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If you’ve walked through Red Square recently, you may have noticed flyers promoting the Georgetown chapter of America’s newest third party campaign, Unity ’08. Founded by former advisors to the Ford and Carter administrations and Maine’s former Independent governor Angus King, intends to run a third ticket in the upcoming presidential campaign, featuring a split ticket, or possible independents

Unity 08 is based on the conviction that the two major parties are corrupt, slaves to special interest dollars, and driven to extremism by the influence of their respective bases. The result: American government is paralyzed by partisanship, essentially ignoring the beliefs and issues that matter to the moderate majority of the nation.

Encouraged by the immense potential of the internet for grassroots mobilization, the campaign intends to hold a nominating convention online in early 2008 to select its ticket. The ‘primary’ will be open to all American voters. Although no one has officially declared candidacy yet, some names being thrown around include Sen. Lieberman, Rudy Guliani, Chuck Hagel, Michael Bloomberg, Mark Warner, Wes Clark, and—implausibly enough—John McCain, whom the media still insists on calling a moderate.

If Unity 08 supporters think that the government is unproductive now, they should wait until they put a split ticket in office. The last time this happened, during the election of 1796, which resulted in a Federalist President (Adams) and a Democratic-Republican VP (Jefferson), strife within the executive branch was disastrous, resulting in the 12th Amendment which ensured that such a situation wouldn’t occur again. Furthermore, they assume that there is some sort of parity between the two positions, which is obviously part of the truth. Unless two independents are nominated, the Unity ticket will inevitably represent the moderate wing of one of the two major parties.

Despite their claim that they represent the centrist majority of Americans, like all third parties in America’s winner-take-all electoral system, the Unity 08 ticket will, at most, play the role of spoiler (Perot in ’92, Nader in ’00, etc). Given its reformist mentality, general idealism, and emphasis on corruption, climate change, and dependence on foreign oil, it’s a safe bet to say that Unity will siphon most of its votes from the Democrats.

This is particularly evident when you consider that the controversial social issues it avoids addressing—abortion, gay marriage, and gun control, for example—are powerful wedge issues which drive Republicans, more than Democrats, to the polls.

Loyal Democrats have no reason to fear, however—the Unity ticket is destined to play a minor role, if any at all, in 2008. Decrying the role that special interests play in electoral politics, Unity plans to run solely with private donations. The problem with this plan, though, is that moderates, lacking a strong ideological drive, are the least likely to donate.

Furthermore, while Americans and the media repeatedly disparage the politics of negativity and personal attacks, calling for a more substantive debate, they repeatedly reward these tactics at the voting booth.

Another problem with running an issue-based campaign is that Unity 08 doesn’t actually have concrete positions on them. Sure, they call for bipartisanship and attention to the ‘crucial issues’, but they don’t actually take a stand on any of them. Appealing to disillusioned, generally apathetic voters, Unity 08’s central platform seems to ask: Can’t we all just get along?


We can’t.

Despite its trivial nature, politics deals with serious issues which many Americans passionately disagree on and cannot simply be ignored. It is a forum where people of different philosophies wage ideological warfare, and the means through which our nation comes to a consensus on its core values and priorities. Perhaps this is just the viewpoint of one bitter partisan, but I don’t see anything admirable about conciliatory centrism, particularly when the decisions of our government can mean the difference between life and death.

Our government is far from being truly democratic, and elections are often determined by the most superficial aspects of politics, a vague, warm-and-fuzzy call for harmony is no solution. Yet, while it is easy and fashionable to spout clichés criticizing partisanship, negative campaigns, the overwhelming advantage of incumbency, and the inevitable influence of money on government, it is much harder to come up with constructive policies to improve health care & education, reduce the budget deficit, and make our democracy more representative. It’s even more difficult to do so without disagreement.

One of the reasons that money, incumbency, and superficiality frequently carries the day in politics is because so many people buy into the ignorant maxim, spouted by naysayers such as the Unity 08 crowd, that there’s no difference between the two major parties. Instead of issuing fruitless calls for unity and adding to the unproductive chorus of discontent, they should help voters see past the mudslinging by showing apathetic Americans that despite the medium, the government matters.

As a fellow partisan once said, “Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”


OrSkolnik said...

Very well said, Kipp. Unity actually asked us (and, I assume, the College Republicans) to co-sponsor their event. Since our whole purpose is to espouse Democratic values, that wouldn't have worked out so well...

leaveonlyfootprints said...

wow...i'm glad we didn't get involved.

The last thing I want to hear is another campaign bashing "petty, partisan, politics of polarization"

Adam Hearts Dems said...

i agree with your point kipp, and no doubt, I am a partisan ideologue myself, but what the Unity '08 people say about trying to work with the other side isn't completely a bad idea. I have actively called for waging tactical warfare against Republicans, but only in response to their heinous attacks on us. once the playing field is leveled, both parties can come together and work on getting things done, not by compromising principles, but by coming to a general consensus on policy.

Jenna L said...

"both parties can come together and work on getting things done, not by compromising principles, but by coming to a general consensus on policy."

How exactly can that happen?

The problem with centrist, focus-on-the-issues organizations like Unity '08 is that Americans have substantive and substantial ideological differences. There really are (at least) two sides to the majority of issues. And Democrats and Republicans are not, as many seem to whine, really the same party. Neither are they marginalized organizations that no longer represent political America.

I, of course, understand the need for compromise. But the argument that two ideologically opposed parties can find a policy consensus that doesn't involve compromising the beliefs of one side or both is necessarily flawed. The beauty of our republic is that the people are able to pick the side they want to govern.

And while that sucks sometimes (say, my whole life so far), it's starting to look up.

The Unity Party is a big, fat cop out of real dialogue and debate.