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Jonathan Chait has a theory of how Bloomberg could win. I’m less interested in engaging with that, though I have my quibbles. Instead, I’d like to focus on something that tends to be elided during election season – what moral duty Michael Bloomberg has to the American people in making the decision to run.
Making a decision to run for a major party’s nomination is generally a pretty clear-cut decision, ethically speaking. One runs if one thinks one is the best option that party has for both winning the Presidency and the best option the nation has in a potential President. This is why there is probably some inherent madness to the act of running, but doing so through the normal channels is inherently straightforward in this regard (though that ignores the ethical questions relating to campaign conduct; that’s a whole different issue).
Running as a potentially-credible independent or third-party candidate, however, is substantially thornier. Doing so is inherently disruptive to the political process; moreover, there is an unavoidable ideological gamble involved. Such a candidate, in an admittedly oversimplified model, is drawing most of their support from the major party candidates; the crux is that they are very likely drawing more support from one candidate than from the other. The paradox is that the candidate from which they are drawing support is almost assuredly the candidate which they are closer to ideologically. While this point is disputable, it certainly seems credible to speculate that, absent Ralph Nader, Al Gore wins in 2000; given the events of just the first W term, one doesn’t need much imagination to see how that could’ve drastically reshaped the last fifteen years.
This issue is exacerbated at times when “normal” politics isn’t working well. Certainly Bush I and Bill Clinton would have governed different in the early ’90s, but neither of them were likely to immediately drastically destabilize America’s political, social, or economic systems.
That is decidedly not the case in 2016. There is, as of this writing, a very real chance that the Republican Party may nominate a candidate with a very high chance of immediately drastically destabilizing America’s political, social, or economic systems if elected.
Everything else that makes the comparison ludicrous aside, this is the fundamental asymmetry between Trump and Sanders. Bernie Sanders is a career politician. He is a left-wing (by American standards) career politician, but a career politician nonetheless. He did a bang-up job as the mayor of a real city, played nice in the House of Representatives for nearly two decades, and was a committee chairman in the United States Senate. His platform, if enacted, would be bad (at least in partial equilibrium) for the wallets of the Mike Bloombergs of the country, and the validation of his tone and rhetoric that nomination and election would bring would be bad for the egos of the Mike Bloombergs of the country. But Bernie Sanders wouldn’t break the country. Donald Trump would. Given the overwhelming likelihood of a GOP Congress in 2017, a Sanders presidency would be further restrained, but a Trump Presidency would face, at best, unpredictable restraint.
So the question for Mike Bloomberg cannot simply be “what are my chances of winning the Presidency?” The question must also be, “if I do not win the Presidency, do I make the election of Donald Trump more likely?” Given the possibility that he may draw at least as many Democratic-inclined voters as Republican-inclined voters if he runs, and given the fact that, should he throw the election to the GOP-donimated House if he denies either major-party nominee 270 electoral votes, the answer to that second question is very likely “yes.”
I am extremely certain that not only does Mike Bloomberg not read this blog, but that nobody of even remotely comparable wealth and prestige who could directly influence his decision reads this blog, either. Nevertheless, I’m going to address my conclusion directly to him:
Michael Bloomberg, you need to think long and hard about the consequences of the decision you are considering; not just about how and why you might seek the Presidency, but what could happen if you fail. I understand that the possibility of a Sanders Presidency seems worse than unpalatable to you, but there are far, far worse things than a left-wing Democrat in office with a Republican Congress to restrain them. If you run for President, and Donald Trump is elected, when history looks back on the dark era sure to follow, you will be first and foremost among those who receive the blame.
I had a back-and-forth with Dave Stroup yesterday about how to best use one’s vote in the upcoming At-Large DC election. Of course it seems like he’s currently in a position where he’ll tend to make arguments that lead people to vote for Bryan Weaver. But beyond that I think he touched on an interest facet to the whole issue of whether to strategically vote.
Voting is a public exercise of civic responsibility and power, not a form of self-actualization or idealistic expression. Ergo, you should vote in such a way that creates the best possible outcome. So if I were a voting Floridian in the year 2000 I would have voted for Al Gore rather than Ralph Nader even if I preferred Nader’s issue platform (and clearly arguments that losing their left flank would force Democrats to move to the left in response have not been borne out by events). But the assumption underpinning that decision is that my impact is knowable – I would have a pretty high degree of certainty that only Gore or Bush would have been president come Jan 20 2001; that the election was close enough that it would depend on the preferences of a handful of swings states; and that one of those swing states was Florida. And that’s because polling, in the aggregate, is pretty good at predicting electoral outcomes, esepcially as Election Day nears.
But in the upcoming election here in DC there is a vast amount of uncertainty. Polls have been few and far between, and their reliability is very uncertain as this election is probably going to have low turnout and the electorate is pretty hard to model. With a small group of high-information voters, endorsements (like WaPo’s endorsement of Patrick Mara) could have outsized impact. And this electorate is small to begin with – in last year’s very heated and closely contested Mayoral Democratic Primary, fewer than 135,000 votes were cast. In the only past special election I could find (May 2007), fewer than 15,000 voters showed up in each of the two wards that were up for grabs, meaning there could be well under 100,000 ballots cast on April 26th. So in this case it seem like strategic voting could be a lot harder to do, increasing the utility of simply voting for your preferred candidate unless a clear choice comes into sharper relief as election day nears.
As for the issues in the campaign itself, I think by far the most important determiner of which candidate to prefer for any voter ought to be how they would fill DC’s $300 million budget gap. And as someone who thinks the situation calls for even more progressive revenue increases than the mayor proposed, it seems from debates that Weaver is the best candidate on that score, though he doesn’t lay that out explicitly on his website.