Yeah, there’s no parallel here at all [between 1992 and today] is there? There’s no fiscal problem in Washington unaddressed by both parties, is there? Traditional conservatives have not deserted Bush, have they? He’s not regarded as Carter was, is he (his ratings are, in fact, lower)? And when a sane, secular candidate promises to tackle entitlement spending and climate change, no fiscal conservatives will warm to him, will they? Naah. ~Andrew Sullivan

There is certainly an opening for someone, but it isn’t at all clear that Bloomberg, even if he were going to run (which he isn’t–that’s the last time I’ll mention it today), is the one to exploit that opening.  Besides, if people want change, the Democratic candidates are at least vaguely gesturing towards it.  I have no illusions that the two party establishments are very far apart or opposed on many things, but this is the very reason why I see absolutely no appeal for a “centrist” candidate whose chief complaint is about the excess of partisanship.  Surely, if change is what the public wants people should support rather more radical alternatives than the ho-hum leading candidates. 

“Centrism” is a very nasty thing to behold when it is at work.  It is not actually pragmatic, despite its claims to be non-ideological, but takes as its non-negotiable positions a commitment to serving the interests of the political and economic establishment.  It is the ideology of the elite.  It is the pursuit of the receding middle ground, towards which all “centrists” strive–if only they could escape a world of partisanship and contention (a.k.a., politics) for the far, green country of blue-ribbon commissions, Tom Friedman columns and conferences at Brookings, all would be well.  The main legislative effort on the agenda today that is dangerously close to advancing is the immigration bill in the Senate–that is the evil that bipartisanship and consensus cause.  Most Americans don’t care for the bill, but horrid bipartisanship and the rhetoric of  “tackling important issues” and “getting things done” are threatening to impose it on us.  Bloomberg’s candidacy, if it were to come about, would be more of this, but with hundreds of millions of dollars behind it. 

Besides, anybody can already campaign on fiscal restraint.  If you want that, vote for McCain–he at least talks about it fairly often and he might even mean what he says.  More to the point, a purely budget-balancing candidacy might pull 10% in a year where dissatisfaction with both parties is high, but for ’08 there is a strong trend away from one party and towards another.  The opening for just any independent is not nearly as large as it might at first appear to be.  It would have to be just the right kind of independent.  It would have to be someone who can exploit the broader dissatisfaction with the two-party establishment consensus on, say, trade, immigration and foreign policy,and who could be generously self-funded.  Ron Paul fits the first part of the bill, but unfortunately not the second.  

The other thing is that on the major issues of the moment (Iraq, terrorism, immigration, and, I suppose, health care) Bloomberg’s views are either completely unformed or carbon copies of ideas already on offer.  Perot was interesting and somewhat successful because he actually led on the deficit and on trade, and the bland consensus of the two parties on NAFTA created an opening for someone to represent the opposition.  Perot could tap into dissatisfaction following the ’91 recession that is currently locked up by Democratic populists in the Edwards mould.  Also, there are billionaires and then there are billionaires–a wacky Texan will do better running for President in this country than a New Yorker any day.  Incidentally, that is probably one reason why Bloomberg isn’t going to run–he knows that he would end up doing worse than Perot after probably spending even more money, and he would be forever associated with a campaign effort that would be routinely described as “not even as popular as Ross Perot’s ’92 run despite the public’s deep dissatisfaction with the direction of country.”