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Mike and Mike: A Response to John Podhoretz

There’s a good deal to agree with in John’s post on the Bloomberg presidential candidacy. His characterization of the politically “ambiguous coloration” of the pols and former pols gathering in Oklahoma is apt. It should be added that they’re all former big-time political players who, having been sidelined, would be given a chance to return to center stage by way of a Bloomberg candidacy. Bloomberg, with their backing, wouldn’t have to win, but would only have to help reframe the political agenda to provide himself and his backers with moral victory—money being no object.

Fundamental to John’s argument is the fact that political participation is up and thus post-partisanship will have no appeal. But look at matters through Bloomberg’s eyes. Suppose that by February 6, when more than half of the delegates have been chosen, the nominees are Huckabee and Obama; the former unacceptable to large sections of his own party, the latter who, having never run so much as a candy store, has a record that makes John Kerry’s look impressive. Then both parties, with the election ten months away, will suffer from a splenetic outpouring of buyer’s remorse. (This at a time when less that 30 percent of the country has a positive sense of either the GOP President or the Democratic Congress.)

Many independents and weak partisans—to judge from poll numbers that find that 58 percent of the electorate thinks it is “very important” that the next President be able to cross party lines to work with political opponents—may look on both Huckabee and Obama as the products of a hyper-polarized political process that has failed. Bloomberg, sheltered for the past four years by a financial services boom that has come to an end and a very friendly local press, would find such opponents irresistible. But the outcome could surprise people.

Yes, Bloomberg’s money is a political aphrodisiac, but it could also be a liability. Huckabee has been striking political gold with his “twenty to one” mantra, referring to the spending ratio between Mitt Romney and himself. Given the country’s sour mood on globalization, immigration, and the growth of income inequality—all exemplified by Bloomberg personally and politically—Mayor Mike is probably the one candidate who could make former Governor Mike president in a three-way race. On the other hand, if McCain or Giuliani and Hillary are the major party nominees, Bloomberg might well hold back, not wanting his educational failures to be subjected to the scrutiny of the national press. (Just imagine the ads! From either party!)

Bloomberg says he’s beyond politics and a great manager. But if a CEO were given unprecedented control, a longer worker day, and $7 billion to improve his company and produced nothing in the way of results—and that’s what Bloomberg got to run the New York City schools—you’d want to fire him, not make him President.

Bloomberg may have been able to fool New Yorkers, but the rest of the country is too smart for that. This said, the one thing we can expect in this extraordinary presidential race is to be surprised repeatedly.


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