23 February 2012

Buddy Roemer: A candidate in search of a party

It may not make sense, but Buddy Roemer, the former congressman and governor of Louisiana, has probably earned more attention for dropping out of the Republican presidential campaign than he attracted while running. Roemer's was so marginal a candidacy that he was never invited to any of the televised debates, an omission he blames on the power of money -- as demonstrated negatively by his inability to raise any after refusing to take donations larger than $100 and none from PACs. If he attracts attention now, it's because of his intention to continue running as an independent candidate, either as the Reform party nominee or as the winner of the online Americans Elect process. Roemer has switched parties in the past, changing from Democrat to Republican while governor in an apparently desperate bid to keep his job. He ended up being infamously outpolled in the Louisiana's open primary by David Duke, and hasn't won an election since his gubernatorial win in 1987. Such are politics in Louisiana that when he sought the GOP gubernatorial nomination again in 1995, he lost the primary to another pol who had switched from Democrat to Republican.

Roemer clearly depends on widespread resentment of money's magnified influence over elections. He would do away with "SuperPACs" and limit mere mortal PACS to the same maximum donation that individuals can make. He would require more complete disclosure of donations than the Supreme Court now deems necessary, and would take further steps to decouple lobbying from fundraising. But what else has he got? You can examine his positions at your leisure by visiting his campaign website. In short, he is a flat-taxer, a kind of protectionist or fair-trader, an advocate of more drilling for oil within safeguards, and a critic of "Obamacare" who blames corporate lobbyists for its shortcomings. In the wider world, he eschews acting as the world's policeman, but believes in "assisting countries who choose freedom to become stronger." He regards reducing dependence on imported energy as a foreign-policy goal and would convert foreign aid from a cash basis to an educational function. Happily, Roemer hasn't heard that the culture wars are back; his issues page is free from discussions of homosexuality, contraception, or the influence of Satan on American life.

On Roemer's chosen main issue, it's fair to ask whether regulating the supply really solves the problem of politicians' apparent dependence on vast amounts of money to carry on campaigns. A more thorough if not radical reform of the entire political system may be required to minimize the corrupting potential of patronage of candidates. Readers can judge his other planks for themselves. The real question to ask before considering Roemer for the future is whether his failure in the Republican race proves his point about the power of money, or whether it only proves something about the man himself. A pseudonymous former supporter has posted a scathing assessment of Roemer as a comment here; he calls Roemer a hypocritical "windbag," on the assumption that both the Reform party and Americans Elect are backed by the same sort of Big Money the candidate supposedly repudiates, and describes him as uncooperative and a little bit stupid. Judging from the more successful Republicans, however, stupidity could not have made much difference in Roemer's fortunes. Leaving invective aside, must we see Roemer as a sore loser and campaign addict who doesn't know when he's not wanted, or as someone with at least unique credibility for denouncing the current political system? Beyond that, it's one thing to identify a problem, and another to offer an effective solution -- but now Roemer has given himself another chance to show us something.

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