Party or Country – You Might Have That Choice In An Election Year Soon…

A perfect storm. The phrase refers to the simultaneous occurrence of events which, taken individually, would be far less powerful than the result of their chance combination. In politics, we’ve seen two examples of such in the last seven election cycles – examples that were directly related to each other – and each had to do with a combination of the public’s disaffection with the status quo and a candidate or movement who knew how to take advantage of the situation.

1992. Against big odds, William Jefferson Clinton wrests the presidency out of the 12 year grasp of the Republican party. 1994. The Republican party returns the favor by bucking conventional wisdom to gain control of both houses of congress. Philip A. Klinkner, author of “Court and Country in American Politics: The Democratic Party and the 1994 Election,” explains these events as a radically changed political environment and the growing volatility of the electorate since the late 1980s. “By most accounts, this phenomenon reached a new high in 1992, as voters expressed growing disgust with the federal government, elected officials, special interests, and politics in general, and a greater willingness to support outsider candidacies, even such diverse figures as Jerry Brown, Pat Buchanan, and Ross Perot.”

By the early 1990s, distrust of the government, especially the entrenched power was evident among much of the public. In 1964, over 70 percent of the public said that they could trust Washington to do what was right most or all of the time; by early 1994, only 19 percent expressed similar confidence (Phillips 1994: 7). In 1964, when asked, “Would you say the government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves or that it is run for the benefit of all people,” nearly 40 percent more people agreed with the latter than with the former. In 1992 that sentiment had reversed itself, with 60 percent more people believing that the government was run for the benefit of special interests than those who believed it was run for the benefit of all. (Stanley and Niemi: 169).

Fastforward to 2006. The sentiments detailed above are with us again, and the feelings are stronger, at least according to pollster Frank Luntz.

WHEN almost half of Amer icans say they’re “mad as hell” at politics and politicians, you have the makings of an electoral groundswell.

When 81 percent of Americans say they’d be willing to consider voting for an independent candidate for president, you have the makings of a political revolution.

Okay, the rhetoric may be a bit overheated, but the American electorate is hot, angry and now, for the first time, afraid. We were always sure the future would be better than the past, but no longer.

The national mood is not just anti-incumbent, and it is not just anti-Republican.

Thanks to a whole lot of federal failures – Katrina, illegal immigration, wasteful spending, perceptions of economic stagnation and political corruption – we have become anti-Washington.

Luntz is trying to build a case for an independent presidential run by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg…

A credible presidential independent will be someone who is not tied to the Washington political establishment but can point to a record of results.

He (or she) will say “no” to the lobbyists and special interests but still have the financial means to run a serious national campaign. Such a candidate will attract considerable attention – and perhaps some serious votes.

There’s only one person in America who fits the bill: New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg…

… Right now, Bloomberg would grab 17 percent of the vote in a hypothetical race against Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. And he receives 21 percent of the vote in a contest against Sen. John McCain and Clinton.

…and some people are appararently already on board with this upstart campaign (if you listen to the voices of the left.)

He is coming to seem, more and more, like the Republican equivalent of Sen. Joe Lieberman: a man seemingly out of place in his own party.

Bloomberg, in fact, identifies strongly with the defeated Democrat from Connecticut. “I think what they’re doing to Joe Lieberman is a disgrace,” the mayor volunteered when I met with him in his offices in July, shortly before anti-war bloggers helped Ned Lamont beat Lieberman in the primary. Lieberman lost not because he supported the war in Iraq, Bloomberg insisted, but because “he’s been willing to say what he believes even if it doesn’t help the, quote, party.” The mayor was as apoplectic as he gets – not quite angry, exactly, but deeply, deeply annoyed. “My point is that there are things you’ve got to stand up for,” he said. “And when we are intolerant of opposing views, what does that say about us…?”

A few days later, Bloomberg was offering to campaign for Lieberman – and political observers wondered whether the move wasn’t a calculated way to pull in support among centrist Democrats for Bloomberg ’08. Although the mayor has frequently dismissed the possibility of a self-financed presidential run (“Which letter in the word ‘no’ do you not understand?”), he has recently turned more coy. At a dinner party this spring, he noted that he had half a billion dollars to devote to a bid for the White House, the kind of cash that would enable him to completely bypass the political parties. And in August, Bloomberg had dinner with Al From, the head of the Democratic Leadership Council and the centrist kingmaker behind Bill Clinton’s run for the presidency. (Bloomberg, long a Democrat, switched parties to run for mayor.)

We need to get this part out of the way, first. We have a liberal Republican (formerly a Democrat) mayor of New York who is considering running for president, who had dinner with the leader of the DLC, (he has dinner with people every night, I’m sure), and now the general consensus of the netroots is Bloomberg is being backed by the DLC for president in 2008. This conclusion is dubious at best for two reasons. First, there are several DLC members who are believed to be running for President in 2008 already – including the organization’s chair, Tom Vilsak, and Hillary Clinton. Second, the dinner could just as easily been (in fact, it is more likely it was) an information gathering meeting for Bloomberg with one of the powerplayers in Presidential politics. There is no evidence that From is backing or would back a Bloomberg run for President.

With that out of the way, larger questions remain. Can an independent candidate – formerly a Republican, formerly a Democrat – win a Presidential election? Even with a vast fortune financing the campaign (like Bloomberg has) my gut feeling is no. I believe at the final hour, more voters will still break for the party they most identify with.

A candidate of Bloomberg’s stature, one with actual governmental experience of the most challenging kind – running the New York City bureaucracy, could make it interesting. It is quite possible he could peel off a number of centrist voters from the ranks of the Democratic and Republican parties and combine them with independents. But his role would ultimately be that of a spoiler. But what party would he spoil it for? That would depend on which party has the highest percentage of disaffected centrist voters.

And finally, the big question that I can’t answer for anyone but myself. With the country so inflamed with partisan feelings, could YOU ever buck your party for a unity candidate – like Michael Bloomberg?

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