Michael Bloomberg has decided not to run for president, but he will likely decide on an endorsement in the next few weeks. The mayor of New York City opts out in today’s New York Times, but he makes clear that he will remain engaged as an independent voice — and that he’s looking to see which candidate displays that kind of party-independent leadership:

I believe that an independent approach to these issues is essential to governing our nation — and that an independent can win the presidency. I listened carefully to those who encouraged me to run, but I am not — and will not be — a candidate for president. I have watched this campaign unfold, and I am hopeful that the current campaigns can rise to the challenge by offering truly independent leadership. The most productive role that I can serve is to push them forward, by using the means at my disposal to promote a real and honest debate.In the weeks and months ahead, I will continue to work to steer the national conversation away from partisanship and toward unity; away from ideology and toward common sense; away from sound bites and toward substance. And while I have always said I am not running for president, the race is too important to sit on the sidelines, and so I have changed my mind in one area. If a candidate takes an independent, nonpartisan approach — and embraces practical solutions that challenge party orthodoxy — I’ll join others in helping that candidate win the White House.

Independence in political approach sounds terrific — but it has become more of a fetish than a real platform. Especially with Bloomberg, it descends into platitude when it doesn’t get accompanied by a defined set of policies. What constitutes independent thought? What policies does it entail? Or is it just another way of saying, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

It sounds like “hope and change”, and we already have that platitude in buckets for this cycle.

Bloomberg himself turned out to be more or less a liberal statist as mayor, with the questionable exception of law and order. The man who banned restaurants from using trans-fats doesn’t qualify as a moderate, at least not any more. He has governed the Big Apple as a typical center-left Democrat would, still a large improvement over the doctrinaire liberal David Dinkins, but more a return to Ed Koch, without the humor.

So who would get Bloomberg’s support? Given this essay, one can easily predict Barack Obama. It won’t make much difference that Obama’s agenda doesn’t show a whit of independence from the Democratic Party platform; Bloomberg wants platitudes, and Obama produces them prodigiously. Bloomberg’s talk about unity and change fits nicely with Obama’s campaign rhetoric.

However, Bloomberg as kingmaker will be much less effective than Bloomberg as candidate. If he ran as an independent, Bloomberg could use as much of his own money for the race as he liked, and he has tons of it. He could drop a billion dollars and make himself at least into the Ross Perot of 2008, and he might even win a couple of states, which Perot couldn’t do. He can’t drop that kind of money into someone else’s campaign, though he could prove a highly successful fundraiser. It will not have anywhere near the impact of his own candidacy, and what’s more, it will reduce his profile as an “independent” the moment he signs onto either a Democratic or Republican campaign.

Of course, Bloomberg can always change his mind, claim to be disgusted at the tenor of the campaign, and launch his own bid for the presidency. He could wait until the conventions to do that and catch the other campaigns flat-footed. He would have learned that much from Ross Perot.

Update (AP): Baseball Crank thinks Bloomy’s going to surprise us with a McCain endorsement.