Tom Friedman has been quiet about his desire to see Michael Bloomberg run for president of late, but the sight of some poorly maintained infrastructure in and around Union Station helped persuade him that we need Michael Bloomberg to run for president. As it happens, I have also been disappointed with some aspects of the Acela trip to New York, though I came away from the experience convinced that Buddy Roemer is the man to save America.
Friedman argues that we need a president who wants to raise taxes on the rich, cut other spending, invest in infrastructure, and limit carbon emissions. He concedes that President Obama actually wants to do all those things. But Friedman is disappointed that he has spent the last few days touting a small, symbolic plan that represents just a chunk of his tax proposals:
President Obama, who has a plan to cut, tax and invest — albeit insufficiently — could lead, but, for now, he seems preoccupied with some rather uninspiring small ball, preferring proposals like “the Buffett tax” over comprehensive tax reform that would lower all rates, eliminate deductions and raise more revenue.
I should explain how third parties work. Our winner-take-all political system creates a natural two-party duopoly. (Yes, I’d like to change that system.) Third parties come into existence when there’s something very large propelling them, an issue that splits existing party coalitions and is too compelling to be papered over. Like, say, slavery.
They don’t form because the president is spending a week campaigning on a symbolic issue. Obama has, in fact, made extensive speeches about, and negotiations for, an agenda almost exactly like the one Friedman proposes. The purpose of the Buffett Rule is to serve as an illustration of the degree to which Republican anti-tax absolutism defines the GOP agenda and has made any agreement impossible.
Now, Friedman semi-concedes that his preferred role for Bloomberg is not so much to win as to serve as a kind of idealized model candidate, proposing detailed versions of the center-left agenda Friedman favors, which he is confident are also the things most Americans favor. Why – why? – can’t presidential campaigns sound more like seminars at the New America Foundation?