Michael Bloomberg for President? The mayor of New York City is making noises like he may be running for president. Anyhow, so suggests Washington Post columnist Dan Balz in today’s paper, quoting the $18 billion three-term mayor of the Big Apple from various recent speeches. One thing is for sure: it’s hard to pin Bloomberg down to a political party or ideology. He used to be a Democrat, found it convenient to run for mayor as a Republican, then when he last ran for mayor decided he was an Independent. No question about it: it helps to be a billionaire. A month before he was reelected to a third term (for which he had to cajole the City Council to amend the city’s charter), he had spent $63 million on his campaign, drowning out his closest opposition sixteen to one. In a Democratic city, he won grudging respect from the governed. His approval ratings hovered in the sixties for a long time and are now in the mid forties. For a politician these days, those are good numbers
As a partisan Democrat, I have a grudging respect for the guy. Good: he supports same sex marriage and gun control, although I suspect the latter just within his city. He raised taxes in 2003 and as a result steadied the city’s precarious financial position. He believes in immigration reform and is generally pro-environmental. Not so good: he thinks us lefties are, well, kind of weird. He’s convinced we think that only more government will solve problems when we really want government to do the people’s business when other means clearly don’t work. He does not want to decriminalize marijuana although he admits to having used it (and enjoyed it). He considers himself a fiscal conservative, although he is not the kind that Grover Norquist would recognize. He supported the War in Iraq. He is not exactly anti-development and has taken the side of developers over preservationists. In 2004, this very smart man endorsed George W. Bush for his second term at the Republican National Convention. He must have been smoking that stuff he does not want to decriminalize.
Will Bloomberg run for president in 2012? An astute businessman, Balz suggests he won’t unless he is convinced that the polls suggest it is viable. History would be stacked against him. Arguably, Ross Perot’s run as an independent in 1992 put Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. Still, these are unique times. The country is deeply divided but there remains an independent middle deeply disgusted with both parties. If this group can constitute a critical mass that is greater than the mass of partisan Republicans and Democrats, Bloomberg could win. With $18 billion, he can self finance a national campaign.
I sometimes wonder if those of us who are partisan are just as sick of the partisanship as the rest of the country. I cannot be alone. I am deeply scared for our country. President Obama’s most recent attempt to tack toward the middle has left me very troubled. Yet, I am not sure if I were in his shoes that I could have done anything differently. The current political dynamics stink and the only way to move even a very modest agenda seems to require dances with the devil. I guess I should not be surprised that Republicans will put tax cuts over deficit reduction. It is just crazy insane to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to finance tax cuts to multimillionaires who not only don’t need it but cannot even think of ways to spend it. Republican audacity simply knows no limits.
Our country desperately needs a few things that seem likely to elude us. We need to be one united states again, instead of the sectarian divided states that we clearly are. We need politicians to behave reasonably, not to be rewarded for ever more virulent and extreme positions. Instead, we have the irresistible force colliding with the immovable object. All that generates is great destruction, destruction that achieves the aims of neither the left, nor the right, nor the middle but likely will make the Chinese happy.
For me this is Bloomberg’s appeal. We already have a Congress overwhelmingly white and wealthy, but we don’t have a whole lot of people in Congress who can act rationally. This is because no matter what side you are on, you don’t get there unless you echo the party line. President Obama’s latest capitulation to Republicans is a case in point. Democrats, at least House Democrats, are outraged and rightly feel they have been betrayed. Obama can stalk the center, but he is going to find it a lonely spot. It may sway independents and maybe even get him reelected, but it won’t grow the center. What’s the point of having a second term if it will be one where he is continuously hamstrung and where little of any real benefit results? Instead, Obama will become an even larger piñata, with Democrats taking swings at him as well as Republicans.
Bloomberg doesn’t come with that baggage. Is he a Republican, Democrat or Independent? Does it matter? No, because neither side will find a reason to like him and will only feel threatened by his candidacy, should he run. Bloomberg’s credentials as mayor, his pragmatism, his fearlessness to tell things and they are, and (let’s face it) his great wealth that gives him the means to do so, are compelling credentials, just the sort of stuff we need. Which is why, although I am a partisan Democrat, I might have to vote for him. Why? Because our national situation is so bad that whether the president is Republican or Democrat, their political affiliation would only fan the flames of further national dysfunction. To get beyond it, the first step may be an independent mediator in the form of an independent presidential candidate with the right credentials, the right attitude, and the money to challenge all the political parties and the entrenched special interests out there. Bloomberg’s got all these things.
If I were to give Bloomberg advice, it would be not to run as an Independent, but to run under the Coffee Party banner. The Coffee Party is arguably not a real party, but it could become one quickly enough. The Coffee Party is simply a bunch of moderate and reasonable people, with a slightly leftward bent, sick of excessive partisanship and incivility by both parties. They believe we can rise beyond our partisanship and ideology and just be reasonable. Like Michael Bloomberg has demonstrated as mayor.
It’s not widely know, but Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. The Republican Party coalesced around the old American Whig and other parties after the Whigs disintegrated. They were the counterpoint to the Democratic Party, which in its day was unmistakable from today’s Republican Party. Abraham Lincoln himself was a Whig for most of his life. The time for a party of moderates may be rising. The time for deeply polarizing Democratic and Republican parties may be waning.
I am convinced that pragmatic and moderate people are the majority in this country; they are just not heard. Bloomberg, affiliated and running under a Coffee Party might sweep not only himself into office, but throw out both Republicans and Democrats from Congress. Moderate Americans just need a viable alternative and need to rise up en masse. Right now, they don’t have a party which is viably centrist. It’s either the devil they know or the devil they don’t.
If such a party were viable and if Bloomberg were associated with it, I might switch. More than anything else, we must govern in a civil and reasonable fashion again. Continuing down our current path yields disunity and a rapid descent into second world status. As a patriot, I cannot stand for it.