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The Bloomberg Candidacy...Again?

1:52 PM, Dec 14, 2010 • By JAY COST
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This speaks to a point made by E.E. Schattschneider some years ago that American democracy as we know it would be unthinkable without the political parties. And we can appreciate, in the case of a potential Bloomberg candidacy, just how thoroughly the parties permeate our system. Bloomberg would not be able to win an Electoral College majority because of partisan loyalties among the mass public, and he would not be able to win in the House of Representatives because of partisan loyalties there. Everywhere you turn in our political system, you will find the political parties. You cannot envision how American government would function without the parties, because they've always been everywhere.

For his part, Bloomberg is a booster of this rather silly No Labels movement, that wants to get beyond the two-party system. While it is nice to talk about toning down the partisan rhetoric, the party labels are without doubt the most useful service the two major parties provide to the American citizenry. The words "Democrat" and "Republican" are jam-packed with information, making it easier for voters to figure out whom to support. To see what a world without party labels is like, one should read V.O. Key's Southern Politics in State and Nation, a fascinating study of politics in the Jim Crow South. It is not a pretty picture. Black voters were systematically disenfranchised, but poor white voters were not very well off either. The absence of a two-party system often meant that there was no meaningful political debate in the region, and voters were frequently unsure which candidate truly represented their interests. They were regularly persuaded to vote for some pseudo-populist who spoke the common language on the stump, but supported the local textile magnate when in office. 

This is why I am always suspicious of political actors who actively want to eschew a partisan identity. It leaves me wondering what their political angle is, and I'd note with interest that a lot of the politicians backing this No Labels enterprise tend to come from the "wrong" party for their region, e.g. Mike Bloomberg was formerly a Republican in New York City, Evan Bayh was formerly a Democrat in Indiana, and Charlie Crist became an independent solely for the purpose of becoming a senator. Their personal political fortunes would rise if voters stopped using party labels. That makes me wonder.

Fortunately, all of this talk is tantamount to spitting into the wind. Michael Bloomberg is not going to be president of the United States, and this "No Labels" business will be long forgotten sooner rather than later, all thanks to the political parties. The parties not only control our system of government, they define it. American politics is unthinkable without the Republicans and the Democrats, and there is nothing Mayor Bloomberg can do about it.

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