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Bloomberg-Hagel or vice versa?

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2007

New York Mayor and multibillionaire Michael Bloomberg has voted with more than his feet, deserting a political party he believes is dominated by extreme elements that go far beyond the outer bounds of mainstream America. But whatever the excesses present in the Republican Party, the Democrats are no better. And, clearly, Mr. Bloomberg's repudiation of his party provoked a major tsunami of speculation about his future plans.

Will Mike run? Who knows?

Yet, Mr. Bloomberg's statement at least raises the hope, however remote, that politicians in both parties will not succumb to the siren-like call of extremism and the power of dominant interest groups that have so distorted and now drive American politics, landing this nation in its worst trouble since World War II and probably well before then. And Mr. Bloomberg's competence, as well as his apparent absence of ego in leading New York, is sorely needed in Washington.

An observation: extremism in politics is like gambling in Rick's Bar in the movie "Casablanca" or, better, the bar scene in the first "Star Wars" flick. That type of conduct always has been present. For example, Presidents Truman and Eisenhower had to cope with not only Sen. Joseph McCarthy's lunacy over communists under every bed but also with the isolationist wing of the Republican Party that opposed the Marshall Plan and American engagement abroad. Yet, today is markedly different.

Most of the challenges and dangers facing the nation — from entitlements, environment, energy and immigration to Iraq, Iran and the greater Middle East — have few good solutions and possibly none that are politically sustainable at home given the excessive partisanship and powerful interest groups that make sensible compromise more than elusive. The more extreme wings of both parties, reinforced by ideological allies and these interest groups, crowd out or stifle centrism.

To put it bluntly, the right-wing agenda appears to be a rigid fixation on "guns, God, gays and gestation periods." And the far left commingles environment, globalization and loss of jobs with similarly extremist passions, exorcising options such as nuclear power and free- and fair-trade agreements as beyond the pale. And on Iraq, Afghanistan and the war of terror — each of which is going badly — there are a paucity of acceptable alternatives.

Enter Mike Bloomberg. Here is a highly capable man of the center with an unlimited wallet. A billion dollars spent on winning the 2008 election, a number unfathomable to mere mortals, reflects a small slice of the mayor's net worth. Combine Mr. Bloomberg with other running mates, especially Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, and now there is a potential ticket with as good a chance as any of getting the United States back on track. Such a ticket brings Mr. Hagel's experience and judgment when it comes to national security to bear. And Mr. Hagel's expression of the overriding need for America to confront the problems of repairing what he calls the "human condition" and its suffering from poverty, repression, disease and ideological extremism, presents a vision that most Americans could readily support and lend common cause.

Who would be at the top of this ticket is not an idle question. Truman told Ike after the war that if the general were to run, Truman would stand as vice president. Whether that was false praise or not, it suggests that even if Mr. Bloomberg were financing this race, placing the nation's best interests ahead of self is not out of the question.

Professional politicians will bet that, despite the money, an independent ticket has little chance of winning and would only be a spoiler. Fortunately, neither Mr. Bloomberg nor Mr. Hagel is a Ross Perot, who won almost 20 percent of the vote in 1992, assuring Bill Clinton's election. Yet without a party apparatus to support a grass-roots effort, independents face a daunting task. And, chemistry counts.

That Messrs. Bloomberg and Hagel are compatible is yet to be determined. And would either be comfortable in the second slot? John Kerry reportedly invited John McCain to consider serving as vice president — a ticket that probably would have won in 2004 but was several bridges too far. Unity 08, a movement started several years ago to attract a bipartisan ticket, could be an avenue — albeit an unproven one — for Messrs. Bloomberg and Hagel to use in fashioning a base.

Finally, Mr. Bloomberg and for that matter Mr. Hagel may choose not to run. For the time being, however, speculation will grow. With former Sen. Fred Thompson's entry into the race predicted for a July 4 start, pressure will build on Mr. Bloomberg on others to announce. Mid-fall is the latest date for any candidate to declare and given the frontloading of caucuses and primaries that is likely to be too late.

But for the moment, for this columnist, Bloomberg-Hagel or vice versa is something that looks pretty good.