Many in this blog’s neighborhood are upset with Bush – the deficits, insufficient troops in Iraq, his immigration proposals. They are unlikely to find most Democratic positions attractive. Nor do many serious & long-time Democrats always like the choices they are offered or the issues on which those candidates intend to run. Congress’s poll numbers are as dismal as (and often worse than) Bush’s, indicating dissatisfaction with not only the President as spokesman for one party but both parties in general. Certainly, we often feel (as in the rather disproportionate shock at the search of Jefferson’s office versus at the length of time during which Jefferson ignored a subpoena) Congressional interests are more in their perqs than responsibilities. And we often feel we are watching grandstanding rather than problem solving.
Fertile ground for a third party, as Instapundit notes. And so “Unity 08″, described by its founders, Hamilton Jordan and Doug Bailey, on Lehrer, hopes to meet that need. Its breadth & openness is breathtaking.
Whether they see – or not – Peggy Noonan’s argument is less certain. She argues, in ”Third Time: America may be ready for a new political party”, that
I don’t see any potential party, or potential candidate, on the scene right now who can harness the disaffection of growing portions of the electorate. But a new group or entity that could define the problem correctly–that sees the big divide not as something between the parties but between America’s ruling elite and its people–would be making long strides in putting third party ideas in play in America again
Bailey & Jordan are part of the “ruling elite” – at an early age, Jordan was an operative who wielded real power in the Carter years. At times they understand & other times demonstrate that disconnect. They were not politicians with a cause nor scholars with a topic. Nor are they impassioned citizens drawn into politics because of personal & powerful experiences (to give Sheehan credit, she does have a point of view – as crazy as it may sometimes seem.) Less idealogues than campaigners, they ask a pragmatic question: “How can we use these technologies to serve democracy in this country?”
Their blog is a work in progress. They propose streamlining & organizing comments. They already indicate open topics, perspectives, solutions, candidates. This is a post-modern political party, a post-modern site: discussion & nomination, but no substance–we can inscribe on it our own ideas. They have fallen in love with the idea of an alternative medium – they believe it will untangle discussion from the constraints imposed by electioneering. This is the C-span of parties, the A&L of conventions. Their assumption: consensus exists outside the closed world of Washington.
Woodruff seems doubtful: She points out that if dissatisfaction is so widespread, why isn’t it arising from the grass roots, why aren’t more third party candidates elected to local offices? While candidates seem unattractive, they appear unattractive in different ways – sometimes consensus seems “throw the rascals out.” We know, however, that with some flexibility broad agreement could be reached rather often – we sometimes suspect such compromises are not made because that means the issue is no longer useful in fund raising. Bailey & Jordan see the party systems as ossified.
In terms of a campaign, however, defining substance seems important. Third parties have trouble because both Congress and the Executive share an interest in incumbency. Nonetheless, whatever success they attain is because they define a problem people want solved. Political operatives can sound impassioned (think of Carville) but their passion is seldom about problem solving; frankly, Hamilton Jordan and Doug Bailey don’t even communicate that energy – partially because they are quite understandably appalled at such approaches. They tell us they intend to “build a platform” for “ordinary people” and then nominate a president at an “online nominating convention” – reaching more than would an early caucus, where decisions are often made by a small group of voters. Traditional parties “appealed to their base vote in terms of issues that for the most part the middle do not perceive as crucial.” They acknowledge such appeals brought out strong showings in the last presidential election, but see that turn-out as not being from the large middle.
Third parties have traditionally been inspired by issues. But Jordan & Bailey discuss such issues with the neutrality of Brian Lamb. Nonetheless, their reasoning seems to be an example of elite thinking. First, as Woodruff observes, 75% of the people in America don’t have access to the internet. Sure, the percentage that vote in those early caucuses is smaller, but the primaries are widely accessible. Their (I suspect unconscious) bias is toward the more affluent, more verbal – people like them. In short, elites.
They don’t mention immigration, which realigns many old party perspectives. They believe issues like abortion and gay marriage are “wedge” rather than “crucial.” (Although these are precisely the issues on which agreement is a good deal broader than the options politicians offer & issues that are destructive of our social fabric in the bitterness they inspire.) Jordan & Bailey consider global warming & budget deficits neglected issues. But both have been part of the public discussion – Gingrich’s “Contract” and Al Gore’s obsession. (If they are thinking this party could be a launch for either, then they are thinking as party strategists rather than innovators.) Indeed, some “ordinary people” see global warming as a wedge rather than crucial issue.
But this is those guys. They offer public space of apparent breadth. The comments aren’t as easy to negotiate as I would like nor as organized, but a sampling found most of the old issues. Not surprisingly, however, the solutions tended toward the extremes (32-hour work weeks, for instance). Perhaps a consensus will emerge, but I suspect it would be reached more quickly with more structure, above all, more leadership. They seem to be saying, well, have a go – and figure a leader will emerge. Well, maybe. A real problem is that this “party” will not have the depth of down-ticket nominees nor practical applications of the principles embodied in the platform. This may leave an executive freer to improvise, but with fewer natural allies.
An issue to which alienated members of both parties could adhere is likely to garner votes. They want to attract candidates that would not succeed in either party primary but appeal to the country as a whole. Many describe the polarizing nature of the primary system. Woodruff argues Gore, Kerry and Bush were not really fringe candidates. If they were, then middle-of-the-road candidates might well succeed, enacting moderate ideas. But if Woodruff is right, the extremists are most alienated. And Unity is vulnerable to hijacking by a core of hard, ideologically driven net enthusiasts. Without down ticket nominees, ideas are less likely to be tested and modified.
Who is most likely to attract voters through the net and how active are those who are attracted likely to be in terms of voting and, indeed, getting out other voters? If the result is someone Daily Kos finds attractive, I have my doubts “ordinary Americans” will be impressed. I have more confidence in someone we would like – but that goes without saying.
Of course, on the other hand, I don’t have much problem with Bush’s brand of Republicanism. I’ve newly returned to the fold. But I do realize I’m in the minority.