Monday, May 21, 2007
Tale of Two Cities: Week before last, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani flew to Houston to tell conservatives at a Baptist college his latest stand on abortion. The same day, his successor, Mike Bloomberg, flew to Houston to give a very different speech—telling business leaders what the United States needs to do to save energy and stop climate change.
Both appearances were rich in political symbolism and irony. New York and Texas have long been on opposite sides of the blue-red divide, disagreeing on 11 of the first 14 presidential elections after Texas became a state, as well as all five since 1988. New York magazine called its hometown the "Abortion Capital of America." Houston is the energy capital of America, if not the world. Bloomberg's choice of venue made more sense than his predecessor's. Nearly half a century after JFK went to Houston to promise Protestants he wouldn't take orders from the Vatican, Giuliani asked the Baptists' forgiveness for not doing the pope's bidding.
If crossing paths in Houston was a coincidence, it was a revealing one. Giuliani's never-ending stumbles over such an obvious hurdle as abortion suggest that he has approached his campaign with insufficient seriousness. By contrast, Bloomberg's calculated bids for attention on climate change, education, and guns give every indication that his unannounced campaign for the presidency is running on all cylinders.
As a shadow candidate, Bloomberg is running the campaign Giuliani should have run, as a pragmatist who helped a big city take on big problems. Earlier this month, Bloomberg launched a Web site that outlines his stands on the big issues in greater detail than Giuliani can provide after five months in the race.
To add insult to irony, a Bloomberg candidacy is predicated on candidates twisting themselves into the very pretzels that Giuliani has already become. In an Air America interview with Mark Green, the man he beat, Bloomberg points out that a third-party candidacy only works if the first two parties both fail to offer a compelling choice. He admitted that when the primaries are over, "[t]he public may not feel that they don't have any choice."
In the end, the two parties aren't likely to give Bloomberg a big enough opening to win. Part of the reason that Giuliani, McCain, Romney, and Fred Thompson are struggling to claim the conservative mantle is that they're closet pragmatists by their party's standards. Apart from Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic field doesn't even have an ideologue. The energy speech Bloomberg gave in Houston is one that many Democratic candidates have already given.
In that respect, the prospect of a Bloomberg candidacy can do more good than an actual one. Any prospective third-party candidate has to consider the nightmare of becoming the next Ralph Nader, who siphoned off just enough votes to make sure none of his ideas could ever happen.
The greatest power of a third party is its gravitational effect on the other two. To have that kind of impact, Bloomberg doesn't even have to run. The most successful third-party candidacies—Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, Ross Perot in 1992—did less to determine the winner than to shape the debate. Woodrow Wilson and Bill Clinton would have won those elections anyway. But Roosevelt made Wilson earn a progressive mandate, and Perot inspired Clinton to put more emphasis on deficit reduction and reform.
Like most billionaires, Bloomberg is a firm believer in the power of markets. If market forces work in politics, his lurking presence on the sidelines should be enough. In the midst of the silly season, when some partisans are raising their hands to deny reality, the sword of Bloomberg is a useful reminder that when the primaries are over, the earth will be round again and reality will go back into effect. ... 1:38 P.M. (link)
Thursday, May 17, 2007