I am convinced that this country needs a serious third-party presidential candidacy in 2008. I have written a series of columns recently praying, cajoling, scheming, plotting and wishing for the third way to appear.
In response, I got a cyber-boatload of e-mails that said, "Where can I sign up?" My response has been, "I wish I knew."
Now I know!
You can sign up at http://www.unity08.com. Or call 1-877-UNITY08. That's 1-877-UNITY08. Operators are standing by (I hope; I didn't actually ask).
The idea of Unity08 is to have citizens enroll in the movement online and nominate a unity slate by Internet voting. The goal is for this to happen in the first part of 2008 so that the organization can be sure to get on all state ballots.
What makes a unity slate? The presidential and vice presidential nominees must be from different parties or be independent. The Web-enabled newly active citizens would provide the foot soldiers and dollars for the campaign. It's pretty simple.
Their goal, unlike mine, is not to create a third party. They want this unity ticket to run and win in 2008 to give electroshock therapy to a polarized, petty, ineffectual party duopoly incapable of addressing serious issues in effective ways. If the movement lasts beyond 2008, fine, but that's not their primary concern at all.
The driving forces of Unity08 are a group of consultants-emeritus, Gerald Rafshoon and Hamilton Jordan, who worked for Jimmy Carter, and Doug Bailey, who worked for Gerald Ford and then helped start online political news ventures. You may recall that Mr. Carter beat Mr. Ford in 1976; now these foes are friends. Get it? Unity.
They also have brought in some smart college students and one of the best direct mail fundraisers in politics, Angus King, a former independent governor of Maine (and my Independent Party's candidate for a Maine Senate seat in '08).
Another founder is a "serial entrepreneur" and Republican-flavored banker from Denver named David Maney. He has a great quote: "The biggest unserved consumer market in the U.S. is the political middle."
How true. This gang deeply understands the myth of polarization in America today. Political parties are polarized. Some citizens who are highly politically active or ideological are polarized and their bile is at record levels. American voters as a population are not polarized; but they are only offered polarized options in elections. This isn't a theory; it is the evidence found in virtually every poll you could drum up about the public's views on the most basic civic issues.
What the petty party duopoly has become skilled at is avoiding big issues and blowing hard on hot air issues. "Isn't it ironic that the week after we launch, the Gay Marriage Amendment to be followed by the Flag Burning Amendment takes up the time of the Senate," Rafshoon wrote to me. "Kind of makes our case."
Unity08 is primarily an effort to fix this problem, to help the government perform better. It is not, I think, a trendy attempt to revolutionize politics. It is not American Elections 3.0. It is not the kind of stuff the 2004 version of Howard Dean and hardcore Internet democracy advocates talk about.
Unity08 is not primarily an Internet story, though the media tends to paint it that way. The Internet is a tool for this project — and an entirely logical one. It is the most efficient and effective way to organize mass group communication. It is an absolutely viable way for people to be active and heard without joining political teams they don't believe in. Voting on the Internet can be safe and makes all the sense in the world; smart people have been pushing it for years. My strong sense is that if these guys get better ideas about how to proceed, they'll use them. And that is a very Webby thing to do.
Unity08 does not have an issues platform, which bugs some people. Not me. How could it? Is there any American who believes the parties' platforms have been important documents for government anytime in the past 30 years? Presumably, the candidates who compete for the Unity08 nomination will express their views, positions and basic worldviews and that's what people will vote for or against.
Will good candidates emerge? Will characters like Michael Bloomberg, Sam Nunn, Colin Powell, Bill Bradley or Warren Buffett be interested? Who knows? Could the movement get hijacked by a rabid right Nativist tsunami or a fringe left PC posse, thereby defeating the whole mission? Sure. If one party nominates a centrist, semi-maverick like Mark Warner or John McCain, is Unity08 a waste? Perhaps.
It's easy as pie to bite holes in this adventure. But I'm not going to do that. Of course, Unity08 isn't a completely flawless and realistic tactical masterpiece like my Independent Party's strategy of nominating Michael Bloomberg that would fund a huge movement, field a full slate of Senate candidates and then announce a full Cabinet in early 2008. But this group is onto a good thing.
Andrew Ferguson, a smart conservative, wrote that Unity08's attempt to break the two-party grip is just the latest "recurring fantasy of U.S. politics." Fine, there are worse things than fantasies. Besides, as the mid-20th century American philosophers E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen once said, "The dreams that you dare to dream really do come true." So there.
That number again, 1-877-UNITY08.
Dick Meyer is the Editorial Director of CBSNews.com.
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