Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Presidential Ticket for the Indies

The partisan in me is hesitant to praise a third-party ticket in an election year that's looking to be a strong one for Democrats, but I think the organization called Unity 08 that's formed to put together an independent ticket in the 2008 presidential election deserves some attention.

Importantly, however, the group is not actually attempting to create a third party. As it writes on its website: "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."

When I first heard about Unity 08, it just seemed to me to be a centrist group that simply worked for a middle ground on all issues. And while that's true to a certain extent, after looking into it a little more, it's clear that there's more a play than just compromise. In fact, the main crux of the organization is to eschew the power and influence special interests have over both political parties today.

According to the website: "Unity08 strongly believes the corrupting influence of special interest money is a major cause of today’s fundamentally broken political system. Lobbyist money plus pandering to the intense ideological bases by both parties yields the blame-game partisan bickering that has destroyed voter confidence. No other issue will get solved until this one does."

In this sense, it's a very populist-oriented group. In fact, any registered voter can be a nominating delegate. All it takes is signing up over the Internet and you get a vote on who gets on the Unity ticket in 2008. The only requirement is that the presidential and vice presidential nominees are from different parties or not affiliated with any party.

And looking through the list of organization leaders, it's clear this group isn't made up of a bunch of slouches who happen to have web skills. The Advisory Council has two former governors, some top academics, a handful of business leaders, and Sam Waterston (Assistant DA Jack McCoy on "Law & Order").

The group's take on the issues is also refreshing:

Unity08 divides issues facing the country into two categories: Crucial Issues — on which America’s future safety and welfare depend; and Important Issues — which, while vital to some, will not, in our judgment, determine the fate or future of the United States.

In our opinion, Crucial Issues include: Global terrorism, our national debt, our dependence on foreign oil, the emergence of India and China as strategic competitors and/or allies, nuclear proliferation, global climate change, the corruption of Washington’s lobbying system, the education of our young, the health care of all, and the disappearance of the American Dream for so many of our people.

By contrast, we consider gun control, abortion and gay marriage important issues, worthy of debate and discussion in a free society, but not issues that should dominate or even crowd our national agenda.

In our opinion — since the disintegration of the Soviet Union — our political system seems to have focused more attention on the “important issues” than the “crucial issues.” One result: The political parties have been built to address the interests of their “base” but have failed to address the realities that impact most Americans.

This is a bold statement in the sense that it puts the base of each party in the same boat with the special interests -- both, in the view of Unity 08, have hijacked our country's two major parties and, in effect, our country's political process.

Most simply put, the founding belief of Unity 08 is that the majority of the country is not polarized -- it's the political parties that are polarized, along with the minority of the population that closely ascribes itself with one of those parties (that is, the folks often writing and reading political blogs), and the special interests have gladly funded the polarization to accomplish their own narrow and self-serving goals.

This is a trenchant message, and one that gets at the age-old question: Do most Americans generally eschew politics because they don't care, or because they feel the political parties they're forced to choose between at election time don't care about them?

The success of the Unity ticket could help answer that question.

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