The sorry spectacle of the NYPD intelligence unit sending operatives undercover to infiltrate groups like Code Pink and the performance art troupe Billionaires for Bush (let’s face it, it wasn’t exactly Donnie Brasco duty) is made even more pathetic when you realize that Michael Bloomberg didn’t do it because he’s enthralled by George W. Bush’s vision for America, nor is he an authoritarian ideologue like his predecessor, Rudy “your freedom exists to the degree that you respect authority” Giuliani. Bloomberg wasn’t even a Republican until it was clear that he had no shot at the Democratic nomination to succeed Giuliani. You know why he did it? Because he’s a brand manager.
For those of you who have never worked in marketing, brand management is a discipline created by Proctor and Gamble that is designed to control what people think about a given product. Think about that – your job is to try and control what people think. If you want to go nuts in a hurry, work as a brand manager. It’s terrifying.
Bloomberg’s task was to show that New York could pull off a major event smoothly. Sadly, that major event meant a man despised by (at the time) nearly half the nation, accompanied by a hoard of underlings who owe their careers to denigrating New York City and everything it’s come to stand for were going to promenade up and down the avenues until they got to hold a ceremony proclaiming the despised guy God Emperor of what-the-fuck. In other words, Mike, you picked this fight.
Which plays into something I’ve been talking about with friends in relation to some 10-year-old meatspace drama that’s not worth recounting here. Namely, that it’s never the scummy, smelly, matted-haired guy on the corner talking to the pigeons who’s gonna turn out to be the Prince of Darkness. It’s going to be the sexy beast in the Armani ensemble with the fast car, it’s going to be the guy who says it’s nothing personal, really, it’s just business as he rapes your entire life. That’s the guy you have to worry about. That’s the one who’s going to get you. Fanatics and crazies are dangerous, but they don’t begin to compare to the dude who took a look at the possibility of behaving decently and said, “Eh. More money to be made frying souls for eternity, thanks.” It’s not so much the banality of evil as the calculations that go into propagating it.
To use an example. When I was reporting the priest sex abuse scandal, people were always shocked that it was the nice priest, the good priest, the cool priest, the one with the grandfatherly smile or the gentle way of hearing confessions or the fiery, transfixing sermons, who turned out to be the predator. “But he seemed so good!” they’d say. Well, of course he did. How else was he going to get you? The old alcoholic asshole priest who smells of garlic and doesn’t like people isn’t going to get anybody to follow him, trust him, let him in close enough.
It’s not an ironclad rule, of course: Some predators are as slimy on the surface as they are underneath and some people really are charismatic because they’re awesome. What I am saying is that if your vice depends on drawing people in like a spider, you usually have to know how to spin a web. You have to have an idea of how best to arrange things in order to accomplish your monstrous means, and it’s the idea of somebody calmly arranging the cabin for the camping trip that never fails to scare the shit out of me.
Which brings me back to Bloomberg and Dan’s point. When all this is over, and don’t get me wrong, it’s almost never going to be over, shit, we’re not over the last time we did this to ourselves, but when it’s over, there’s going to be some kind of attempt to count out who did what and why. There’s going to be an attempt to decipher who drank the Kool-Aid, who was honestly deluded, and who looked at the numbers, like Bloomberg, and told some flunky, “Look, do what you have to do to get this done.”
And I can honestly say I hope the worst of whatever punishment is handed down can be reserved for those in the last category.