Buddy, We Hardly Knew Ye

Buddy, We Hardly Knew Ye

By Carl M. Cannon - May 31, 2012

Charles E. "Buddy" Roemer Jr. has ended his impracticable run for the presidency. Most Americans did not even know that Roemer, a former Louisiana congressman and governor, was in the 2012 race, and his withdrawal will have no bearing on the general election contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Roemer’s fate, however, raises profound questions about the state of U.S. politics. For starters, Roemer was really a man without a party. But so is roughly one-third of the electorate.

Roemer’s belief in lower taxes and less government -- along with generally conservative views on social issues -- placed him squarely within mainstream Republicanism. Yet his skepticism for nation-building in the Middle East (or anywhere else) and his jihad against lobbyists and corporate special interests put him in the populist wing of the Democratic Party.

He referred to Mitt Romney as “the 1 percent” and Newt Gingrich as “the lobbyist for the 1 percent.” At the same time, Roemer routinely blistered congressional Democrats for not passing a budget, and dismissed President Obama as a guy interested in getting re-elected instead of actually governing.

“Someday, somehow, somewhere, sometime, the president of the United States and his party have to be responsible for running the country,” Roemer said last year while launching his campaign in New Hampshire.

This kind of thing wasn’t new for Roemer. As a House member in the early 1980s, he was one of the moderate-to-conservative “Boll Weevil” Democrats who supported Ronald Reagan’s budget cuts. In the early 1990s, Roemer switched parties while occupying the governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge. Louisiana voters didn’t appreciate it. In his re-election bid, Roemer lodged an ignominiously third-place finish behind two candidates destined for prison: former KKK figure David Duke and the colorful but corrupt Edwin Edwards.

Roemer’s career and his reform-minded instincts always stemmed in part from Edwards’ stranglehold on Louisiana politics, and what it signified for the state and the Roemer family. His father and namesake worked for Edwards and was himself targeted in a federal corruption investigation. (Charles “Budgie” Roemer was convicted, but that prosecution was an overreach and was overturned on appeal.)

Jesse Unruh, the famous California political boss who battled Ronald Reagan in Sacramento, proclaimed money to be “was the mother’s milk of politics.” To Buddy Roemer, it was more like crack cocaine than breast milk, and he made fighting special interests and the outsized influence of big money in American politics the raison d’etre of his campaigns, including the 2012 venture that ended this week.

Putting his money where his mouth was (or, more precisely, putting his mouth where his money would have been), Roemer eschewed PAC contributions and unwisely imposed a $100 contribution limit. Lack of money kept him off the airways; a dearth of airtime kept his poll numbers low; low poll numbers kept him below the threshold established by the networks for the Republican primary debates, dooming his chances to emerge.

This spring, Roemer dabbled in running as an independent, but that’s harder than it seems. Americans Elect is learning, as RCP’s Alexis Simendinger documented, that setting up a system of ballot access and then finding a charismatic candidate to run is putting the cart before the horse. And on his own Roemer couldn’t negotiate the expensive and complex hurdles to ballot access.

“Today, I am no longer a candidate for President of the United States,” he said in an email to his supporters on Thursday. “After 17 months of a wonderful campaign, the lack of ballot access in all 50 states makes the quest impossible for now.”

Thus, did Buddy Roemer’s campaign fizzle out. But with 32 percent of Americans identifying themselves as unaffiliated, Roemer’s disillusionment with the Republican and Democratic parties cannot be dismissed as a quirk. Moreover, in an election year in which an estimated $1.5 billion will be spent trying to capture the White House, no serious observer of American politics can doubt the immense influence of money in the political process.

“America is a nation at risk,” Roemer said in his farewell statement. “Job prospects are inadequate. Trade is neither smart nor fair. The tax code is unreadable and, I say, un-American. The budget is unsustainable. Small business must be re-vitalized. Energy has no strategy. Healthcare is not healthy. Banks are still too big to fail, and comprehensive immigration reform is a fantasy.

“We can turn all these problems into opportunities, but we must begin our battle with the special interests who are content with the status quo,” he added. “They don’t want change. They spend billions to keep their control. They own our political system. They bought it with their fundraisers for incumbents, and with jobs for the already powerful. They bought it with special favors and inside information for those who can return the gesture in amendments and legislation and earmarks. They finance the elections. They hire the politicians upon their retirement. And they own the two major political parties. It’s un-democratic and it’s simply un-American.”

Actually, it’s all-too-American, but as one man said four years ago, we can hope for change. 

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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