When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg broke from the Republican Party this June, there was widespread speculation that he would make an independent run at the presidency using his own fortune. This past week Newsweek renewed interest in this possibility by devoting its cover to Bloomberg’s presidential ambitions. Bloomberg, however, is just the latest act in a political season burgeoning with discontented energy after six plus years of the worst presidency in our history.
To begin with, there were all those potential firsts: the first woman president (Hillary), the first black president (Barack), the first Latino (Bill), the first Mormon (Mitt). Then there were those two non-candidates polling high in both the Democratic and Republican Parties: Al Gore and Fred Thompson. Thompson eventually threw his hat in the ring and his aura as a contender quickly wore off. Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize and is a more appealing candidate than ever. And now, there is Bloomberg, the conservative independent billionaire, the serious person’s Ross Perot.
All this energy is good for a political system that has long ceased to inspire, there is no doubt, but none of this energy will provide the American people the leadership we need to repair the damage wrought by Bush and Cheney.
All the “firsts”—those candidates dressing up the debate podiums with their carefully centrist, tentatively strident calls for change—remain completely wedded to the system of campaign finance that insures their own corruption. This money does not come for free. These candidates want to win and the only means of success they can imagine involves prostrating themselves before corporate cash.
While there is a certain appeal to a candidate who chooses to spend his own cash instead, Bloomberg’s status as an independent candidate who will spend his own cash is built on two meaningless distinctions. Bloomberg does not have to accept corporate cash because he IS corporate cash.
What’s the difference between a candidate who comes from the top 1% most wealthy and powerful sector of society and a candidate who merely serves that sector? None.
Nor does Bloomberg improve his appeal by declaring himself an independent. He has during the last many years supported the Republican Party that brought us Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr., Gingrich, Delay and Bush Jr. Bloomberg is part of a political establishment that has for four decades dedicated itself to putting corporate America in charge of our government. Worst of all, this establishment has done so by pandering to the Religious Right and by crafting a nationalistic foreign policy that institutionalizes an out of control industrial-arms complex. This was all fine with Bloomberg because it was good for his business. It didn’t matter to him that it was bad for our country. Why then should we want him to be president of our country?
Republicans, even self-made, independent ones, are not acceptable candidates in any shape or form following the disaster that the Republican Party purposefully raised to the Presidency in 2000 and 2004. It’s a little too late for Bloomberg to separate himself from the GOP mob.
And yet, it precisely because his billion dollars of corporate cash can buy a lot of media deception that Bloomberg’s false distinctions do pose a serious threat to the likes of Hillary, Barack, John and the rest of the Democratic Party.
Even as democrat after democrat side-steps a little further to the left, not on principle, but in response to public anger over the state of our nation, still the Democratic candidates have collectively failed to offer leadership that knows right from wrong and has the ability to communicate it in the public debate. For this reason, Bloomberg’s false distinctions are as compelling as the false distinction presently offered by the Democratic Party between itself and the GOP.
What’s to be done? After the Republican Party’s careful building of the Bush presidency are we really going to allow an Independent/Republican billionaire to become President of our nation? In Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, George W. Bush was caught on film joking with a room full of his fat cat corporate supporters, saying: “This is an impressive crowd—the haves and the have mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base” Do we really want one of George W. Bush’s base to take over the head of our government at this point in our history?
Forget the Democratic Party leadership. Forget the Democratic Party candidates. It is time for the Democratic voter to take the 2008 campaign in hand.
We must make sure the billionaire Republican disguised as an Independent doesn’t continue the rape of our commonwealth by the top 1% most wealthy in our nation. It is up to us Democratic voters to insist that our party offer a real distinction between our leadership and the leadership of Bush and Cheney. We must demand a real distinction between the source of our candidate’s strength and Bloomberg’s corporate billions.
We can do this if we contemplate the lessons of Al Gore’s recent book, The Assault on Reason. In it Gore meditates at length on the deleterious effects of television on the application of reason in the political process. He laments that a huge majority of every major candidate’s campaign budget goes directly to TV ads. And he also adamantly states that The Assault on Reason is not a candidate’s book. These three aspects of Gore’s book point to a single clear conclusion.
Democratic voters need to demand that Al Gore answer the call to duty. If Bloomberg is the Republican Party’s pretended solution to corporate campaign finance corruption; the Democratic Party ought to offer a real solution. That solution is an ad-free campaign for the presidency by Al Gore energized by the overwhelming public confidence in Al Gore’s leadership and integrity.
Gore, better than any other person on the planet right now, is in a position to generate campaign coverage without using TV ads. The amount of media coverage a smart team could secure for a Gore campaign is unlimited. A public commitment not to use any commercials could win votes for many reasons, not the least of which is that so many people hate them, especially by election day. By highlighting the incredible waste involved in buying TV ads rather than school books and medicine, Gore could make his rival’s principle strength look ugly and pathetic.
Best of all, an ad-free Gore candidacy could inspire through necessity the kind of grassroots movement Gore champions in his book as the essence of democracy. We democratic voters would have reason to resurrect the pamphleteering tradition Gore fondly recalls as a pure expression of our nation’s democratic genius. Though internet circulation, through book tours, through town hall meetings, through interviews, articles and speeches from the back of train cabooses, Gore, if he wanted to, is actually in a position to run a campaign based on reason.
Gore’s book offers many good ideas for resurrecting democracy in a nation in which the last two presidential elections were stolen: prime time debates in congress, net neutrality, government funded campaigns, wikis, blogs, and CurrentTV. None of these ideas is as bold as an ad-free campaign for the presidency.
Gore can take his fight to the street both for the sake of reason and for the sake of the planet. The time has come for Al Gore to take the big leap of which he and he alone is capable. With our democracy and our planet in danger, any argument that he can better serve the world some other way than as president is completely unconvincing.
Gore’s reluctance to enter the race for the presidency so far must be put down either as a question of timing, loyalty, public support, or misplaced confidence in the other candidates, but his continued failure to enter the race cannot be justified by reason.
Gore says the current Democratic candidates are good people in a bad system, but that they are not trying very hard to change the system. Al Gore, it is time for you to try to change the system!
You have eloquently stated your principles. You have demonstrated you passionate faith in reason. And you have decried the corruption of our system.
If you take full measure of your place in the political landscape and the grave problems that need addressing by our nation, your reason and your principles will compel the conclusion that you can’t just sit this campaign out while our democracy dies and the world burns. You need to be in the race because someone needs to try to change the system and only you really are up to the task. Take up this task and you will have a huge number of people behind you, I promise.
[Hank Edson is an author, activist and attorney based in San Francisco. His blog is MP3—MY Politics and Progressive Perspective.]