What Do People Think A Third Party President Would Do?

Ben McGrath’s discussion of the endless discussion of a Michael Bloomberg third party presidential bid is appropriately arch, but still doesn’t, I think, quite get at the core madness of this talk:

Speaking at Harvard, the day before the election, Bloomberg said, “I think, actually, a third-party candidate could run the government easier than a partisan political President,” and then he went on, as he always does, to deny that he intends to pursue the position. He is, as he is fond of saying, Jewish, unmarried, pro-choice, anti-gun, pro-immigrant, and pro-gay-marriage. Add to that a strong allegiance to Wall Street, a weekend house in Bermuda, and his vehemence, last summer, in defense of the mosque near Ground Zero, and it’s hard to see how he plays to the populist moment. A recent Marist poll indicates that only twenty-six per cent of New Yorkers favor the prospect of his running.

Yet the dream persists. “I think it’s a strong possibility,” Clay Mulford, the chief operating officer of the National Math and Science Initiative, and, as it happens, Perot’s son-in-law, said the other day. “The mood of the country is not ideological but more practical. The timing is unusually right.” Mulford mentioned that a Google search of his name and Bloomberg’s would reveal that the two of them met, a couple of years ago, to discuss ballot logistics. “His people put the story out,” Mulford said.

The question that needs to be asked about all these notions is what kind of legislative coalition is President Bloomberg supposed to be governing with? The version of ARRA that passed was the one Senators Collins, Snowe, and Specter were prepared to support. So what difference would it have made had Barack Obama been somewhat less liberal? I bet a third party president would initially impress people with his bold truth-telling and lack of need to cater to old bulls on the Hill. But it would swiftly become apparent that the constitution hasn’t been repealed, that the only bills that pass are the ones members of congress will vote for, and that members of congress all belong to parties. The only way you’d be able to get anything done would be to find a way to work within the party system somehow.


The point is that most of the stuff people like to decry about American politics — the venality, the small-minded partisanship, the bickering, the corrupt deals — happens in Congress. Wishing for a different president doesn’t address any of it.