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A Political Bridge for 2008
Posted on May 1, 2007
Steve Kornacki, community outreach director of Unity08, the online independent party, speaks with Truthdig about his organization’s vision for a third way in the coming election, why our political system is broken and how he intends to fix it.
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James Harris: This is Truthdig. James Harris sitting down with the esteemed Josh Scheer, and on the phone we have Steve Kornacki. He’s the community outreach director for Unity08. It’s a new political party, and it is their hope that they can bridge Republican and Democratic ideals. I know you [readers] may think it’s a far-fetched effort. Steve, tell me about what you guys are trying to accomplish over at Unity08.
Steve Kornacki: It’s a collaboration between veterans of two different parties and from sort of a different era of American politics. Doug Bailey is a Republican. Sort of an old-school Republican, in the sense that he, you’d call him a moderate Republican. He ... worked for Gerald Ford. That was probably his most prominent campaign experience. He teamed up with Hamilton Jordan, who was Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff, sort of the architect of the Carter presidential campaign in ‘76, and Jerry Rafshoon, who was Jimmy Carter’s ... communications director during that ‘76 campaign. So you have three people, and two were on Carter’s side in ‘76 and one of them was on [President] Ford’s side in ‘76. And yet they’ve come together in the year 2008 to sort of say there was an era in American politics when we could have our differences. We could even campaign against each other but at the end of the day we were able to sort of seek out the common ground that existed, to not make politics overly personal. This sort of, you know, personal-combat nature of politics that’s taken hold in the last 25 years wasn’t so prominent back then. It didn’t affect them even though they ran against each other.
And you’re looking at a 2008 election that’s coming up and what they [Bailey, Jordan and Rafshoon] saw and what I think a lot of people are seeing is that this country has been—and you can blame anybody you want, Democrats can blame Republicans, and Republicans can blame Democrats. In the 1990s, it’s fair to say the Republicans were out to get Bill Clinton. Whether you think they were right or wrong, they were out to get him, and in this decade the Democrats have been out to get George W. Bush. And again, whether you think they’re right or wrong, that’s been what has defined and dominated our politics, and in the meantime the Democratic Party gets so defined by what it’s against and the Republican Party gets so defined by what it’s against, you forget that there are a lot of good people in both of these parties that have a lot of similar values, a lot of similar concerns. And they are completely relegated to the sidelines of most debates in Congress, most debates in Washington, D.C., these days.
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Josh Scheer: Is this a centrist party?
Kornacki: I don’t like that term because we’re sort of, when you say centrist you’re sort of buying into the terminology of the D.C. consultant world. That’s the wrong way of putting it. You’re defining left and right, the way it’s defined in our combat politics these days. You’re defining left and right pretty much according to wedge issues, and what we’re saying is we reject the left and right definitions that exist because we reject the issues they’re based on. They’re mostly based on issues that have very little to do with the average person’s daily life. Gay marriage is a great example, abortion is a great example. We have invested so much of our politics and geared so much of our politics towards wedge social issues that pit people against each other, that get people to the polls. I mean, goodness, we saw this in 2004. This president may very well owe his reelection to the use of a particularly ugly wedge issue, and our point is, we’re not trying to get into the middle of that, we’re just trying to reject that altogether.
We’re trying to talk about issues. We’re trying to create a vehicle where it’s safe for candidates to talk about and address, head-on, issues that neither party really wants to address. Social Security is a great issue; the national debt’s a great example. My God, it was considered a scandal in 1992 that our national debt had creeped up to $4 trillion. Folks, we’re two years away from $10 trillion, and that’s being piled on the next generation. It used to be, it went without saying that every generation’s responsibility in this country was to leave it better off for the next generation, and yet nobody in Congress even seems to think about that, in either party. We just passed the, my God, Iraq spending bill that’s going through right now and, again, let’s take the Iraq question out of it, which, I know that’s sort of a ridiculous statement, but a question of war and peace should be decided on the basis of war and peace. And what has the Congress done? They’ve gone and inserted pork into the bill to entice support in the House and the Senate to pass the bill. Shame on them for doing that, shame on the congressmen who went along with it, and shame on the president who now suddenly decides to develop a conscience on that issue and says, oh, I’m going to veto this because of the pork, when he’s been only too happy to sign bills from the Republican Congress for the last six years that have taken that national debt and brought it to the verge of $10 trillion. Shame on all of them. Nobody seems to care about that issue.
And that’s just one example of what I think Unity08 can address. And if you want to call that left, right or center, you can call it whatever you want but we call it ignored. And that’s our idea. Put some sunlight on it.
Scheer: I understand where you’re coming from, and maybe centrist is the wrong term, but when you get a left-wing Democrat who wants healthcare for all and the government should pay for it, and then you get someone on the right who’s saying, no, we can’t pay for it because we’re going to creep up that national debt, you guys aren’t, you don’t pick those kind of sides. You’re trying to find a middle ground between behavioralists and structuralists.
Kornacki: Absolutely. Healthcare’s a great example because the debate has sort of stalled in Washington. Clinton brought it—well, hell, Harry Truman in his first address after WWII to the Congress asking them to pass a universal healthcare bill. That was, quick math here, 62 years ago. But, Clinton sort of brought it to the fore in the early ‘90s. The Republicans killed it, and we haven’t really had a serious healthcare discussion in Washington, D.C., since then, but you know what’s happened, if you look around the country, a lot of state legislatures, which are far less polarized on partisan grounds and ideological grounds, have sort of taken the initiative and you’ve found interesting alliances, interesting coalitions being built between the parties, between the contrasting ideologies. Massachusetts is a pretty good example of this. You’re probably seeing some of the stories now, a year ago, they passed what is pretty close to a universal healthcare bill in that state. You had a Republican governor, Mitt Romney, signing it. And you had a legislature that’s 87 percent Democratic. Perhaps the most Democratic legislature in the country, that sort of crafted the legislation and passed it. There’s some disputes around the margins there, and some of the Democrats felt Romney vetoed a few things in there because of his presidential ambitions and trying to play to the right and all that. But, Massachusetts is just one example. A lot of states are taking the initiative on this now, and we’re saying, my God, if the state legislatures are capable of coming together and actually keeping their eye on the ball and, that is, getting healthcare to people who need it, why can’t the Congress? What’s the excuse of the Congress?
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