Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Independent Wealth

Full disclosure.  I think Mike Bloomberg has been a very good mayor for New York, especially in contrast to the arrogant and divisive Rudy.  I have no particular problem with billionaires, especially with ones who personally created the enterprises that made them so rich.  I had two chances to vote for Bloomberg and twice declined, partly because I couldn’t bring myself to support any Republican after 2000.

Like many Americans, I’m pretty discouraged with our current state of affairs and with the dismal performance of both political parties.  In that regard, the idea of a third way (not Clinton’s triangulation but a legitimate third way) is quite appealing.  That said, such efforts have a rather dismal record in American history usually with unintended consequences: Bull Moose brought Wilson, Perot elected Clinton and of course Ralph Nader gave us the disastrous George W. Bush.  I guess you could say third parties have been equal opportunity contributors.  None of them represented a coming together of a real (and winning) counter coalition, the thing you would hope for from such an effort.

What bothers me about the trial balloon released into the airwaves about a Bloomberg presidential bid is something quite different.  It’s the same thing that turned me off when he first ran in New York and bothered me about Jon Corzine’s campaigns in New Jersey.  What Bloomberg might be able to do is something that few others can.  He can essentially buy his way into office; they are talking half a billion dollars.  Not having to obtain contributions in the usual (and admittedly sometime sordid) way has its positive side.  You don’t owe anyone, but the idea that the Presidency is for sale to the highest bidder much like the object of a hostile takeover is disquieting.  Again, Bloomberg has a good management record in both the private and public sectors and I do share his progressive social views.  But that’s not the point.  We already have a situation where running for major public office favors the well healed, but winning office because you can dip in your pocket and outspend everyone else even (theoretically) with a constituency of one makes no sense in a democracy.  Let’s remember the self financed Corzine felt he was free to break New Jersey’s seat belt law, which almost cost him his life and the state its elected governor.

I hope Mike Bloomberg doesn’t launch an independent campaign which is destined to hurt a liberal Democrat more than a conservative Republican in our closely divided country.  But if he feels so compelled, I hope such an effort would come out of coalition building and cost sharing, a candidacy built the old fashioned way.  That may also lead to another Republican president, but at least it would have some democratic legitimacy.  By the way another Republican in the White House is not an idea any of us should take lightly.  How does Mr. Justice James Inhofe sound to you?

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