The political theme of the week is “party unity.” It’s a deceptive term,
and an even more deceptive goal.
The New York Democratic Party held its state convention last week where
it nominated — actually coronated — Hillary Rodham Clinton as its
candidate for the U.S. Senate. A crush of Democratic elected officials,
bureaucrats and patronage pals cheered the first lady, who was unopposed for
her party’s nomination. Only 15 delegate signatures would have allowed
someone else’s name to be placed before the convention, even in a symbolic
nod to democracy. But the party was gloriously and happily “unified” behind
To underscore the unity point, President Bill Clinton was there,
dutifully playing the part of the First Husband. The party and the family
were unified — an image no doubt intended to subliminally contrast with
Rudy Giuliani’s family, which is headed for splitsville.
But no sooner had Mrs. Clinton been anointed by the “unified” party
faithful, than a fierce and vitriolic power struggle broke out between the
state’s two most influential Democrats: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and
Majority Leader Michael Bragman. Mr. Bragman announced he was going to
challenge Mr. Silver for the Speaker’s position in a “sudden death” vote in
the Assembly this week. Silver promptly stripped Bragman of his position
and the $50,000 in additional salary and expenses that goes along with it,
while Democratic members of the Assembly scurried to figure out which side
The New York Republicans — usually ebullient over Democratic Party
internal splits (that’s how they got Rudy Giuliani elected mayor in the
first place in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 5 to 1) — were
a bit more circumspect, as they spent the week sitting on the edge of a
precipice waiting to see if Giuliani would withdraw from the Senate race.
On Friday, Giuliani made his announcement that his prostate cancer condition
and the treatment required made it impossible to continue his campaign.
No sooner had the decision been leaked, than the Republicans anointed
Rep. Rick Lazio (Governor George Pataki gave the official nod) and the party
“unified” behind him. Rep. Peter King, who had made known his interest in
running in the weeks before Giuliani’s decision but who had broken ranks
with the Republican hierarchs when he endorsed John McCain and voted against
the impeachment of the president, became an instant “also-ran.” For the
Republicans and the Democrats, “unity” trumps democracy every time.
Of course, on their best days, they will argue that their “unity” is a
product of consensus. To the extent that it is true, it is only consensus
“at the top.” There is less and less of a commitment to party primaries and
to grass-roots democracy in any form. When the two parties — or any
political institution — feel insecure about their capacity to hold power
and to govern, they resort to “unity” — a deviously inspirational marketing
ploy for the exercise of undemocratic top-down control.
Not surprisingly, the Reform Party has been viciously maligned and mocked
in the media for being so disunified. Ross Perot fights with Jesse Ventura.
Jack Gargan fights with Russell Verney. Ventura quits. Gargan is ousted.
Pat Choate is elected chair. Pat Choate resigns as chair. Pat Buchanan
antagonizes the party with his talk of social conservatism. The national
convention site is shifted three times in as many months. Gargan goes to
court against Choate. Choate goes to court against Gargan. I go to court
against the court’s over-involvement in the party’s internal affairs.
The Reform Party is disunified. And that is part of its strength,
because it accurately reflects the state of the American public — which is
filled with conflict over future directions for our own country. The
genuinely unifying issue for the Reform Party — it is going to unify — for
the independent movement more broadly, and ultimately for the American
people, is the issue of creating a new democratic process that promotes
developmental dialogue and an environment for a new and ever-evolving
I founded the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, Inc. six years
ago, specifically to create a process through which the independents can
come together. Anytime you talk to an average voter, they ask you why all
the independent parties don’t get together because they’d be so much more
powerful if they did. Of course, people are completely right about this.
But the unity of independents, unlike the unity within and between
Republicans and Democrats (who are unified with one another in support of
globalism), is going to come from the bottom up, not from the top down. And
it comes from the bottom up as more and more Americans come to see that
Democratic and Republican-style “unity” is destroying our democracy and,
with it, the capacity of ordinary citizens to govern.