Will An Open Marketplace Produce Consensus?

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.

5 thoughts on “Will An Open Marketplace Produce Consensus?”

  1. I have neither forgotten nor forgiven Hamilton Jerdan (his pronunciation). Reading that name made me run for a safe place to gag in.

  2. Has anyone noticed the timeline of Bush’s ‘deviation’ from core conserative issues?
    Every time the left produces some new oddness, Bush feels safe moving his agenda lateraly. Like maybe it’s linked…
    (irony. or not. could be.)

  3. Unfortunately history tells us that there is a third alternative. The same Harris ‘trust’ poll which places the executive at 28% and Congress [along with journalists] at 10%, places the military at 47%. It certainly appears to be the one public institution that is willing to clean its own house. Hugh Hewitt mentioned in passing a few days ago on his blog that he is going to read up on the passions, politics, and power towards the end of the Roman Republic. While history doesn’t exactly repeat itself, human behavior is consistent. Think about it, who do we turn to when all other organs of government fail? Which governmental organization has been responsible for the establishment of two solid democracies in the 20th Century and now appears to be doing the same in this one. Jefferson’s warning in the Declaration of Independence goes unheeded – “…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. “

    When does the unthinkable become thinkable? We may yet see played out in our lifetime:

    “CASCA –
    Why, there was a crown offered him: and being
    offered him, he put it by with the back of his hand,
    thus; and then the people fell a-shouting.
    BRUTUS –
    What was the second noise for?
    CASCA –
    Why, for that too.
    They shouted thrice: what was the last cry for?
    CASCA –
    Why, for that too.
    BRUTUS –
    Was the crown offered him thrice?
    CASCA –
    Ay, marry, was’t, and he put it by thrice, every
    time gentler than other, and at every putting-by
    mine honest neighbours shouted.” Julius Caesar, Act 1. Scene II, William Shakespeare

  4. Unfortunately, their poll reveals much about their particular slant on the issues.
    – from their site —
    Which issue do you want to debate first at Unity08.com?:
    Global terrorism
    National debt
    Dependence on foreign oil
    Public education
    Health care
    Situation in Iraq
    Other (post comment)

    Several interesting implanted axioms there, from the term “Global Terrorism” to that scare word “Dependence”.

    Is this the Euston Manifesto for America? It’s clearly a big-D Democrat, left of center view.

  5. I see several problems with this:
    High legal/regulatory barriers to running for office as an independent or 3rd-party candidate. Likely cost of ballot access alone for a new 3rd-party presidential candidate nationwide would be on the close order of $10 million (it cost Perot $7M). You cannot, repeat, cannot, just start up a new political party like opening a lemonade stand on the street in front of your house.
    Gerrymandered congressional districts (which is why I think there is almost no chance of a Dem takeover of the House this year; if few seats change hands, consider this demonstrated to be a nearly insurmountable obstacle).
    Size difference between online and offline subcultures. Bloggers, political ones in particular, seem to think that everybody’s as interested in politics as they are. News flash: the rest of the world is not very much like the blogosphere. At all. And it’s much bigger.
    To be blunt, attachment disorders among many members of the online subculture. It’s easy to sound determined in an e-mail. But anything that requires getting out from behind a computer keyboard simply wipes out the vast majority of these people. See the behavior of Dean’s supporters during the Iowa caucuses in ’04. Numerous accounts noted how they would walk into the room, look around, and just sit down, unable to approach or interact with anyone.
    In fact, why not just say it? Two words: Howard Dean. Not the President of the United States in this universe. There’s a reason.
    Poor candidate quality. Challengers must be motivated, competent, and running for vulnerable seats. If all three conditions are satisfied, they have a good (though less than 50-50) chance of victory. If any of the three conditions is not satisfied, the likelihood of victory drops to 1-2%.
    The Libertarian Party is another example of the difficulties involved. For a while it was pretty good at getting ballot access and at electing people to local, non-partisan positions. It experienced a modest upsurge in the early ’90s but lost considerable support to the Perot phenomenon and was pretty much wrecked by the idiotic Harry Browne campaigns of ’96 and ’00. Much of its core constituency, such as it is, has now abandoned it due to the irrelevance of isolationism in the wake of 9/11.

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