Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gov. Buddy Roemer Speaks Out Against The System of Greed In Washington

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS — Buddy Roemer — as long a long shot for the American presidency as you’ll find — was talking about the country’s condition the other day when he stumbled upon a metaphor he liked.

“The powerful among us are doing quite well,” he said. “It might be like a plantation mentality, where those in the big house are doing pretty well, and they don’t see a necessity to have irrigation put in. They don’t see a necessity to rotate crops. They don’t see a necessity to fertilize over the winter.”

If you can’t remember a Republican presidential candidate besides this one comparing the wealthy to slave owners and railing against inequality, it is because they generally don’t. And you may not have heard from Mr. Roemer himself. An ex-governor of Louisiana and an ex-congressman, he is excluded from nationally televised debates in the United States, owing to a mere percentage point or so of support in polls.

Lurking in the shadows of a volatile Republican race, Mr. Roemer has styled himself as that least likely of political creatures: a Republican Southerner who endorses and seeks the votes of both the leftist Occupy movement, which he has visited, and the rightist Tea Party movement — even if neither endorses him in turn.

In fact, he sees them as part of the same cause: “They both smell something,” he said by telephone this week. “They phrase it differently.”

He has built his campaign around what he believes they smell. It is a theory that is unlikely to win him the presidency but is a useful observation from an ex-insider: that money — which made America what it is, and underwrote its greatness — now threatens to suffocate its democracy, and thus to accelerate a fall.

“My prediction for this political system, which is run by special interests who are profiting like they never have before, is that change will be minor, it will be temporary, it will not be profound, it will not be reform, and it will not deal with the real issues,” said Mr. Roemer, 68, who studied at Harvard College and Harvard Business School, spent more than a decade in politics and is the leader of a small bank today.

Of course, a man who seeks to keep money out of politics is likely to struggle to raise money. Mr. Roemer has forsworn all campaign contributions larger than $100, a figure he says he chose because he assumed that was what any citizen could afford. His rivals accept checks for up to 25 times more.

When explaining this position, he reached for another metaphor, inspired by decades of living with disease. “As a diabetic, you are what you eat,” he said. “And as a candidate, you are where you get your money.”

Keeping big money away is just one facet of Mr. Roemer’s omnidirectional heresy. He has also proposed something that has never actually existed in America: a unity government to pull the country back from the brink.

He said that, if elected, his vice president would be from a different party — he pointed to Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-independent, as one possibility. He also proposed a cabinet that would be “reflective of America and of both parties,” going beyond the token one or two rival-party appointments now current practice.

Though some of his views are anathema to Democrats — for instance, his opposition to abortion rights — he said that he would not make those issues priorities. His heterogeneous team would focus, first, on campaign finance reform to purge money from politics and, second, on jobs, including by pressing to narrow America’s trade deficit with China.

As his odds among Republicans flicker, Mr. Roemer is working toward a perhaps more classic third-party bid, under the banner of a group called Americans Elect, which is seeking to crowdsource a presidential ticket over the Internet.

In conversation, he seems most interested not in winning, but in having said what he needed to say before it was too late.

What the country needs, in his telling, is to move beyond the argument about big government versus small. It needs to focus on how to create “government that works,” he said, to keep pace with technological and geopolitical change.

“By its nature, it is dangerous,” he said of government, “so we must have it as small as possible. But in a world this dangerous, government needs to work. It needs to be adequate to the task. It needs to be focused and flexible to that task. And we’re not there yet. I mean, we’re still arguing over size, and we must get beyond that.”

At one point, he stopped to find a quote from a book. “In ingenuity, in skill, in energy, we are inferior to none,” it went. “Our national character, the free institutions under which we live, the liberty of thought and action, an unshackled press, spreading the knowledge of every discovery and of every advance in science, combine with our natural and physical advantages to place us at the head of those nations which profit by the free interchange of their products.”

“Robert Peel gave that speech in 1846 on the floor of the House of Commons,” Mr. Roemer said. “Britain had already started its decline, and accelerated thereafter. I see our nation exactly the same way.”

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