Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Nobody Wants to Be President without a Party

Americans Elect is a well-funded, well-organized movement based on the belief that America's biggest problem is partisanship. Partisan bickering, they think, is keeping us from solving urgent national problems. They planned to solve this problem by electing a President who would not belong to any party and would thus be above the partisan fray, and they have raised $35 million to carry this out.

Problem is, as Dana Milbank reports, they don't have a candidate. Everybody they have approached, from Michael Bloomberg to Condi Rice, has turned them down:
“We’ve had hundreds of [candidate] briefings,” Kahlil Byrd, the group’s chief executive, told me on Tuesday. “We have met with current and former governors, current and former senators, university presidents, think tanks, mayors of large cities and people who have been running Fortune 300 companies.”

But the main objection Byrd heard from these would-be candidates: “Do I want to put myself and my family through what it takes?” Looking at the prospect of running, Byrd said, candidates saw only negative ads and attack politics. Among would-be candidates, there was fear and loathing of “the permanent and negative campaign.” Another person involved with Americans Elect said that would-be candidates feared they would be subject to particularly brutal treatment by the party they abandoned.

Complaints about nasty politics are nothing new, but it adds a new layer of despair to think this has become such a deterrent that all qualified candidates would refuse the free offer of a turnkey presidential campaign and ballot access in all 50 states. That suggests there’s little hope for a jolt to the system from a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt, or even a Ross Perot. 
If you ask me, this "fear of exposing my family to negative attacks" is just a convenient excuse.  Politicians are used to negative attacks. The reason major political figures don't want to work with Americans Elect is 1) they would have no chance of winning, and 2) they understand that the whole premise of the movement is stupid.

They would have no chance of winning because at least 75% of Americans identify strongly with one side or the other of the political spectrum, or one or the other party, leaving a pretty small minority who would even considering voting for a "centrist independent."

The premise of the movement is stupid because we already have a centrist movement devoted to finding practical solutions to our problems, and it's called the Democratic Party. Everything that the people associated with Americans Elect say they want is already being pursued by Obama. Health care reform that will hold down costs? Getting the unemployed back to work? Rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure? Reducing the budget deficit through a grand compromise on taxes and spending? All parts of the President's agenda, and all vehemently opposed by the Republican party. If the problem with American politics is that partisan bickering is preventing action, then the solution is to throw out all the Republicans who reflexively vote against everything Obama proposes.

Oh, sure, there are lots of liberal cranks in the party, and in some cities they even have a lot of power, but at the national level the Democrats under Clinton and Obama has been thoroughly middle-of-the-road. If you don't believe me, hang around with some real leftists and let them tell you why Obama should be impeached.

People support organizations like Americans Elect out of a sort of elitism, a nasty disdain for run-of-the-mill politicians and the people who vote for them. They refuse to identify with either party, because that would lump them together with millions of the ignorant and unwashed. They are too smart for that, too practical, too high minded. I understand this, because I used to be one of these people. But over the past 20 years the Republican Party has drifted ever further into extremism, partisan rancor, hatred of the modern world, denial of reality, and bad arithmetic, leaving the Democrats as the only people even trying to make the country better. High taxes and gay marriage are not our real problems.

If Americans Elect could see past their own self-righteous preening, they would forget their third way plan and devote all their resources to re-electing the man who already agrees with them about what the government should be doing.

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