The cant coming from the bipartisan brigade has been ratcheted up by its wealthiest enthusiast, Mayor Mike. As the NY Sun reports this morning, the mayor has begun to sharply criticize his putative rivals for their supposed shortcomings, as he prepares to attend a conference in Oklahoma called for by a bunch of irrelevant, aged Brahmans: "Mr. Bloomberg said he is attending the Oklahoma conference to "find a way to take an independent approach to government" and to "find a way to get partisanship out of politics and get the special interests out."
This is, of course, simply a load of crap-and it recalls the Progressive Age when, as Richard Hofstadter has pointed out, the "better folks" were feeling squeezed out by the newly empowered democratic surge of immigrants. Put simply, it is interest groups that generate the democratic vitality of American politics, and those who seek to either eliminate them or rein them in, are the same folks who are uncomfortable with the messier features of a democratic polity.
This all goes back quite a long way, but the basic philosophical underpinnings got a very trenchant exposition in Theodore Lowi's The End of Liberalism. Lowi felt that the interplay of interests insufficiently promoted the public good, and searched for a better process to achieve this philosophical Holy Grail. It should be pointed out that Lowi began his analytical journey studying politics in NYC.
The so-called independent approach to politics that Bloomberg talked about yesterday would find a comfortable niche in Lowi's world view. It's a world where expertise supersedes democratic bickering-and it hearkens back to the Platonic tradition that was suspicious of the masses and their ability to govern. We should remember, however, that the American political tradition recognizes the importance of voluntary associations and factions-as anyone familiar with Federalist X and the work of Tocqueville will attest.
When we eliminate the role of these intermediary institutions we're simply paving the way for something that's quite less democratic, and certainly something that doesn't necessarily lead to the public good; since it is based on the assumption that the "independent way" (really a euphemism for the rule of the expert or the philosopher king, if you will) is superior to the cacophony of "special interests."
And when you deconstruct the term "special interests," what do you discover? We think you'll find that it represents all of the multi varied interest groups that make up a democratic polity; with many of these groups actually being represented by nefarious folks called lobbyists. Ironically, what we see here is the obverse of the shrill cry of the Edwards campaign, coming from a suspicion of certain corporate groups that represent the wrong special interests. The logical progression in both strands of thought, however is, as we've said, something a good deal less democratic than the system we have today-since in both views there is a larger public good that can only be discerned by the wise expert and/or the initiated chosen ones.
So, as the NY Times also reports, the mayor is off on his own version of the Yellow Brick Road. And he offers the following observation: "With unusually dismissive language, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg offered tart assessments of his potential presidential rivals at a news conference on Wednesday, suggesting they are offering meaningless bromides rather than serious answers to the problems confronting the country."
So we await the pronouncements of our own philosopher king, someone for whom bromides is apparently an anathema; someone who is willing perhaps to spend up to a billion dollars to simply speak the truth, unencumbered by special interests- to a public that is starved for honesty in a tawdry political world that needs to be remade by Mayor Mike. This is all on the order of the Santa Claus fable, and we'll leave you with the jolly old elf's patented phrase: "Ho, Ho, Ho."
Today's Wall Street Journal has an excellent critique of the Bloomberg boomlet, with a useful evaluation of the mayor's rather mixed tenure as the city's chief executive: "What Mayor Bloomberg hasn't done is challenge the union status quo over the unsustainable city work force and pensions, which will become a crisis for some future mayor. He has dodged this burden himself because of the revenue boom that has flowed from New York's financial industry in the wake of the Bush tax cuts. He has also been able to play the role of nonpartisan healer in part because Mr. Giuliani was willing to take on the city's liberal interest groups on taxes, welfare, crime and public order. Mr. Bloomberg has a better bedside manner than Mr. Giuliani, but it's also easier to be popular when you're not picking as many policy fights."
In addition, the Journal also points out that a good third party run needs an issue, one that has usually appeals to some aspect of popular discontent. The paper speculates that his will be "competence," and writes the above in critical response. As we've said, however, the Bloomberg faux issue will be non-partisan independence. Still, we can't wait for the deconstruction to begin, and all praise to the ESJ for the first salvo.