Friday, June 02, 2006

Throwing Some Coldwater on "Unity08"

The latest chatter in the Centrist blogosphere is about Unity08, an effort to get a Republican and a Democrat to run as "unity ticket" ala the Union Party ticket if Abe Lincoln and Andrew Johnson in 1864. Jonathan Alter raves about the new effort calling it "open-source politics." He cites the recent success of Howard Dean and John Kerry in using the Internet to rally support:

"Last time, Howard Dean and later John Kerry showed that the whole idea of "early money" is now obsolete in presidential politics. The Internet lets candidates who catch fire raise millions in small donations practically overnight. That's why all the talk of Hillary Clinton's "war chest" making her the front runner for 2008 is the most hackneyed punditry around. Money from wealthy donors remains the essential ingredient in most state and local campaigns, but "free media" shapes the outcome of presidential races, and the Internet is the freest media of all."

In a recent series of article in the The New Yorker Ryan Lizza explains that the Internet is a great tool in getting a third party off the ground. Again, Howard Dean is used as an example:

But then came the Internet—and Howard Dean’s campaign.
The Dean campaign proved many things, but its most enduring legacy may be that it gave us a glimpse of the beginning of the end of the two-party system. First, he showed the next budding Ross Perot how to manage a 50-state ballot-access project easily and cost-efficiently. It is not widely understood, but candidates running in the presidential primaries of the two major parties also must qualify for the ballot of every state they want to contest. Dean was the only insurgent Democratic-primary candidate in history to qualify in all 50 states, a stunning organizational achievement. Using a ballot-access function of the campaign’s Website, Deaniacs in every state had downloadable petitions and details about the rules for their state. Goals were tracked in real time. “Both parties have set up nominating and ballot hurdles, so an insurgency can’t happen,” says Joe Trippi, Dean’s first campaign manager and now an evangelist for a third party. “We blew through that in 2003.”
The second hurdle—fund-raising—also has a technological solution. Dean proved a message candidate could work outside any established infrastructure and raise massive amounts of money. After Perot, the assumption was that only a self-financed candidate could mount a credible third-party challenge. Dean exploded that conventional wisdom.
Dean’s campaign not only suggested that the traditional obstacles to starting a third party are surmountable, but it also raised questions about the purpose of the two parties themselves. What assets, after all, do the Democratic and Republican parties bestow on a nominee? There was once a time when the parties served a policy role for the presidential candidate. The nominating convention was a time when delegates drew up a party platform for the candidate to run on. No more. Candidates routinely ignore the platform—in 1996, Bob Dole famously said he hadn’t read it—and run on their own issues.
What’s left? The other assets parties offer are a fund-raising infrastructure (e-mail lists, donor databases) and an organizational infrastructure (county chairs, precinct captains, local volunteers). But the parties no longer have a monopoly on these two networks. A charismatic candidate can build his own alternative fund-raising base overnight and collect an army of volunteers in a matter of weeks. In fact, with the rise of political groups known as 527s, which raise money (often from billionaires like George Soros), run ads, and turn out voters, the parties have already gone a long way toward outsourcing their core activities. The only assets controlled by the two parties that can’t be reproduced by an entrepreneurial independent are their distinctive brands, the value of which is in steep decline.

The Internet can be a good tool to get ideas out there, but there has to be a whole lot more than this. I have to agree with Weekend Pundit that Unity '08 seems more like a political version of American Idol. There is no platform and no attempt to really build a movement. It seems like it will get a lot of people who are on the computer a lot, but may not do much else.

I know there are a lot of Centrists that are gaga for this and I want to believe that this might have a chance. However, from my background, I'm not so certain. I think the wiser approach is to work and support those centrist candidates that are out there. Give of your money and your time. Volunteer. Write letters to the editor to support your candidate. Volunteer with centrist organizations in both parties. It's not sexy as Unity '08, but I think it will do a lot more than simply putting our efforts in something that at least from my view isn't going to get very far. It's not that I don't think "Open Source Politics" isn't a good idea. It's just that you have to do more than set up a webpage or run a blog. That's the easy part. To create a movement, you need to work at getting your message out to the media, host house parties to get people interested, doing things like door knocking and getting candidates to major events.

In the past few years, I've been involved in supporting moderate Republican candidates. It isn't sexy work and at times is damn frustrating, but in the end, I think this more pragmatic approach will pay off more than some kind of "net convention."

One more note. Some are upset the current moderates or reformers in both parties have to do this balancing act to be presentable to the rabid base. I think some Centrists want this political Jesus that is unsullied by politics. A lot of people loved McCain early on because he seemed to have that Messianic air about him. Of course, he didn't win because of that. People, we have to accept the fact that there is no savior. Political parties are made up of various people and candidates have to try to be all things to all people. All politicians (at least those who want to win) have to bend a little at some point. We might not like it, but that's they way it is in a democratic society.

Centrists have to stop dreaming of the perfect candidate or perfect party and get back to earth and fight for change. It's not going to happen with dream candidates or even a dream third party. I'm not against third parties, but I am saying that if we want something to happen, we need to work for it and know it won't be prefect.

Sorry to be the contrarian.

1 comment:

N. Hanks said...

I couldn't agree with you more when you say a "dream third party" isn't good enough! And we dont' have to settle for a dream - we can organize "on the ground" for a positive social vision and for radical political reform that can create the kind of political culture that welcomes new leadership and takes America on a path that the PEOPLE actually support! Please check out my blog The Hankster at
Thanks! - Nancy