Michael Bloomberg was skewered by President Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington on Saturday night — but that was nothing compared to the reception he got in Michigan a few hours before.
During his commencement address at the University of Michigan on Saturday morning, the former New York City mayor was booed loudly over his criticism of so-called “safe spaces” on college campuses.
“The whole purpose of college is to learn how to deal with difficult situations — not run away from them,” Bloomberg told the school’s graduating class. “One of the most dangerous places on a college campus is a safe space because it creates the false impression that we can insulate ourselves from those who hold different views.”
Earlier this year, a student center for gay, bisexual and transgender students at Michigan created “a relaxing, positive space” ahead of a debate titled “Does Feminism Have a Free Speech Problem?” The event, the center said, included speakers whose “rhetoric … is incredibly harmful to many members of our campus community.”
Bloomberg — who once banned the sale of large sugar-sweetened drinks in New York City in an effort to combat obesity — blasted school officials for bowing to public pressure to “shield” students from “uncomfortable” ideas.
“We can’t do this, and we shouldn’t try — not in politics or in the workplace,” the billionaire said. “In the global economy, and in a democratic society, an open mind is the most valuable asset you can possess.”
Bloomberg, who briefly considered a third-party bid for president earlier this year, also denounced the “demagoguery” he says is on display in the 2016 race.
“In this year’s presidential election, we’ve seen more demagoguery from both parties than I can remember in my lifetime,” he said. “Our country is facing serious and difficult challenges. But rather than offering realistic solutions, candidates in both parties are blaming our problems on easy targets who breed resentment. For Republicans, it’s Mexicans here illegally and Muslims. And for Democrats, it’s the wealthy and Wall Street. The truth is: We cannot solve the problems we face by blaming anyone.”
At the White House Correspondents’ dinner, Obama spotted Bloomberg and called him out.
“I see Mike Bloomberg,” the president said. “Mike, a combative, controversial New York billionaire is leading the GOP primary, and it is not you. That has to sting a little bit.”
Obama used Bloomberg’s appearance to pivot to a joke targeting Donald Trump.
“It’s not an entirely fair comparison between you and the Donald,” he said. “After all, Mike was a big-city mayor. He knows policy in depth. And he’s actually worth the amount of money that he says he is.”
Obama, it’s worth noting, has voiced similar criticism of safe spaces.
“I’ve heard of some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative,” he said during a town hall in Des Moines, Iowa, last year. “Or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women.
"I’ve got to tell you, I don’t agree with that, either,” he continued. “ I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of views.”