On some issues, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg invokes wisdom that was given form in the distant reaches of time. Not being the most introspective of men, he may not even be aware he is doing this. Nonetheless, on certain matters that he cares deeply about, Mr. Bloomberg echoes concepts expressed 2,000 years ago by a titan of Jewish scholarship, Hillel the Elder.
Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.
Hillel succinctly articulated people’s obligations to themselves and to others in a two-sentence construction often translated from Hebrew this way: “If I am not for myself, who will be? And if I am only for myself, what am I?” A third admonition cautioned against delaying the performance of one’s duty: “And if not now, when?”
Five years ago, when the mayor announced his blueprint for a more environmentally friendly New York, he seemed to channel his inner Hillel when he said, “If we don’t act now, when?” He won huge applause with that line.
He has now returned to that theme in rebuking both President Obama and Mitt Romney for summoning little more than isn’t-it-awful and we-share-your-tears sentiments after the insane movie-theater shootings in Aurora, Colo. Where, Mr. Bloomberg asked, is the substantive discussion about reining in a gun culture that worships Second Amendment absolutism over preserving life?
Monday morning, he appeared on the MSNBC show “Morning Joe.” That program’s co-host, Joe Scarborough, had aligned himself with those who say this isn’t the time to talk about even minimal, sensible measures of gun control. It is “unbecoming” to do so right after the cataclysm in Colorado, Mr. Scarborough said. “Let’s have this debate in a week,” he said. “Let’s have this debate in two weeks.”
Sure. Why not in two months, or two years?
Mr. Bloomberg, in another Hillel moment, was having none of it. “People say, ‘Well, you shouldn’t address it now because we’re in a time of crisis and mourning,’” he said. “Yeah, well, 18 months since Arizona” — the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and others outside Tucson in January 2011 — “and we did nothing. If not now, when are you going to do this?”
In all likelihood, the mayor’s latest comments will lead to more invective aimed at him by the National Rifle Association or its fellow travelers. To them, he is practically Public Enemy No. 1. Mr. Bloomberg is used to it. If one is judged in part by his enemies, he may even welcome it. Nor may he mind criticism clearly directed at him by the ever-voluble Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor. Mr. Christie complained on Monday about “politicians who in the immediate aftermath of this kind of tragedy try to grandstand on it.” Considering the source, the mayor is likely to shrug that one off.
Not that Mr. Bloomberg doesn’t run off the rails himself at times. He did so last week when he described the New York Civil Liberties Union as being “no better than the N.R.A.” in its criticism of the Police Department’s so-called stop-and-frisk policies. Both groups, he said, were more concerned with “protecting their ideology” than ensuring that people can walk the streets safely. This linkage seemed a stretch worthy of Silly Putty.
But he was on the mark when he described himself as different from lawmakers and others at the national level who do not have to live with the consequences of their actions or their inaction. A mayor, he said, has no such luxury, a point painfully reinforced Sunday night when another gun-toting lowlife fired shots in a Bronx playground and killed a 4-year-old boy, Lloyd Morgan.
“Mayors are in the solutions business,” Mr. Bloomberg said, adding that “all we’re talking about here are reasonable restrictions” — like regulations that might have made it more difficult for someone like James E. Holmes, the suspect in Aurora, to build a 6,000-round arsenal by ordering ammunition online.
At a minimum, “we don’t have to break new ground here,” he said. “All we’ve got to do is follow the promises that were made by the elected officials” — he meant Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney — “back when they were pandering and said, ‘We’re going to fix this problem.’” Later, interviewed by Piers Morgan on CNN, he went so far as to suggest that police officers around the country might consider going on strike until the public insists that lawmakers do more to get guns off the streets.
“To those that say, ‘Look, this is about gun control,’ it isn’t,” Mr. Bloomberg said on MSNBC. “It’s about crime control.” Then, in yet one more Hillel moment, he essentially invoked the ancient sage’s “if I am not for myself” question.
“This isn’t about somebody else,” he said. “It’s about you and your kids.”
E-mail Clyde Haberman: [email protected]