The Greens and Unity08

The Atlantic is running an article on the Unity08 independent campaign for president, which concentrates on the veteran Democratic [Jerry Rafshoon and Hamilton Jordan] and Republican [John Deardourff and Doug Bailey] party consultants that are attempting to gin up a Ross Perot type insurgency. The initiative is a sign of the generally held perception in this country that something has gone seriously wrong with the political system. The disfunctionality is commonly, and wrongly in my opinion, attributed to “partisanship” and “lobbying” as if the complete abandonment of principle would somehow negate political patronage and bribery. Unity08 seems to be founded on the perception that the two major parties connection to the mass of voters through broad constituencies of race class and income is now mainly historical. By appealing to voters directly as individuals, in an online primary, they hope to create a cheap alternative to the current $2 billion horse race.

The creators of Unity08 believe that the answer is to open the process to the Internet masses, causing a tectonic shift powerful enough to disrupt the two-party system. They have not, however, lost faith in that system—merely in its power to correct itself. “The two-party system has worked well for 200 years and can continue to do so,” Bailey says, “but only when elections are fought over the middle. Our goal is to jolt the two parties into recognizing this, by drawing them into a fight over the middle rather than allowing them to keep maximizing the appeal to their bases at the extremes.”

Bailey and his confederates envision their enterprise not as the establishment of a permanent third party but as a one-shot affair—a dose of medicine strong enough to bring the two parties to their senses. Only then, they believe, can things truly improve. In other words, they are attempting nothing less than to rescue American politics and put the country back on the right track.


One of the many things that differentiate Unity08 from earlier third-party movements is that its founders aren’t putting forward their own candidate. What they have in mind might instead best be thought of as the “Field of Dreams” model: build a mechanism whereby qualified individuals of insufficient partisanship to win the Republican or Democratic nomination gain a legitimate shot at the White House, and trust that the best candidates will come. The beauty of the whole thing, Rafshoon explained one day over lunch in a Georgetown restaurant, is that it completely upends the way Americans currently choose their presidential nominees. “The 2004 presidential election cost $2.2 billion, and the parties left choosing their candidates to a handful of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire!” he exclaimed. “If we do it over the Net and succeed—we think it’ll cost less than $10 million to set up—then we’ll have proved that you don’t need $2.2 billion to win the presidency, and we’ll have thrown open the process to an online army of millions.” As soon as frustrated citizens have that kind of power, the possibilities for electoral upheaval are practically limitless. “It’s the perfect vehicle for voters to start a draft movement,” Rafshoon said.

The full article is here.

Don’t be misled by the word “green” in the URL, that’s the surname of the author, not a reference to the Green Party. There is no mention of parties other than the Democratics and Republicans. In fact there is no mention of political policy. The organizers of Unity08 don’t seem to much in the way of any policy principles either as Michael Bloomberg, John McCain, and Barak Obama are all mentioned as potential candidates.

They have one thing right: the current system is seriously broken. The hasn’t been a real runoff in a political convention since the Democrats in 1952, and the process is an acknowledged facade. With the complications and permutations introduced into the nomination process, the whole campaign has been a mind-numbing coronation procession, capped by an impenetrable and meaningless ceremony. The centrist initiative could generate a lot of money as well as attract some of the Reform and uninvolved voters that supported Nader in 2000.

It might be theoretically possible to adapt this Internet primary model to a democratize the selection of a progressive unity candidate in 2008, by polling registered Greens, However, the expense is probably prohibitive, the possibility of something going seriously wrong is great, and it would eliminate the highly personal campaign appeals that motivates activists. With all the publicity and money that a non-partisan third party would generate, it may not be practical to run more than a token national campaign, more like Nader in 2004, than Nader in 2000. The money and excitement generated by a viable centrist candidate would work to the detriment of any presidential campaign.

It should be possible to exploit the perception that “things are changing” generated by a Perot-style challenge by coordinating principled local Green/progressive campaigns. The progressive Left has an opportunity to capture the constituent services and just as the major parties are abandoning them. In places like California, Maine, Illinois, or Vermont, where Greens or local Progressive parties have done well, capturing mayoralties, seats in the state legislature, or even in the House of Representatives, would not be out of the question. Managing, or simply participating in local government offers the opportunity to experiment with new strategies in wage, immigration, job creation and social service campaigns. Inevitably, some folks would drop off the wagon and this could amount to nothing more than a municipal socialism experiment, but some political strongholds would give nonvoters at-large a new way to consider politics. This might appear to be too long term and uncertain, but even if the two-party system is discredited, efforts like Unity08 show that the Establishment is capable of coming up with alternatives. Shouldn’t we realistically prepare for the long-haul in independent politics, in addition to social struggle, if the county will ever move socially and politically to the Left?


Posted on January 17, 2007, in Politics. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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