Monday, October 16, 2006

Disunity '06

Popular Perception and Partisan Political Polarization.
po·lar·i·za·tion (pō'lər-ĭ-zā'shən)
A concentration, as of groups, forces, or interests, about two conflicting or contrasting positions.
Apparently, partisan political polarization is a bad thing. In a recent Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute, David Boaz and David Kirby claim:
"The main theme of political commentary in this decade is polarization. Since the battles over the impeachment of President Clinton and the Florida vote in 2000, pundits have been telling us that we're a country split down the middle, red vs. blue, liberal vs. conservative. Political analysts talk about base motivation and the shrinking of the swing vote. But the evidence says they are wrong." editor Dick Meyer is a favorite of this blog. His '04 column on divided government is highlighted among the permanent links listed in the sidebar on the right. He recently opined on the state of political polarization in America, with his article "Marketing Polarization For Fun & Votes"
"...the standard uber-narrative of American politics and society at this point in history: the country is polarized — red and blue, "two Americas," and 50/50 America. This is culture war and you better know whose side you are on. Despite its canonization in conventional wisdom, polarization is a theory, not a fact. It's a theory I don't fully buy, primarily because I've been convinced otherwise by Stanford political scientist Morris Fiorina. In "Culture War: The Myth of a Polarized America," Fiorina argues that the political elites are indeed polarized, to the point of rabidity. But a great swath of the non-politicized, regular population isn't polarized, isn't partisan (indeed is anti-partisan) and has a rather similar and even tolerant view of the basic civic values. They are just given polarized choices in the voting booth."
If anyone should know about partisan polarization, it is the team over at Unity08. They launched a bold new political organization based on nothing more than being against political partisan polarization in America today. On the front page they declare 'Eight out of ten Americans believe Congress is too polarized to solve our nation's problems." Doug Bailey, a member of the Unity08 Founders Council was interviewed in the Washington Post shortly after the organization was announced.
"Would Unity serve as a moderating influence on both parties, helping to marginalize the extremists?

Doug Bailey: Unity08 will draw on members of both the big parties who have been alienated by their leadership. We want everybody. We feel that only about 25% of the electorate is really satisfied with either of the two big parties...

Will this exciting UNITY08 consultant party have any room for bloggers? It seems like they are making a lot of noise, and might have to be accommodated in any matrix that includes movers-and-shakers.

Doug Bailey: Bloggers are welcome of course. But sometimes one gets the impression that the bloggers feel that they are talking back and forth across the fence (or barricades) mostly to each other. So if you are a blogger in the middle we especially want to hear you. You represent the 60% of Americans who don't feel they are at either end of the spectrum."
Hmmm... Maybe they are not the authorities on polarization I hoped they would be. Between the website that says 80% of Americans are against polarization, to Doug Baily starting the interview saying 75% of Americans are against polarization, and by the end of the interview saying 60% are against polarization, I guess I am a little confused. It is a puzzlement. - Do I really want to be part of an organization whose base of support among the American people dropped by 15 percentage points over the course of a single interview?

But, perhaps I am picking nits. Perhaps, as a blogger, I am, as Doug hints, actually part of the problem. Perhaps I am among that 20% (or 25% or 40%) that think what we need now, is more partisan political polarization in Washington, not less. But how can anyone support what Joe Gandleman of The Moderate Voice calls a "deadly poison"?:
"The body politic has been steadily and quietly fed a huge dose of Ricin the past 20 years in the form of intense polarization and rapidly deteriorating political rhetoric that has replaced issue and solution oriented debate with vilification and destruction. "
Wow. Surely, no one could be in favor of a deadly poison like Ricin. No wonder 80% (or 75% or 60%) of the electorate is against it. Even the most polarized partisan blogs of the right and left, are in harmonious uniified agreement that partisan polarization is a bad thing (although, the reader may be shocked to learn that the right thinks that left is to blame, and the left thinks the right is to blame).

Many prominent columnists have written favorably about the Unity08 mission, particulary in the flurry of positive coverage they received after the initial announcement in the spring. Among the cheerleaders, the aforementioned Dick Meyer of CBS, David Broder of the Washington Post, and blogger Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice.

But, I am still confused. What does it really mean to be against polarization? If you are against polarization - just exactly what are you for? Is it some sort of council of elders comprised of moderates from both parties convening around a table to develop solutions for the country? Sort of a Council of Elrond, but with Republicans and Democrats instead of hobbits and elves? Problem being, our country and our government is just not built that way. As near as I can tell, political polarization means holding a point of view on politics, and party and issues that is different from other American's view of politics, and party, and issues. And communicating that difference with conviction and strength. Maybe with a little sarcasm thrown in. Possibly including some occasional invective. Perhaps even with some mild profanity.

In a more recent post, the Unity08 team explains that "polarization is not the same as disagreement". Disagreement is good. It's healthy. A democracy depends upon both its people and politicians questioning and debating the critical issues.. but it can be done civilly without blinding bias."

One is tempted to suggest that one man's bias is another man's conviction. Lets just say I am dissatisfied with what I have seen to date from Unity08. In a post today, Doug Baily explains that they have been so busy, that they are overdue updating the website with their progress. A little odd, because as near as I can tell, the website is all there is to the Unity08 initiative. But there you have it:
"We’ve been going so fast and furious that an update is long-overdue. We just decided that there was no sense competing with the present ongoing election frenzy in seeking coverage of all of this. (That frenzy in every way simply enhances the likely success of Unity08. Has anyone seen a bigger political mess with less leadership from all sides?)."
Baily says they are working to get on the ballot in all 50 states, raise a million bucks, and lay down the ground rules for picking issues. I'll leave it to Jim at the "Irregular Times", who has assumed the important role of Designated Unity08 Heckler to sort those claims out.

For my part, I am disappointed with the cavalier way Unity08 dismisses the 2006 midterm election. Possibly it is just a simple recognition by the Founder's Council, that as soon as they actually stand for postions on issues, craft an actual platform, and get behind real live candidates that are running for office, they will, ummm... no longer be able to hold on to anything that resembles "Unity". Best to delay that as long as possible. Certainly there is no point in risking taking a stand on an issue, before they have rasied a a few million dollars.

The 2006 mid-terms are even more important than the 2008 presidential election. Today, we have one party that is control of the exectutive branch as well as holding majorities in both legislative branches. As a direct consequence of that single party control, we have record breaking deficits, runaway spending, a huge wasteful new entitlement program we cannot afford, erosion of constitutional protection of our liberties, the country and military committed to an unnecessary war and occupation executed with such incompetence that it may now be unwinnable, complete abrogation of the congressional oversight responsibilities and breakdown of the traditional checks and balances on power in our government. Just my opinion. Now in my simpleminded view, the solution here is not to find ways to hold a civil discourse with the party in power to politely register dissatisfaction with the path they have taken. My view is that very first step is solving these problems, is to rip some the power away from the single party on watch when the problems were created, and give that power to the oppostion party. This is a fairly simple solution that can be implemented on November 7 of this year.

Lets call this solution "Disunity06" or the "Divided Government Solution".

Now, I'll admit to experiencing publicity envy, when Unity08 was splashed all over the news shortly after I launched this blog. But, something really interesting has happened in the last few months:

While the divided government meme has not reached the peak activity attained by Unity08 at their launch, it is clear that "Disunity06" is now a much more active topic of discussion, and Unity08 has fallen back to noise level in the blogosphere.

So, for any Unity08 refugees, who are looking to actually participate in this critical electoral process in 2006, I humbly submit for your consideration, the Disunity06 alternative and a brief compare and contrast:

Unity08 vs. Disunity06

Reason for existence:
"Goal One is the election of a Unity Ticket for President and Vice-President of the United States in 2008 – headed by a woman and/or man from each major party or by an independent who presents a Unity Team from both parties."

Goal one is the election of a divided federal government in 2006, where the executive and majorities in the legislative branches of government are divided across each major party, in order to obtain the fiscal responsibility, spending growth restraint, oversight, and good governance that is completely absent with unified single party control.

Position on 2006 Midterm Election
Unity 08
What? There is an election in 2006??

Vote for better government. Vote for divided government. Vote for Democrats to take a majority in at least one house of congress - preferably the House of Representatives. If the Democrats achieve a majority in both the House and Senate in 2006, vote for a Republican president in 2008. If the Republicans maintain a majority in the House and Senate in 2006, vote for a Democratic President in 2008.

Infrastucture needed to achieve goals.
"Our financing theory is that with a million dollar “bridge” fund of 200 contributions of $5000, we will be able to finance the effort fully until such point in early 2007 when the small contribution funds contributed by willing delegates can self-finance the operation."
"We have been busy briefing potential 2008 candidates and their staffs...It is our goal to be able to show them, as time moves along, that we can put 5-10 million delegates in the hall, get a slot for the ticket on every state ballot, and enable them to raise $100,000,000 or more in campaign funds from the delegate list after the convention has chosen them as the ticket. That will draw leaders."
"We will start the ballot access process immediately after this November’s elections. Steptoe & Johnson has done exhaustive research on all 50 states, and while there will be places where it will be tough, it looks a lot easier than many of us expected."
"The Rules Committee is busy at its task. It is giving a lot of attention, by the way, to the process of delegates drafting a candidate or ticket."
"A solidly-funded movement of up to 20,000,000 Americans can be built online in order to nominate a Unity Ticket of their choice for 2008."
"We are not looking to build a new and permanent party. That might happen, but our objective is to fix the old parties. A Unity Ticket in office for one term or even taking part in just one election can bring new ideas, new integrity and new leaders to the fore."

No contributions. No infrastructure. No political party. No delegates. No convention. No leaders. No candidates. Just common sense, and ...

Just Vote Divided.

SPECIAL NOTE: This post took longer than I anticipated. The Carnival of Divided Government has been postponed for one day, and will be posted tomorrow (Tuesday).


Roly said...

I love discussions such as this. You and I together have an opportunity to agree to disagree and express our opinions. Amazingly, that is the very same thing that Unity08 is attempting to fight for as well. I am a follower of the Unity08 movement and am hoping to see some positive outcome from it soon. However, I saw a few flaws in your perception on what Unity08 is about, so I come now to present to you a perspective I do not believe you have seen and should you still feel it is not a good program, then I encourage you to continue blogging your opinion on it.

Primarily, I want to say that a democratic government with opposing political parties have been essential in the history of American politics. They provide different perspectives to approach whatever situation should arise. Some are realists while others are idealists and in different times and toward different countries the two different policies may be used in foreign affairs. They provide opposing viewpoints on domestic issues and how we should approach the economy. A balance of these positions are what have made this country great.

However, your reference to Morris Fiorina makes me pensive. If the people are not polarized, but they are only given polarized choices, then is America not a country polarized BY FORCE of the political elites?

Another important thing I am forced to identify is that you are either clearly mistaken in what you interpreted or that Doug Bailey had a bad interview. The polling data is is entirely clear on the website what the Princeton Survey Research found. In case it was difficult for you to find, here is the link:

Your humor is amazing, I have to give you that. Council of Elrond with hobbits and elves, great job! This is however a serious problem and we cannot just sit by and use LotR (as much as we all love it) to poke fun at something so dire. Unity08, I can guarantee you, is working very hard at doing everything it says it is trying to do. It needs time though, so don't rule them out just yet. The people behind the initiative are go-getters and straight-shooters, but like most great things time and money is needed before they can break those barricades.

A critical thing to point out is how you say that Unity08 dismisses the 2006 midterm election. They didn't. As a matter of fact, a group of high school students, part of a subgroup known as the Unity Petition campaign went out to the polls and asked voters to not only elect someone into office, but more importantly, send them a message to play their part in stopping the partisan bickering on Capitol Hill. I suggest you google that and find out more about it. You might find several news stories on these high school students across the country getting involved in our American system.

Although I disagree that mid-term elections are more important than a Presidential one, by very virtue that the President wields more power than a Senator (just my perception of politics I guess), I do agree that mid-term elections in 2006 were huge. I even agree that the House and Senate party majority leadership needed to change to bring back a balanced government.

In theory, you are absolutely right. In most decades of our history this would have solved the problem. However, I urge you to take a step back and look at the situation we face. The Democrats and Republicans would much rather filibuster the opposing party's bill than discuss and compromise over it. It is either one extreme or the other. That's like going to a steakhouse and being given the choices of bloody rare or black and burnt. And many people may like it either of those ways, but I do not believe a majority of the American people like either of those options. So back to my earliest point, if those are the only options they're given by the steakhouse waiter, then how can they get the steak they want. I'll tell you: They walk to the kitchen and force it on the chef himself.

In essence, this is exactly what Unity08 wants to do. Again, a divided government is what our Founding Fathers wanted, no doubt. However, our Founding Fathers (with the exception of a sword-carrying vice president), could get along and discuss the issues they needed to. A divided government is the answer to most democracies, however ours has become so aggressive toward one another that it leaves us with no choice but to forced upon the government such a large change that it will affect the entire Capitol. Unity08 has a bigger picture than just electing a President and Vice President from different countries. It further wants to use the information age to get Americans involved in their political parties. It also wants the elected Unity08 ticket to work together and put in straight-shooting active people from both sides of the fence that will get things done because of their expertise in the field they will be chosen into (and not just because they are friends of the family or members of the winning party). It also wants to reform the way lobbyists affect the decisions of Congress. It definitely even wants to reform the parties so that they provide more stability and less hostility toward the other ones. Now by electing a Unity08 ticket that doesn't necessarily mean it will happen, but this ticket can certainly be the catalyst that will get our country back on the right track so that we can return to the simple solution of a "divided government" as you suggest a few years down the road.

I thank you for reading and I am eager to hear your opinion.

mw said...

Thanks for your comment and stopping by. I am not going to delve into a point by point debate on your commentary here, as much of this has been rendered moot by the results of the 2006 midterms. The American electorate has (to use your metaphor) ordered the steak the way they want it (divided), and the chefs are cooking it now. I don't think we will be sending it back.

I will make a couple of points. I did not state that midterms in general were more important that presidential elections in general. I did state that the 2006 Midterm was more important than the 2008 Presidential election, an assertion I stand by. As we have seen from actual results, the government has taken a very positive turn since the midterm election, which reinforces my point. No thanks to Unity08, who failed to support any actual candidates or stake out any actual positions in the midterms.

I was indeed aware of the "Uniity Petition" campaign, and wrote about it in a subsequent post "Disunity06 kicks Unity08 Butt". Perhaps you are the one who should have done a little more googling. I think it is great that Unity08 inspired high school and college students to get involved in the political process. Their efforts would have had more meaning if they were directed to support an actual candidate or real issues rather than a meaningless petition.

In that post I sum up my views of Unity08 with this:

"It is just so painfully obvious that the "unity" in Unity08 will last exactly as long as they support no actual candidates, have no platform, and have no opinion on any actual issues, and will not last one minute longer."

Finally, I note from your blog that you are a midshipmen at Annapolis, and will conclude by expressing my appreciation and gratitude for your commitment and service to our country. Good luck.