THE BLOG
01/01/2008 06:57 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

It's Altamont On The Potomac, But Where's Keith Richards?

Michael Bloomberg's meeting with Unity '08 has some people speculating about whether Bloomberg and Chuck Hagel will run under that group's banner. That raises a number of questions, such as: Would a Bloomberg/Hagel candidacy have a chance of winning? Would they be wise or foolish to join up with "Unity '08" if they do run? Will they hurt the Democrats badly if they do?

Glenn Greenwald documents the excited chatter among D.C. insiders about this possibility -- and why wouldn't they be excited? David Broder and like-minded Beltway types have been waxing poetic about Unity '08 for some time now. They reckon that Americans are tired of partisan bickering and want a consensus government comprised of longterm Democratic and Republican party functionaries. Some of us have tried explaining that independents and other disaffected voters are anti-partisan, not bipartisan, but that argument's getting no traction.

So, for anybody old enough to remember the sixties, let me break it down for you old-school style: Washington under the GOP has been one long extended mugging, going back to the "Gingrich revolution" of 1994. It's been Altamont all over again, a crowd of bystanders beaten mercilessly by a gang of thugs with more authority than they can handle.

Anyone who has seen "Gimme Shelter" can remember how differently Mick Jagger and Keith Richards handled that situation. As unprovoked Hell's Angels mercilessly pummeled audience members with pool cues, Mick avoided confrontation and sprinkled pious platitudes like pixie dust over the wounded and terrified crowd. "Oh, babies," he cooed. "Can't we stop fighting one another," he said - as if it were a two-sided brawl and not a gang attack gone amok.

Keith, on the other hand, showed guts by taking the matter firmly in hand. "Cool it," he said to the bikers, "or we stop playing. That guy," he said as he pointed to one assailant, "that guy has to cut it out." Meanwhile Mick kept crooning nonsense words. "Oh, babies, can't we love one another?" Keith finally pointed to the head of the gang and said "Hey, you: F**k off!"

By then, unfortunately, it was too late. A mentally ill man had brandished a gun and been beaten to death. A court found that responsible guardians could have disarmed him without going to such violent extremes or hurting so many innocents. (War On Terror metaphors, anyone?)

Granted, Keith used rude language while Mick was impeccably polite. That alone would disqualify him in the eyes of the D.C. elite. But Mick stood by while people were beaten in his name, choosing to pretend it was a fight and not a one-way assault. Everybody associated with Unity '08 has taken the "Mick" position during this anti-Constitutional Republican riot. Only a Washington insider could think these are the right people to fix what's wrong with our government.

Glenn does a good job summarizing Bloomberg's record of Republican partisanship during the height of the gang's assault over the last seven years. There's also the Mayor's systematic assault on civil liberties during the 2004 convention - not a good indicator he's the man to clean up what's wrong in Washington. And Matthew Yglesias explains why, although there are reasonable ways to be bipartisan, Unity '08 isn't one of them.

But could a "Mick Jagger" ticket of Bloomberg and Hagel harm the Dems in 2008? That depends. If the Democratic candidate adopts a "Mick" tone, too - especially if she or he is seen as just another Washington insider - then Bloomberg/Hagel could cut into their voter share significantly, even if they're carrying the past-their-sell-by-date insiders who formed Unity 08. And civil liberties aside, Bloomberg and Hagel might actually run a fairly decent Administration. They would be competent technocrats, and their policies might be indistinguishable from those of a triangulating Democrat.

John Edwards has been auditioning for the Keith Richards role, and doing a pretty good job of it. Barack Obama's trying something different, articulating some Keith-like goals with Mick-like eloquence. Either of them would fare better against a GOP-plus-Bloomberg field than Hillary Clinton would - that is, unless she changes her tack more than she's been willing to do so far.

The fact is, she and Bill have been more muted than they might have been during the last few years of Republicans Run Amok. The strongest public anger we've seen from Bill was directed against 9/11 Truthers, not GOP miscreants. A little "How dare you?" action could have come in mighty handy right around 2003-2006, if it had been directed against the hijackers of the Constitution and not a fringe group with no power or platform. (Although we get a glimpse of his brilliance, too, in the way he told them he'd "be glad to talk with them" if they'd let him finish his speech. That's the compelling Bill Clinton, the same one who said Seattle WTO protesters deserved a hearing.)

So how will it all play out? It's too early to tell, of course. But whatever happens with Bloomberg and Hagel, it won't make sense for Democrats to feed this notion of "partisan bickering." If they wind up acting like Mick Jaggers, the next president's inaugural address may start with these words: "Please allow me to introduce myself ..."

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