January 15th, 2008
In the spirit of not wanting to kick a dog when he’s sad and ailing, I have avoided saying anything unpleasant about Unity ’08 in quite a while. But an email today from its founders endorsing Michael Bloomberg has forced me to reconsider that silence and lean back into a fighting stance, prepared for some Chuck Norris-style ass-whoopin’.
If you’re not familiar with Unity ’08, it was an organization designed to create “a centrist, bi-partisan approach to the solving of our nation’s problems and the possibility of an independent, unity ticket for the presidency,” as the site now declares in what amounts to a farewell message on its front page. Like many other attempts to create a neutral meeting ground in politics (such as the apparently-now-defunct Hotsoup), it reeked from the beginning of a solution in search of a problem. The thing is, most people don’t WANT a neutral meeting ground for discussion — that’s why we have government. When it comes to talking politics, most of us seek out someone we already agree with (c.f. Daily Kos, RedState.com). Of course, plenty of people look for information from advocacy groups and political candidates, but even in those cases, they’re generally searching for sharply-illuminated facts and strong opinion, not some illusion of a mushy middle.
What struck me about Unity ’08 from the start was that it attempted to be online-based but went against the very thing that makes the internet most revolutionary: the ‘net disintermediates, i.e., it takes OUT the middleman. Unity ’08 tried to go the opposite direction — it tried to become a NEW middleman, replacing the traditional parties with a fresh intermediary political structure that would create a process to choose candidates on its members’ behalf. Its founders, Doug Bailey and Jerry Rafshoon, were embedded in the previous generation of political organizing (Bailey was a Ford media advisor and Rafshoon worked for the Carter administration), so it’s not surprising that they’d try to impose a top-down communications model on a new-generation distributed entity like the internet. It’s also not surprising that the attempt failed miserably, not even coming close to getting ballot access across the country.
So, having struck out at Unity ’08, Bailey and Rafshoon have sent out an email today encouraging support for Mike Bloomberg, an Iraq-war-supporting, pro-business, ’04-Bush-supporting former Democrat/now-a-Republican who describes himself as fiscally conservative. Wow, now THAT’s a real alternative to the current leading Republicans, as well as to the current administration — something guaranteed to get every voter fired up about the glory of compromise. Mr. Bailey and Mr. Rafshoon, I appreciate your concern for our democracy, but I have a very hard time believing that the hordes of new voters in Iowa and New Hampshire were looking to continue the status quo and vote for an establishment candidate like Bloomberg. In politics, the willingness to compromise can be a real strength — but only if you’ve staked out some solid ground in the first place. Democratic voters, at least, are not likely to surrender the battle before the guns have even sounded.