Independent's day

June 22, 2007

Should the Johns Hopkins University start looking around for a good spot to build the Michael R. Bloomberg Presidential Library, so construction can begin as soon as he leaves the White House in, let's say, 2017? Or is it a bit premature to think about Baltimore joining Little Rock, Ark., and Yorba Linda, Calif., in the all-star lineup of ex-presidents' repositories?

Probably so. But the announcement by Hopkins' most famous and most philanthropic living alumnus - he has bestowed at least $200 million on the school he graduated from in 1964 - caused a not inconsiderable boomlet in speculation. Wait - his announcement? Yes, that he is quitting the Republican Party. Followed by his announcement that he is not a candidate for president.

As yesterday's New York Post front page put it:

"READ MY LIPS `I'm not a candidate' (wink)."

The parenthetical was in pink, by the way.

A great deal of the speculation, naturally, had to do with whether he would hurt the Republicans or Democrats more if he ran as an independent (most believe it is the Democrats), or whether he actually wants to be senator, or maybe vice president, or is simply trying to give himself a little buzz so as not to be a lame-duck mayor of New York (which is what he is). Supporters of his predecessor at City Hall, who will have a hard time running for president as America's Mayor if America's Other Mayor is also in the race, were wheeled out to shoot holes in Mr. Bloomberg's record.

But all the attention stems from this: Mr. Bloomberg says that party politics isn't working very well. That's a tough proposition to disagree with. Since taking control of Congress, the Democratic Party has shown it's just as intent on wielding political power, so as to gain more political power, as the Republican Party had been before it. Providing effective government seems to come in a distant second. There are plenty of good people in both parties - but the political dynamic works toward a relentless with-us-or-against-us mentality, which doesn't do the rest of us much good.

Mr. Bloomberg is certainly an opportunist, having joined the GOP for the express purpose of running for mayor, and now quitting it with at least an eye on the White House. But he makes a lot of sense when he talks, and he cares about issues that other politicians tiptoe around: gun control, for instance, and gay rights. He's as green as that other Republican stalwart, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He made a fortune in the news business and he knows how to make himself heard. But he puts his money where his mouth is: After New York banned indoor smoking, he set up a $125 million global nonsmoking initiative, in which a division of Hopkins, the Michael R. Bloomberg School of Public Health, is one of the partners. He has given more millions toward mosquito eradication.

Maybe, in the end, he won't run, and Hopkins won't have to worry about that library. But if, in the meantime, he can shake up the party duopoly and prod other politicians into a little real discussion of where this country should go - that would be a genuine contribution, more valuable than money.

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