We learned this week that former Sen. Sam Nunn, a conservative Democrat from Georgia who voluntarily left politics more than a decade ago, is considering teaming up with Unity08 as a way of returning to the national stage. "My own thinking is, it may be a time for the country to say, 'Timeout. The two-party system has served us well, historically, but it's not serving us now,'" Nunn said
OK, so what would this third party offer the voters? TNR's
Britt Peterson sat down with the long-time Washington insiders behind the project to hear their pitch about the problems with Washington insiders. Their vision for a party is surprisingly thin
Anyone looking for larger ideas than a return to civility won't get much from Unity '08, however. In our conversation, [Douglas Bailey, a former media advisor to Gerald Ford] and [Gerald Rafshoon, a former media advisor to Jimmy Carter] wouldn't take any policy stands, deflecting questions until after a candidate has been chosen in a "Virtual Convention" slated for next summer. "We're not interested in spelling out or even having the delegates spell out a precise platform, where, by God, you must meet these tests or we don't want you to run," Bailey tells me. "That doesn't make much sense." Doing so, he says, would repel candidates, not attract them. Rafshoon, too, focuses on process and ethics, rather than issues. "Campaigns are run on the negatives," he tells me. "That's the promise they make to the people: 'He's no good, vote for me!'"
But the issues they do discuss don't even seem that compatible. Bailey mentions three times the only Unity '08 issue that's historically a Republican idÃ©e fixe: entitlements and the deficit. "Has there been an effort by a single candidate in either party to talk seriously about the deficit and entitlements?" he asks me. On the other side of the table, Rafshoon does seem sympathetic to the idea of a candidate focusing on the deficit (he mentions in passing that one of Ross Perot's successes was to help set Clinton's budget-balancing agenda). But balance this issue with Unity '08's other, admittedly spare, stated concerns, and the whole thing begins to look a little contradictory: cutting down on entitlements while also expanding health care, reducing income inequality, and cleaning up the environment? How well can a platform built on flimsy, mismatched legs stand?
Actually, it can't.
Third parties, if they hope to compete, have to offer voters some kind of policy positions. Unity08, on the other hand, is a policy-free gimmick. It's a "party" that will "nominate" a bipartisan ticket in '08, simply for the sake of bipartisanship. What does the party think about the war? It doesn't have a position. Culture war issues? Nada. Trade? Domestic security? The environment? Nothing but a blank page.
The party, apparently, believes that politicians should be more "civil." Leaders should be more open to "compromise." There should be less negative campaigning and more solution-oriented discussions.
It all sounds perfectly pleasant, just so long as you over look how vacuous and incoherent the whole undertaking is. It may be inconvenient, but Americans have substantive policy disagreements. Those differences matter
. If Unity08's leaders and enthusiasts want to join in that debate, terrific; the more the merrier.
But running a presidential campaign that intentionally
prefers process and politeness over substance and policy isn't going to do anyone any favors.