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Michael Bloomberg has delivered a passionate speech denouncing just about all the key players on the national scene --including Congress and The White house -- for mismanaging economic recovery, he blasted Democrats and Republicans for abandoning responsibility in favor of partisan bickering, and for denouncing the importance of success in corporate America.
It sounded like the opening salvo of a campaign for President as an independent candidate. But Bloomberg’s aides reiterated what he has said: that he’s not running for President. It seemed strange that they were issuing denials when it was Bloomberg's staff that took pains to let reporters know he was making this speech.
It could have been called the “plague on both your houses” speech, borrowing a line from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” But he was not romancing anyone. He was letting the politicians of both major parties and the President have it with both barrels.
If he doesn’t dream of running as an independent, this speech could hardly discourage speculation. It seems as though the Mayor was only re-elected about five minutes ago (it was actually last November) but now he appears to be testing the waters for the ultimate prize, the White House.
And, if he ultimately decides to invest some of his vast fortune in an independent run for President, he will be entering dangerous terrain. Third parties have had a perilous life in America.
The Republican and Democratic parties have dominated American politics since 1856 -- every president elected since then has belonged to one of these parties.
In the modern era, third parties have come and gone and, sometimes, they’ve had a major effect on the outcome of elections. Teddy Roosevelt won 27 percent of the vote running on the Progressive Party (Bull Moose) line, but he returned to the Republican Party in the next election.
In modern times, H. Ross Perot got almost 19 percent of the vote in the 1992 election. Often, third parties have been seen as spoilers for one of the major parties. If they take away enough votes, the theory is, one of the major parties will fall.
But historian Alan Brinkley told me: “Third party candidates can do a lot of damage, but never in American history has a candidate from one been elected President. Running on a third party line is usually a kind of vanity candidacy, a kind of megalomania. It won’t make a difference.”
Often, third party candidates are seen as spoilers, according to Brinkley, as Ralph Nader was when Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in 2000. But, generally, they don’t swing elections, though they may cause consternation to one or both major candidates.
Yet political consultant Hank Sheinkopf told me: “We’re living at a very critical time. Many voters are disgusted with both parties. It’s an era of irrational surprises. Fewer people are voting because they don’t think Democrats or Republicans are understanding their needs or promising to help.
“It’s a crisis like nothing we’ve seen since the Civil War. The tax package has disappointed the people. Unemployment is high. We’re on a collision course with our own ineptitude. The greatness of the country is at risk. Bloomberg is right about that.”
So, does Bloomberg have candidate-itis? Is he seriously thinking about running?
He’s still denying it. But he’ll be speaking around the country. He will continue to tease the political world. And, in the free-spending style to which New Yorkers have become accustomed, he’ll try to decide whether a full-scale assault on the holy grail of American politics can produce success.
His constituents here in New York can only ponder the national scene and wonder at the possibilities for the future, if he decides to go for it.
And that will take something of which he has a plentiful supply: chutzpah.