I watched a Democrat, Gerald Rafshoon, and a Republican, Doug Bailey, on C-SPAN this morning talk about the organization they have helped to found, Unity 08, which seeks to nominate a unity ticket for President in 2008. What they mean by a unity ticket is either a Democrat for President and a Republican for Vice President, or vice versa. Or, for that matter, an Independent for either position combined with someone from either major party. Or maybe even two Independents.
It was heartwarming (snicker, snicker) to watch these two old political foes sitting in each other's laps and making nice while talking about the good old days when they were top political advisors for President Gerald Ford and Governor Jimmy Carter, battling it out for the Presidency 30 years ago (30 years ago!) in 1976. Each of them made it clear that, back then, there were no personal attacks as part of their campaigns. Rafshoon said the worst he got from Bailey was that Jimmy Carter was "untested." They both agreed that the worst the Carter campaign did was attack President Ford's actual record. As Candace Olson would say: "How divine." (If you don't know who she is, you don't watch enough Home and Garden TV.)
They and their organization want to bring back civility and "unity" to American politics, but I am afraid that they want to do it in a political environment that is far different from what it was 30 years ago. Even though the Republican Right and the Christian ideologues were beginning to forge an alliance that now dominates American politics, it was, then, not yet in control of the Republican Party. What is different today is that religion has blended so intimately with Republican politics that personal Christian beliefs make it impossible for compromise. True believers cannot compromise their personal Christian beliefs. And if one's personal political life is driven entirely by one's personal Christian beliefs, there can never be a political environment that allows for the kind of political civility and unity that Bailey and Rafshoon seek.
And what makes all this much worse than it was in 1976 is that we have a large and influential group of people like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and John Gibson who daily spew the kind of lies and hatred that never allows for moderation or compromise. And they do so on behalf of the Republican Party as if they were official spokespeople for the Party, and not one Republican calls them on their bilious lies and distortion.
Worse, we have a press corps whose power to serve the public interest has been dramatically circumscribed and limited by a profit-driven corporatocracy. In 1976, how many of us could imagine an entire news network dedicated to worshipful partisan reporting and commentary on behalf of the Republican Party, 24 hours a day?
As the press has lost its way in American politics and no longer serves as a persistent and effective watchdog over government, Christian fundamentalism has intruded in government in ways we once could not imagine. Religious ideology has increasingly become the driving force of government service.
The icing on this ugly and bitter cake is how our political campaigns have become perverted by money in ways we were only beginning to see in 1976.
Doug Bailey and Gerald Rafshoon can't imagine having treated each other with the level of disrespect that reigns today, but they are not going to bring back the kind of civility and "unity" until three things happen:
1. Americans successfully oppose the unconstitutional impact of religion on our government;
2. the press takes back its independence and starts to serve the public interest once again;
3. and the devastatingly anti-democratic effect of money is removed from the political process.