The great political strength of Obama’s campaign is his ability to attract support from independents (and Republicans) to build a working majority and a clear mandate to achieve big goals — ending the Iraq occupation, engaging Iran, fighting global warming, guaranteeing health care for all, investing in infrastructure and reducing poverty.
So I have nothing bad to say about small-i independent voters. They have every right to eschew party and size up candidates based on their individual platforms. They should be engaged and heard.
But for big-I “Independent” politicians, that’s another story.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg exposed the intellectual emptiness of the captial-I Independent pseudo-movement, in his New York Times op-ed, perhaps properly titled: “Here’s Why Not Even $1 Billion Could Buy Me The Presidency.”
Watching the 2008 presidential campaign, you sometimes get the feeling that the candidates – smart, all of them – must know better. They must know we can’t fix our economy and create jobs by isolating America from global trade. They must know that we can’t fix our immigration problems with border security alone. They must know that we can’t fix our schools without holding teachers, principals and parents accountable for results. They must know that fighting global warming is not a costless challenge.
Watching Bloomberg, I get the feeling that he must know better.
He must know that criticizing the poor results of NAFTA, as Clinton and Obama do, is not proposing isolation from trade, but supporting better trade agreements — so trade works for workers and consumers worldwide, not just for multinational corporations. (McCain supports NAFTA and other like agreements.)
He must know that Clinton, Obama and McCain have all supported comprehensive immigration reform that does not solely rely on a border crackdown (McCain’s recent flip-flop notwithstanding).
He must know that Clinton, Obama and McCain all support the basic principle of accountability for schools embodied in No Child Left Behind — with Clinton and Obama backing significant reforms of the widely criticized program, while McCain sticks with it.
He must know that Clinton and Obama support a cap on greenhouse gases, and effectively putting a price on carbon emissions, so private companies have to pay for polluting public sky. And that McCain supports a weaker version of “cap-and-trade,” but at least recognizes that global warming is a looming crisis.
The politician Bloomberg plays on people’s natural skepticism of politicians, saying “politics being what it is, the candidates seem afraid to level with them.”
But in fact, the candidates have been talking about all the above issues, in debates and town halls, in a great deal of specificity for several months — far more than Bloomberg offers in his op-ed.
The final two candidates won’t agree on everything. In fact, they’ll fight about some things!
We’re actually on the verge of having a general election campaign that will be quite substantive, with two candidates offering contrasting visions and approaches — not mushy buzzwords designed to attract independents at the expense of clarity.
The public will have ample time to hear them out and make a choice. The winner is likely to be one that builds a coalition, including independent voters, earning a mandate to act.
It’s called democracy.
Bloomberg decrees: “If a candidate takes an independent, nonpartisan approach — and embraces practical solutions that challenge party orthodoxy — I’ll join others in helping that candidate win the White House.”
Does it matter what orthodoxy is being challenged? What the actual policies are? Apparently not.
Just like the checklist interest group politics Bloomberg rails against, he has his own checklist demand: break with your party on something — anything — then I will support you.
That won’t be a good standard in a Obama-McCain race. They both have their moments where they break with party orthodoxy.
Granted, it’s a good quality in a leader to be able to think for yourself and not be mindlessly pushed around by interest groups.
But one can also mindlessly challenge party orthodoxy to make a cheap claim of independence, ending up with a patchwork of positions that doesn’t add up to a cohesive vision for the nation.
Bloomberg promises us: “I will continue to work to steer the national conversation away from partisanship and toward unity; away from ideology and toward common sense; away from sound bites and toward substance.”
In fact, all the candidates are pledging to work across the aisle to enlist support for their platform. And all have talked substantively about the issues we face, more so than Bloomberg.
But we will have a choice of ideological directions in November. And that’s a good thing.
In 2000, American got a ideological direction they didn’t affirmatively choose. In 2004, they affirmatively chose to swallow it again as they presumed they had to for their national security. In 2006, they sought to correct that mistake.
In 2008, we will likely have a relatively frank discussion about what direction we should take, giving voters the opportunity to make an informed decision, and give the winner a mandate that can overcome the sort of obstruction that has thwarted the public will in the past year.
As a voter, Bloomberg has every right to try to influence the debate.
But the man who barely garnered a few thousands petition signatures to run for president will soon find that he won’t influence much, unless he actually has something useful to say.