When, a few months ago, I went to visit the spanking-new Pennsylvania Avenue offices of Americans Elect, the group that has spent millions of dollars (provided by undisclosed donors) to get a centrist third choice candidate on the presidential ballot, the first thing I noticed was the lone decoration on the main wall in the front lobby: a framed July 2011 column by Tom Friedman touting the organization. Headlined “Make Way For The Radical Center,” the column declared: “The goal of Americans Elect is to take a presidential nominating process now monopolized by the Republican and Democratic parties, which are beholden to their special interests, and blow it wide open — guaranteeing that a credible third choice, nominated independently, will not only be on the ballot in every state but be able to take part in every presidential debate and challenge both parties from the middle with the best ideas on how deal with the debt, education and jobs.”
Nine months later, Americans Elect appears to be struggling to achieve its revolutionary aim. It has, indeed, managed to get a ballot line in most states, no easy task. What it is missing are high-profile potential candidates, and the buzz they would create for the organization. Ned Martel reported in Monday’s Washington Post:
Last week was supposed to be the first week of online voting on the Americans Elect site, when anyone anywhere could click to endorse practiced politicians or to draft neophytes. But the candidate choices have remained decidedly low-profile, and traffic is meager on the site, which cost $9 million to construct. Scrambling to avert failure, Americans Elect has postponed online voting for a month...The group is still on the lookout for a Goliath-toppling personality. “There’s a short list,” said chief executive Kahlil Byrd, without sharing names. How many? “Negative eight,” he said, and his spokeswoman repeated the cryptic tally. As in less than zero? Byrd would only clarify: “More than four.”
The leading declared candidate, Buddy Roemer, Louisiana’s former governor whose GOP primary bid never took off, has garnered only 3,177 supporters on the Americans Elect Web site. Behind him is Rocky Anderson, once the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City, who has 1,722 supporters. (There are also 300 or so “draft” candidates, nominated by any of the registered online voters.)
Byrd revealed little about those potential candidates waiting in the wings, except that the group had briefed “more than 100” who’ve “led as governors, as senators, military commands, corporations.” And from those advisers may come Americans Elect’s face-saving option. In the past month, a small group of activists has emerged to recruit Dave Walker, an independent who once ran the Government Accountability Office, to run for president. Walker, who is on the Americans Elect board of advisers, said that he knew about the effort and that an Americans Elect employee had stepped down to lead the draft movement. Also in recent weeks, Americans Elect changed the requirements Walker needs to meet to win the nomination, revising the number of online supporters to 1,000 in 10 states instead of 5,000 in 10 states.
Ah, but is it not always darkest before the dawn? Just when things are looking gloomiest, along comes...another column. Tom Friedman, you see, was traveling and he had a thought. Was he in Shanghai or Dubai? No, he was right here in Washington, D.C., arriving at Union Station to catch the northbound Acela, and he was alarmed to find that the circular drive in front of the station was very bumpy. Now, an enterprising reporter, or, for that matter, a curious person of any sort, might have inquired about that bumpiness—say, by asking a cab driver or a cop—and might have learned that Union Station is in the midst of a $35 million makeover. Thus, you know, the bumpy road surface that comes with any repaving project. (All the construction equipment and barriers on the scene might have also been a tipoff.) But to Friedman, the bumpy roadway was yet another sign of the country’s gaping need of leadership from a centrist wise man:
Our country needs a renewal. And that is why I still hope Michael Bloomberg will reconsider running for president as an independent candidate, if only to participate in the presidential debates and give our two-party system the shock it needs.
Bloomberg?? Come on. We’ve been waiting long enough for the richest man in New York to come down out of his deluxe helicopter to bestow on the rest of the country the plutocratic paternalism that his city has enjoyed for the past decade. He’s clearly got better things to do. No, the answer is staring us in the face, and it has a bushy moustache. Like Dick Cheney “searching” for George W. Bush’s running mate in 2000, Tom Friedman’s search for a third-choice savior has led to the mirror. It’s a cracked and smudged mirror, nothing like the gleaming, perfect mirrors in Singapore and Seoul, but don’t worry: he’ll fix that.