They spent with abandon in Iowa. Records were shattered. That all of this money and time was expended in such a small rural state is an anachronism of an outmoded and broken primary system. The pundits fall all over themselves rationalizing this overblown silliness; telling us how valuable the process. I for one don’t revel in the pride of Iowan engagement but am undone by the shame of its absence almost everywhere else. Our way of electing Presidents is broken, and Iowa is but one ugly symptom of the disease that desperately awaits a cure before it does us all in. But let’s leave that for another day. Let’s talk money, the thing we seem to covet above all else.
McCain Feingold notwithstanding, money in campaigns is like water encountering boulders in a running stream. It finds its way around them. Thanks to Al Gore’s Internet, contributions this time around are more egalitarian and widespread than they were in former years, but the amounts are nonetheless staggering, if not obscene. We talk about the billions going down the drain in Iraq when they could be used to fix our healthcare system or teach our kids. Campaign money pales in comparison, but so much of it is similarly misspent. John Edwards bemoans powerful corporate power, and he is absolutely right. Out there in Iowa he’s spending his share enriching the local media tycoons. I’m not pointing a finger at him, but at the system. But here again, it’s not the money in play right now that has gotten my attention. It’s the money that might be spent in the New Year.
The New York Times and Washington Post are reporting that billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg is once again flirting with the idea of an independent presidential run. Ross Perot redux. Bloomberg, it is said, is being encouraged by ex-Senators David L. Boren and Sam Nunn; self-appointed sages stepping in to save the day for bi-partisan cooperation. If the candidates don’t commit to working with the other party, they threaten, Mike will be taking the stage. Ah, Ralph Nader with big bucks. As Mr. Scrooge would say, bah humbug. The Democrats are locked in a tight race because their field is so good and well liked. The Republicans race is also tight, but for the opposite reason. Boren and Nunn to the rescue. How more transparent can this effort by two conservatives, albeit of different parties, be? Bloomberg, they reason, could snatch victory from those Liberals whose demise was greatly exaggerated and who are now, thanks to what Conservatives have wrought, on the upswing.
If you think Mitt Romney is a political opportunist, he has nothing on Mike Bloomberg. A long time Democrat, he switched parties to run for Mayor of New York six years ago. Term limited, he switched to independent the moment he began seeing himself as the possible heir to the Perot legacy. Now don’t get me wrong. Bloomberg has been a good mayor, much better and less divisive than Rudy. He has been innovative, particularly in education. My problem with him, and I have the same with John Corzine of New Jersey, is that he bought the city in 2001. Now he wants to buy the country.
It’s bad enough that people of limited means can’t afford seeking elective office and that members of Congress are forced to spend more time raising funds than legislating. The idea that someone from the privileged class can literally buy an office takes our unequal system to a new, and low, level. I have no problem with Bloomberg being a billionaire, nor does it disqualify him from holding public office. But the idea that he should have an elective edge on everyone else because he’s fabulously wealthy wasn’t quite what the Founding Fathers had in mind. I don’t suggest that the mayor doesn’t see himself as qualified. He may be truly disturbed by the rancor that has taken hold in the land, but it just doesn’t seem credible that his concern is not trumped by ambition and a greed for power. Perhaps spending your own money guarantees that you will not be in the pocket of special interests, but how about all of us being in your pocket?
Needless to say, a Bloomberg candidacy in a year that Democrats rightly have some hope of regaining the White House is most disturbing. Siphoning off the independent voters that any victor needs will put this race into play and not in favor of the spoiler. It will also produce yet another chief executive who must govern with the support of less that 50% of the electorate. If the eminent former Senators (who have made the most of their post Washington years) and the Mayor (who told us he was headed for full time philanthropy) think gridlock prevails now, just contemplate what it might be after they’re finished with us.
Mike, you’re a great guy. Your mother is rightly proud of what you made of yourself. But we are not for sale.