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Caldwell faced no serious challenge this fall and, while betraying some liberal attitudes such as supporting contingency fee payments for state business that do more to enrich trial lawyers than bring justice and countenancing jackpot justice under his watch, he also has acted on conservative themes such as joining the state to a suit that yesterday garnered a ruling that the 2010 health care changes championed by liberal Democrats were unconstitutional, so it’s not a stretch to argue that this move doesn’t go significantly against type for him unlike with other recent switchers.
If anything, staying with the Democrat label when he ran in 2007 might have been more for political reasons than ideological in his case. Then, he faced off against a liberal Democrat damaged by decisions he made while in office, and a conservative Republican who damaged his own candidacy by decisions he made during it. Calling himself a Democrat, as he had for his several terms as a district attorney but not articulating liberal preferences may have made him seem a safe, moderate default choice for voters.
But three years later the Democrat label has taken a scouring and worse could come by the state’s election day, so its usefulness no longer exists in this context, whereas adopting the Republican label might prove handy to cut off at the pass a Republican from thinking he can ride discontent over Democrats into knocking off Caldwell. The best opponent for an incumbent is no opponent at all, and with nearly $200,000 banked at the end of 2009, the switch increases the chance he’ll get a free ride this fall.
More significantly, out of seven statewide officials and the two U.S. senators elected statewide, now only Sen. Mary Landrieu remains a Democrat. Assuming Caldwell files the paperwork by the end of the week, on that day five years ago, only one of the nine, Sen. David Vitter, was a Republican. And looking forward by Feb. 19, then back five years to that day, when then Democrats held a 67-37 advantage in the state House led 25-14 in the Senate, by contrast shortly in the future the GOP should hold a 52-48 advantage in the House and may lead the Senate 20-19. This means in five years Democrats will have gone from 88.89 percent of officials elected statewide to 11.11 percent of them, from 63.81 percent of House members to 46.15 percent of them, and from 64.10 percent of senators to 48.72 percent of them. That’s not just a tide coming in; it’s a tsunami.
It’s happened that fast that Louisiana has caught up with the rest of the South, and after 2011 elections the GOP likely will extend its leads further in the Legislature; it now cannot go higher in number with the seven constitutional officers by having all of them – the last time the same party had all being 20 years ago but then all Democrat, and never all Republican in the post-Reconstruction era. If you are a Louisiana Democrat loyalist, the world indeed has turned upside down.
Roemer hints broadly he’s about to pursue this office, two decades after whispers of the like must have reached his ears. Back then, he and neighboring former Pres. Bill Clinton, both governors of southern states, both perceived (if not in reality) as moderate Democrats, both relatively young and speaking of innovation and new paradigms in governance, many considered them the future leaders of their party as the contradictions inherent to the unvarnished liberalism of the industrial age increasingly became apparent through the policy failures it engendered. Surely every reader of these lines knows which of them grasped that mantle.
He failed to the extent that, even with a party switch while in office, at his reelection opportunity he got aced out of office by two figures that would go to prison on matters related to their political activities that today nobody seriously can envision them winning that office. Four years later against far less controversial and more ethical figures, he still could not advance to the general election runoff in an attempt to recapture the chair.
Now relaxed, rested, and apparently ready to go 16 years later, Roemer presents himself as a member of an aggrieved public, a businessman who sees politicians as too disconnected from the real world and people in it, too connected to special interests, with an unwillingness to confront actual problems such as massive deficit spending. He claims “nobody who’s elected is going to talk for the common man, for the small businessman, for the soldier or sailor. They talk for Wall Street.” Even so, he doubts he can win but seems prepared to give it a try.
Such statements imply his candidacy would constitute either of a sure sense that people retain little memory of political history or of farce. Roemer’s personality doesn’t suggest the former so he must kid himself by truly believing in the latter that his candidacy represents not the special interests of Wall Street or Dupont Circle, but of Main Street.
Both socially and politically, Roemer has eaten with nothing but silver spoons. He came from wealth, he moved into politics because of family connections, and, while he has shown he can run a successful business, one wonders whether others could have succeeded to the extent that he has without connections obtained by having been a former member of the U.S. Congress or having occupied the Governor’s Mansion. How this makes him more the spokesman of the “common man” than other potential Republican candidates, most of who’s origins are more humble and who have had as or more successful careers inside and outside of politics would appear to baffle everybody but him.
Further, this cantor of restrained government spending now over two decades ago then sang a very different tune. Although initially he articulated that virtue as governor, eventually he gave way to gimmickry to fund a state government that among the states went from 27th to 20th in per capita expenditures during his term by such tricks as the Louisiana Recovery District, and setting up the state lottery that would come to fruition after his term. Maybe his fiscal religion now is genuine, but his past does not make him the most convincing spokesman for it when other candidates have acted with much more fidelity on the issue. And his seeming distaste for “Wall Street” seems a bit forced coming from a banker whose profession mirrors to a great extent exactly what he rails against.
Even with these incongruities between Roemer’s present rhetoric and past life and deeds, that doesn’t mean that he would not be a good candidate. But it does lead one to wonder whether he really doesn’t understand the skepticism that accompanies his reinvention that makes him a less-convincing candidate than the presumed ones out there that he doesn’t think are adequate on this kind of platform. Add to that his astuteness that he is an unfathomably long shot (made especially so by his pledge to take only small donations which will get him nowhere close to the nearly $750 million Pres. Barack Obama raised in 2008) so if he does run he is aware he will receive little attention and add probably nothing to the 2012 policy debate, begging the question of why run?
In the final analysis, for somebody who inflates his credibility to run for an office he knows he cannot win indicates either or both of a crisis of ego or purpose. Perhaps Roemer just can’t resist one last try to fulfill a promise brought down many years ago by the very qualities of his governance that now he thinks would outclass the present, presumed field.