One of our principles at the outset of this audacious project was transparency and openness. Too often in our recent political history, what you see has not been what you get.
For this reason, we are writing you today to lay out the current status of Unity08 and its possible paths going forward.
First, however, it's important to reflect upon what we have accomplished together in shaping the current political discussion and building a sense of what is possible in this crucial election year. Two of our core ideas, the importance of a centrist, bi-partisan approach to the solving of our nation's problems and the possibility of an independent, unity ticket for the presidency, have already come from far-out to mainstream.
Barack Obama, for example, has made the theme of unity and the necessity of bridging the partisan divide an absolutely central theme of his campaign. And just last week, a group of former and present national office holders comprised of independents, Republicans and Democrats met in Oklahoma for the sole purpose of stating their belief that at the present perilous moment, a unity government is the only hope of solving the nation's mounting problems. When you find agreement between the likes of former RNC chairman Bill Brock and Gary Hart, you're onto something.
And, of course, waiting in the wings should the divide persist, is the potential of a serious non-partisan candidacy in the person of the Mayor of New York (two of our founders, Doug Bailey and Gerald Rafshoon, have stepped down from the board and may have more to say about their plans in the near future).
Waiting in the wings, should the divide persist, is the potential of a serious non-partisan candidacy by Mike Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York (two of our founders, Doug Bailey and Gerald Rafshoon, have stepped down from the board and may have more to say about their plans in the near future).
Can Unity08 take full credit for these remarkable developments? Of course not. But through this website, your active involvement, innumerable news stories, op-eds, and public appearances by friends like Sam Waterston, we certainly have helped to bring these ideas to the forefront of the current political discussion.
So in a larger sense, we have accomplished a major portion of what we set out to do. But in the specifics and logistics, we have fallen short.
At the current moment, we don't have enough members or enough money to take the next step toward achieving ballot access in 50 states, reaching the goal of establishing our online convention, and nominating a Unity ticket for president and vice president this coming fall.
The past year has taught us that it's tough to rally millions for a process without a candidate or an issue. In the past, third party movements that have broken through the monopoly of the established parties have always been based on a person (Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 or Ross Perot in the last decade) or a burning issue (slavery in the case of the insurgent Republican party in 1860). Motivating people to fix a broken system that drives candidates to the extremes by creating something more inclusive and sensible has proven to be a lot harder than we expected.
And the Federal Election Commission hasn't helped. The Commission has taken the position that we are subject to their jurisdiction (even though two United States Supreme Court decisions hold exactly opposite) and, therefore, that we are limited to $5000 contributions from individuals (even though the Democratic and Republican Parties are able to receive $25,000 from individuals). Needless to say, this position by the FEC effectively limited our fundraising potential, especially in the crucial early going when we needed substantial money fast to get on with ballot access and the publicity necessary to build our membership.
We were caught in a peculiar catch-22; we wanted to break the dependence on big money by getting lots of small contributions from millions of members, but needed some up-front big money to help generate the millions of members to make the small contributions. And the FEC (in effect, an arm of the parties) didn't let that happen. We have challenged this ruling in the federal courts, but are still awaiting a decision and time is running out.
And so reluctantly, especially given the volatility of the present situation, we're forced to scale back, but not cease our operations, and suspend our ballot access project. Our website will become less interactive (it takes staff to answer hundreds of e-mails a day) and we can't in good faith make the $5 million commitment necessary to make a serious start on ballot access.
But we're not closing our doors. We believe it is important to see our case against the FEC through (both for Unity08 and any similar movement in the future) and be ready to gear up if (when) we win our case and political circumstances warrant later this spring. Unity is in the air right now, and Mayor Bloomberg seems poised to run on his own campaign (and the fact is that two independent candidacies wouldn't work) if the parties leave the sensible center open. But all this could change in a matter of weeks.
We still believe strongly that we have the right idea, but it just might (emphasize "might" because who knows what can happen in the next month) not be the right time. In the meantime, a sincere, profound thanks for your help, involvement and support so far and please keep pushing for the simple, but very powerful, idea that solutions to our nation's problems are going to take ideas and hard work from all Americans, and that a political system whose stock-in-trade is division may well be the biggest problem of all.
Please know that you have already made a difference and are at the forefront of a movement that may yet save the country.
Board of Directors, Unity08
Of course, there are rumors all over the place about Bloomberg thinking about a run, with Sen. Chuck Hagel as a possible VP. That seems to be separate from the Unity08 project. But after repeated denials about running, are we supposed to trust Bloomberg now? The guy even went on TV saying, I'm not running. How is he going to get out of this one? The American people convinced me to change my mind? When? Where? Bloomberg would have been smarter to have taken the honest route and either played coy or not talked about it.
And while I truly want to hope that all these folks toying with the idea of a centrist/bi-partisan movement have the best interests of the nation at heart, I can't help but feel even more leery about them. I see the names of some of the people involved in some of this bi-partisan/centrist thing and know that the American people should probably fear this movement. I could be wrong, but that's my gut instinct.
Here's why: The simple fact is that sometimes consensus, or "consensusitis," as I like to call it, is the worst possible public policy solution. It often brings havoc and destruction upon the American middle class and the working families of our country. It also ends up approving things which never should be approved in the first place. Any time you see one side of a major project or argument start talking about bringing people together, harden your position or run the other way. It is often a trap. I have seen it happen again and again. 'Let's bring everyone together,' they'll say, and the next thing you know, the worst outcome happens. Be fearful of "community studies" and planning arrangements where a whole slew of people say one thing, and then on the report, the exact opposite is written by the one person in control of the study [The 9/11 Commission is a good example of these kinds of errors. They ignored comments by hundreds of witnesses which is no surprise when you find out that the guy who wrote the thing was a member of the NSA. Even Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton are rejecting parts of their own commission at this point].
Take a look at the language this group forwards. It isn't about "divisiveness," it's about left and right; it isn't about joining the nation in reality, it is about keeping the extremes from getting the nominations and dividing the nation. But there are good ideas on both the extreme sides of the national parties ... ideas supported by millions and millions of people.
For example, fair trade versus the cult of free trade are championed by both extremes of each party. I would contend, and I bet the majority of Americans would agree, that this is good, sound public policy. Even Libertarians agree that tariffs are better than income taxes. Yet, every single one of the people thinking about this "centrist/bi-partisan movement" is a free trader and would even call "the Halloween Coalition" of Jerry Brown, Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, and Pat Buchanan as extreme. Well, sorry, they're wrong on this and most Americans know it.
Here is another example: Most of the people involved in this movement are defense hawks and supported the blowing out of federal budgets for more and more defense and intelligence spending. As I have noted before, these are the same people who couldn't defend the country from 9/11 and they all got more and more money! The extremes of both political spectrums, Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, Dennis Kucinich, and Ralph Nader, want these budgets slashed in order to bring about peace in the world and prosperity at home. These people in "the centrist/bi-partisan movement" would stand against that, instead probably wanting more money to be spent on these things. But most Americans are worried about their health care and the economy more than terrorism - by huge margins.
On the same theme, look at social spending. Many of these people support privatization of Social Security because, while they were elected officials, they blew through all the extra Social Security surplus and replaced it with IOUs to foreign banks. The system will go broke in about 35 years. Instead of fixing it - by slashing defense spending, foreign aid, and other things, along with eliminating loopholes on corporate welfare, subsidies, and giveaways - all of these people want to cut social spending. Most Americans polled don't support this. They support putting the money back and having everyone pay their fair share, whatever that is. This policy isn't just coming from the liberal perspective. Even Ron Paul says we have to cut the foreign war money and pay for our own people. Think about that for a second.
Those are just three public policy issues where these people are dead wrong and the extremes are correct. So, who is really the problem here?
Initially, I thought the Unity08 idea was an interesting one and even signed on to vote in the online primary. Since I'm an indie, why not? But, as I said when I first heard about this, getting on all 50 state ballots is a huge undertaking. It can't be done without the candidates being ready. You can't have an online convention in September and hope to get on enough ballots to compete. The system is rigged against that. So, from the start, this group was going to have problems.
In the long haul, as they have hinted at in this letter, 2008 might not be the election to attempt this. But if not now, when?
While thinking about all this though, here are some other ideas this group could work on. Maybe they should analyze ballot access laws [Richard Winger of Ballot Access News could help with that] and attempt to change the laws in each state to make it easier to get indies on the ballot late in the game. That would be worthy of a massive fundraising effort on the part of this group. Pick the worst states and fix the problems. This way a future online convention and late-starting indie campaign like this group suggested might easily become a reality - especially in light of the possibility that the nominees of both parties, especially Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side and Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney on the Republican side, might be extremely divisive. That would be just one worthy endeavor of this group.