among the old Soviet Politburo than there is among Ivy League donors.

Reuters headlined its dispatch on the speech “Bloomberg Bashes Liberal McCarthyism at Harvard Commencement.” The absence of quote marks around “McCarthyism” is a curiosity, given the wire service’s notorious post-9/11 policy of using scare quotes around “terrorism,” and given that “McCarthyism” is in this instance a direct quote.

“Great universities must not become predictably partisan,” Bloomberg said–though it’s a little late for that. Widespread leftist campus censorship has been going on at least since the mid-1980s, when Bloomberg, now 72, was but a quadragenarian.

The problem has received a flurry of attention of late because a series of commencement speeches have been canceled. As Bloomberg observed: “This spring, it has been disturbing to see a number of college commencement speakers withdraw–or have their invitations rescinded–after protests from students and–to me, shockingly–from senior faculty and administrators who should know better.

“It happened at Brandeis, Haverford, Rutgers, and Smith,” he noted. “Last year, it happened at Swarthmore and Johns Hopkins.” None of these are Ivy League schools, suggesting that National Review’s Kevin Williamson might have been on to something when he observed: “Anybody else notice that the trend here is hysteria among students at pretty good but not that good colleges? I suspect that there is some intellectual overcompensation at work here.”

On the other hand, Bloomberg noted that his own police commissioner, Ray Kelly, last fall “was invited to deliver a lecture at another Ivy League institution”–he didn’t name it, but it was Brown–“but he was unable to do so because students shouted him down.” And at Harvard itself, students at the Education School demanded that Michael Johnston, a Democratic Colorado state senator and school reformer, be disinvited from commencement. “I’m glad to say, however, that Harvard has not caved in,” Bloomberg observed. “To their great credit, President [Drew] Faust and Dean [James] Ryan stood firm.”

Our headline withholds a third cheer from Bloomberg because he followed his defense of the First Amendment with an assault on the Second. “For decades,” he complained, “Congress has barred the Centers for Disease Control from conducting studies of gun violence, and recently Congress also placed that prohibition on the National Institute of Health. You have to ask yourself: What are they afraid of?” The answer seems clear: They’re afraid of scientific authority being hijacked in the service of an anticonstitutional political agenda.

Bloomberg continued:

This year, the Senate has delayed a vote on President Obama’s nominee for surgeon general–Dr. Vivek Murthy, a Harvard physician–because he had the audacity to say that gun violence is a public health crisis that should be tackled. The gall of him! . . .

In politics–as it is on too many college campuses–people don’t listen to facts that run counter to their ideology. They fear them.

Here the comparison to college campuses is off base. Murthy has every right to express his views, but senators also have every right to reject a nominee whose views they find uncongenial.

In September 2005, during the then-mayor’s campaign for a second term, the Associated Press reported: “Bloomberg said he could not support [chief justice] nominee John Roberts because the judge had failed to indicate clearly during his Senate confirmation hearings whether he accepts theRoe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in 1973 as ‘settled law.’ “

We thought Bloomberg’s opposition to Roberts was wrongheaded, but even we wouldn’t call it McCarthyite.

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