Qualifications matter. In our free market and free society people are constantly working on maintaining and improving their qualifications in a particular or varied number of fields. Its why you went to college. Its why you worked hard to get an apprenticeship in the union or start your own business. Its why you stay at a job that you don’t even particularly like so that you can get their recommendation. We do all of these things because, when it comes time to start down that road you’ve always wanted to be on, you will have a leg up on the competition who are trying to do the same. This striving for excellence and the acquisition of as many qualifications as possible is not only good for an individual but for society as a whole; the more qualified contributing members of society there are undoubtedly benefits all. So, why is this not the case in our political system? Why was the most qualified person who ran for President in 2012 completely shut out of the conversation? The answer is simple…money and power. Don’t believe me? Allow me to introduce you to the curious case Buddy Roemer.
Charles Elson “Buddy” Roemer III was born on October 4th, 1943 in Shreveport, Louisiana. Starting his life in a humble country setting, Buddy eventually graduated valedictorian from Bossier High School in 1960 then went on to receive his BA in economics and MBA in finance from Harvard in 1964 and 1967 respectively. After college, Buddy returned home to Louisiana where he founded a software company as well as two banks, both of which are still running today without a single dollar of federal bailout money. Buddy first ran for public office in 1978, losing in a primary race for the Louisiana 4th district congressional seat. However, in 1980 Roemer ran again and defeated incumbent Claude Lee to win the seat in congress, a position he would hold until 1988.
While in Congress Roemer earned a reputation as, what we would call today, a “Blue Dog Democrat”, often supporting President Reagan’s policies and attacking his own party leadership as being too liberal. Needless to say he was not exactly a favorite of then Speaker of the House, and perhaps the only worthwhile Democratic leader of the 1980’s, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill. As a member of the “Boll Weevils” and Conservative Democratic Forum, Roemer had no problem going against his own party to do what he felt was right for the country. After spending the better part of a decade in Congress, Roemer was elected Governor of Louisiana in 1987 and balanced Louisiana’s mounting deficit, toughened campaign finance laws and increased steadily declining teacher wages. Roemer left the Democratic party in 1991 and ran for reelection as a Republican in 1992, eventually losing to the same man he had defeated in the previous election. After leaving public office Buddy returned to the business world, continuing his career as an extraordinarily successful banker and investor…until the summer of 2011, when he officially began his bid for President of the United States.
So, why would a very successful businessman who had been out of public office for almost 20 years all of a sudden decide to jump into one of the most important Presidential elections in recent memory? Roemer, like many Americans, had been growing increasingly concerned about the role of special interest money in our political system and lack of oversight into campaign finances. That’s right, there IS a successful American business man who feels too much money in our political system is a bad thing (and no, he isn’t a socialist - he’s a Republican). Especially after the 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens United V. Federal Election Commission, which ruled that organizations and corporations (foreign or domestic) can give UNLIMITED amounts of money to any candidate they choose and the candidate does not even have to reveal who is financing their campaign, Roemer decided to be the poster boy for getting money out of politics. And he did so by leading by example.
The message was simple: when special interests invest hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns we shouldn’t be surprised that our elected officials put their investor’s interests ahead of our own. The solution? Abolish it. Roemer would take NO pac money and absolutely NO donations over $100 from any individual or corporation. He would often jokingly note that if Goldman Sachs wanted to fund his campaign they were more than welcome to but they could only give him a onetime $100 donation like everybody else. Buddy raised over $707,000 this way- without being on ANY of the televised debates for the Republican Primary and while being completely ignored by those involved in the political process as well as the mainstream media (with the exception of a few appearances with Joe Scarborough and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC).
So, back to qualifications. Why was Buddy never considered a serious candidate for the Republican ticket, or any other, in 2012? It’s not like the Republicans had a lot of good candidates vying for the job. Rick Santorum? Newt Gingrich? Michelle Bachman? Seriously? For God sake they had Herman Cain, a pizza man with absolutely ZERO political experience who thought it was a good idea to have his campaign manager smoke cigs on his commercials, was surging in the polls among likely Republican voters last year. And Barack Obama isn’t much better. Sure he now has the experience of being the President for the past 3 ½ years but when he was elected he was extremely under qualified for the job. Just four years before he was elected President he was a STATE senator in Illinois and hadn’t been a US senator for 2 years before he began his campaign for Presidency. So why not consider one of Louisiana’s most successful businessmen who also happens to have over 12 years experience in national politics? The answer is simple and Buddy said it best—“Washington is broken, yes, but it’s bought first. And it will not be repaired by those who profit from its impairment”
Think about it, it’s a primal instinct to not want to be called out when you’re doing something wrong. When you’re a kid and you do something stupid in school and the principal calls your parents, what’s the last thing in the world you want to do? Go home and have to fess up. It’s the same exact concept here. No one, especially not Republicans who were pushing each other out of the way to try and get to the front of the “I love big business” line, wants to stand on stage in front of thousands in attendance and millions watching at home and get called out by someone who everyone knows is right. Moreover, they don’t want his message to gain momentum because, if it does, they know that the game won’t be rigged in their favor anymore. It’s plain to see but, for some reason, people would rather close their eyes and act as though it’s either democrats or republicans fault that the vast majority of our policies favor a privileged few. The fact is it’s everybody’s fault that a dollar means more than a vote and we shut out the only voice who really did give a damn about changing it.
Now, the cynics will try to point out that it takes money to run a political campaign and if you don’t even have enough money to fund your candidacy then you aren’t a viable candidate for office. This is the absolute truth, just to get on the ballot costs hundreds of thousands of dollars alone. But to pose that objection is to prove the point of the Roemer campaign—big money is in control of our political system. The fact that it costs so much money to run for office should be a major sign that something is wrong, especially because it could be very different. If we changed things so that Buddy’s suggestions of banning superpacs, limiting corporate and individual contributions, demanding full disclosure of origin of funds within 48 hours of political contribution and enforced criminal penalties for those who violate these laws we could start to have a government that works for us again. We need leaders who are free to lead, not leaders who are lead by the nose.
So tonight, like every other political junkie who has access to a television, I will be watching the first of the 2012 Presidential debates between President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney. But, like every other person who heard his message, I will be wondering why the most qualified and least corrupt man for the job was not even considered. If you would like to hear his message for yourself below is a YouTube link to one of his only appearances on network television from last fall.