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Pundits, Bloggers, Activist Leaders Thinking of Running for High Office? Think Again

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I was in a rush on a very busy Saturday morning. I knew there had to be a press room at the LA Convention Center for the California Democratic convention. There had to be. I just hadn't bothered to find out where it was. Fortunately, I saw a very familiar face.

"Hey, Mickey," I said. "Where's the press room?" It was Mickey Kaus, the very prominent Slate blogger and former New Republic columnist. Then I noticed that he was holding not a notebook but a stack of flyers, which he was trying to hand out to mostly uninterested people as they entered the convention.

That's right, I remembered. Mickey is running for the U.S. Senate.

If you run for governor or senator, it just may not turn out like the end of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

And he didn't know where the press room was in the convention center. (Cleverly, as it happens, there was none. There was only the one way back at the convention hotel, a few blocks walk on a muggy LA morning.)

So I left him there, rather forlornly peddling his papers, as I searched for someone who knew.

Later in the day, I was at the party's Labor Caucus meeting. While they awaited talks by former Governor-turned-Attorney General Jerry Brown and national AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka, the caucus, the party's largest, allowed candidates for various offices to introduce themselves.

Each one got about five seconds or so.

Someone I did not recognize introduced himself to the crowd. It was Peter Schurman, former executive director of MoveOn.org. Running for governor of California.

Two people, out of the hundreds packed into the room, applauded. Then the next candidate, whose name and hoped-for office escape me, was on for his drive-by micro-spiel.

Which raises a question: Why put oneself in this position?

Warren Beatty's Bulworth is a classic would-that-it-were-so movie about politics.

Now, I have to admit that I didn't know who Peter Schurman was until I got a press release saying he was a founder of MoveOn and was running for governor because Jerry Brown isn't left-wing enough. I'd looked through the list of candidates and didn't recognize any names running against Brown in the Democratic primary. Brown cleared the field last year, as I wrote here on the Huffington Post.

Yet clearly, as a leader of MoveOn, Schurman had had tremendous entree and cachet, if not a lot of name ID.

But as a candidate for governor, he's essentially ignored, as evidenced by his reception at the Labor Caucus.

Which is not to say that he's in the same position as another fellow who thinks he's running against Brown for governor. As Brown rushed around the convention, making various appearances, he had to walk past the rows of booths repeatedly. Naturally, this other gubernatorial candidate, a fellow named Richard Aguirre, had a booth there. Knowing that the best way to get known is to appear on a stage with Jerry Brown, he kept challenging Brown to debate, noisily, yelling "Hey, buddy."

"Hey, Jerry, you've got a new buddy," I noted. Never breaking stride, Brown grinned, the only reaction he showed to the debate notion.

Bulworth raps about the reality of politics, which few, if any, would-be candidates will get to do.

He was after real game, of course, having just challenged billionaire Republican Meg Whitman, who's blanketed California with ads for months, and her Republican rival, super-rich state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, to debate right away. Since she's so concerned about the issues and all in the state in which she's hardly ever bothered to vote but now wants to govern.

Mickey Kaus wasn't pestering Senator Barbara Boxer to debate. Nor was he at the Labor Caucus, either. That's one of the last places he would be.

While Schurman's candidacy is from over on the left, Kaus is from over on the right. Not that he says that he sees it that way, mind you. (You can visit his blog, now off the Slate platform, here.)

The Candidate is a timeless classic about a political maverick who catches fire.

I've known Mickey Kaus for many years. I crashed at his place in New York for a few days about 20 years ago when I believe he was at Newsweek. He doesn't think of himself as a conservative (his late father was a Jerry Brown appointee to the California Supreme Court) and he came up writing for the Washington Monthly and the New Republic. He says that he thinks of himself as a '70s/'80s style neoliberal Democrat.

I like Mickey, but he can be very irritating. Not personally, he's actually a nice guy, but professionally. He's what I call a "contra," someone who is reflexively contrarian.

He's also something of a professional anti-Democrat (a Democrat best known for attacking Democrats), like, unfortunately, my old friend and colleague Pat Caddell, who at his best was the most brilliant American political strategist I've ever encountered, but now sneers reflexively for Fox News at pretty much anything any prominent Democrat does, from Barack Obama on down. For his part, Kaus, who once focused almost exclusively on welfare, which was never exactly the main issue in American politics, identifies unions and illegal immigration as the things in American society most worthy of his concern. Which is, you know, right out of the Republican playbook.

Not that Kaus sees it that way. He says that he's trying to carry on Gary Hart's breakthrough from the 1984 presidential race. "Today," he wrote, "it's as if Gary Hart had never lived, with the party owned lock, stock and barrel by the interest groups he criticized."

Actually, I was with Hart in that campaign. Kaus was with Fritz Hollings, the much more conservative South Carolina senator, who was obviously going to go nowhere. Picking Hollings for President is like picking Joe Lieberman in the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries. Clueless.

You can't blow it on TV if you can't get on TV.

Hart wasn't anti-union, he simply felt the party needed to be reflective of a variety of interests. When Cesar Chavez called me to say that the United Farm Workers would be the only AFL-CIO union not to endorse former Vice President Walter Mondale and that, while formally neutral, he was releasing key UFW people to help Hart, he made it clear that he was impressed by Hart's support for working people and farm workers in particular. (I knew Chavez from when I'd worked for the UFW.)

The fact is that unions, like everyone, can go too far. But unions are absolutely necessary. Without unions, the individual is all too often helpless in the face of corporate and financial power. Without unions, this country would be headed for oligarchy. Think of Russia, with fewer machine guns. Presumably.

What does focusing on the supposed scourges of organized labor and illegal immigrants get you? The endorsement of the likes of Victor Davis Hanson, an extremely tedious neocon historian who is right about politics nearly as often as a stopped clock gives you the correct time.

Aside from new friends on the far right, poor Mickey is getting less attention as a supposed candidate for the U.S. Senate than he did as a writer.

So when you think about how irritating politics can be, or how great you think it might become, and wonder about the wonders of the campaign trail as a candidate for high office, consider these cautionary tales. And think again.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.