Is There Power in a Unity 08?

Send in the centrists? Don't bother, they're here.


America will have a new choice in 2008—and, like so many good things, it's coming to you via Sam Waterston. Thanks to him, and the organization for which he's a celebrity frontman, Unity 08, an America weary from a century and more of Democratic and Republican rule can at last get the change they crave: joint Republican and Democratic rule.

As a Tampa Tribune report on the new Internet-based third party Unity 08 explains:

They want to nominate and elect a split-party presidential ticket, hoping that will force American politics back to the center.

They're calling on millions of voters to cast online ballots for a Democratic candidate with a Republican running mate or vice-versa. Or maybe an independent candidate with a running mate from one party and a pledge to name a top Cabinet official from the other.

While Unity 08 launched back in May 2006, they are only now beginning to cop press attention. They are gathering delegates to sign up on their website and eventually provide an electoral vehicle for a couple of sad sack politicians who couldn't make it through the primaries, um, that is, give Americans the intelligent, centrist choice they are assumed to want, despite, by the logic of Unity 08's very existence, never voting for it. Why don't they? Roughly, in the Unity 08 worldview, because big money and the primary system drive candidates to shore up radical bases in order to win nominations. (Big money's interest in promoting non-centrism is left unexplained.)

But don't get your hackles up, beloved two-party system that so well served the three Grumpy Old Men/retired soldiers from the field of partisan political battle who ginned up Unity 08. They are Democrats Hamilton Jordan and Gerald Rafshoon and Republican Doug Bailey, profiled glowingly in the January Atlantic:

The cynical focus on divisive "wedge" issues and the ferocious negativity of recent campaigns, which fed in to an inability to govern once elected, dismayed everyone at the table….[Unity 08] promises its founders the rare shot at a second act on the national political stage and a chance, all these years later, to atone for the past.

As the Tribune article points out, "Bailey, Jordan and Rafshoon are old-timers, now out of the business." Ah, but for the chance at one last caper….! Once they've brought centrism back, Unity 08 will return to the fields, proud of their service to the republic.

What exactly do the Unity O8's mean by this "centrism" we are lacking? Well, it will involve shifting away from the merely "important" issues that seem to attract the much-demonized "bases" of the party, who are ruining everything with their urgent desire to vote for candidates they like, and get to the "crucial" ones:

Global terrorism, our national debt, our dependence on foreign oil, the emergence of India and China as strategic competitors and/or allies, nuclear proliferation, global climate change, the corruption of Washington's lobbying system, the education of our young, the health care of all, and the disappearance of the American Dream for so many of our people.

These issues are presented, by the way, with no hint of an adumbration of a clue as to what government should or ought to be doing about them—except the apparent belief that one Democrat and one Republican, free of the taint of Big Money, will come up with something. (Unity 08 itself is set up as a 527 that can get as much big money as anyone cares to give them, by the way. It's OK, they assure us—they really need it, and will do only good things with it.)

Unity 08 might just be surfing a rising wave of schoolmarmish disapproval of how we've absolutely ruined our lovely little democratic republic with the results of our voting. On the Republican side of the "let's build a new nonpartisan political organization" aisle we find Newt Gingrich's attempt to capitalize on 13th anniversary of the Contract With America nostalgia, his "American Solutions for Winning the Future" movement.

It stands for, as Gingrich announced, reaching out and supporting on "a nonpartisan basis….anybody of any background who wants to use science, who wants to use the power of productivity, who wants to revitalize American virtues that work." (Another of his principles is this gnomic pronouncement from Eisenhower: "When I can't solve a problem I always make it bigger until I can find a solution. I can never find a solution by trying to make it smaller.")

I'm reminded of an old roommate who talked of launching the "Institute for Common Sense." Time to dust off the 501(c)3 applications, boys, it's a bold new age of can-do, no-nonsense bullshit! Let's face facts, America: most politicians, blinded by partisanship and tainted by campaign cash, are afraid to admit that what works, works, and to really use science and productivity as tools for American betterment.

The real heart of attempts to convince us that Democrats and Republicans must unite across partisan divides to fix the mess that Democrats and Republicans have made of things is former Clintonite Lanny Davis's mid-January Washington Post op-ed. It starts by suggesting that the most recent election shows a citizenry "tired of the partisan gridlock in Washington. They want some solutions from liberals and others from conservatives." He concludes the major party candidates should and must form a pact whereby it's guaranteed that we'll have a president from one party and a veep from the other. (The uselessness of the vice presidential position isn't really addressed—with bipartisanship, it's the thought that counts.)

First, it's tricky to connect the results of specific congressional votes with approval of the overall results of everyone's votes. If mere thousands of votes across the nation had gone differently, the Senate would still be Republican, so it's doubly hard to say the overall results represent any strongly held national view. The very small number of votes that would have to have gone the other way to switch recent presidential elections or congressional partisan control make the talk of bitter partisan division that underlies all these calls for gooey bipartisan kumbaya in our gentle land all the more dubious.

Even if we could assume that the overall result of 2006's election was an accurate reflection of most voters' overall wishes rather than an emergent pattern above and beyond their control, that result—GOP executive, Democratic congress—is the best guarantee we could have of "partisan gridlock." And those, such as Unity 08, who link big money corruption with partisanship should note that it was only partisanship—a Democratic desire to differentiate themselves from their sleazy colleagues across the aisle—that led to the recent anti-lobbyist action we've seen. Partisanship is the one thing that makes the bastards go against their larger interests as politicians.

The real glory of Lanny Davis is that he isn't afraid to be more specific than Unity 08 about the important results bipartisanship will get us—he's not trying to gin up millions of delegates: "A bipartisan administration is also essential for enacting new taxes."

Bipartisanship, see, goes above and beyond the petty interest of particular parties, and is dedicated to the larger good of…politicians and the growth of government. (Unity 08 also grants "our objective is to fix the old parties.")

CNN's political wizard Bill Schneider said of Unity08 that it "intends to stay in business just long enough to bring the two parties back to the middle." Middle of what? It's where they've always been: middling along together, for war, both on drugs and overseas (until it all starts going terribly, obviously wrong—at least on the overseas part, they'll keep the drug war going come hell and high water), for ruinous expansions in entitlements and expansions of federal control of education (even if they might disagree on the details of how), for subsidizing some kind of energy or another, for Patriot Acts, for the whole destructive, unaffordable apparatus of spending and control that has been built up over decades by presidents and congresses of both political persuasions.

Ross Douthat in the February Atlantic gives a different, and probably more accurate, take on Our Bipartisan Future. And voila!–it's more Bushism, the president we all love to hate. We all may hate Bush, but Douthat sees, convincingly so, on the GOP political horizon nothing but more Bushism, with, perhaps, a more human face. This, Douthat posits, holds out great hope for bipartisanship in the near term:

For instance, evangelicals and liberal internationalists might come together on the use of force for humanitarian ends overseas. Big-government conservatives and populist liberals might agree on the need to address the financial insecurity of working-class families.

God help us all, he might be on to something. While the Unity 08 types have no chance of achieving their specific stated goals, the boosters of centrist bipartisan government are already getting what they want.

Senior Editor Brian Doherty is author of This is Burning Man and Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.