I read an interesting article recently about Barack Obama and especially his repeated calls for “Unity”. Much has been made about his supposed ability to “reach out across the aisle” and to “unite” Americans of all parties, races and creeds. But oddly enough, Obama doesn’t have much of a history of bi-partisan voting. During his tenure in the U. S. Senate he has actually voted the party line more often than the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. That bears repeating. The guy that the Democrats voted to lead them in the Senate has had fewer party-line votes than Obama. The main thrust of the article is best stated as: who cares about unity? While Obama seems to put unity forward as a value, unity is actually value neutral. If we could all unite around the banner of Peace, Love, and Girl Scout Cookies that would be a good thing. Nazi Germany was pretty united; that was not so good. And if Obama is so hot for unity, why doesn’t he jump on board with all of the President’s policies? Wouldn’t that be a great example of reaching across the aisle? Hey, if you want unity lead by example. Of course, that scenario is as ridiculous as his call for unity is insincere. In reality Obama doesn’t believe the steaming pile he’s shoveling any more than you or I should. His voting record proves that. The fact is that the call for “unity” makes for great sound bites and campaign rhetoric but has no value or practical use in the American political arena. Who would respect the politician that sacrificed his political values in the name of unity? In fact, one of the problems that so many Republicans had/have with McCain is that he seems to have taken that tack too often for comfort. The problem with Obama’s calls for unity is that it sounds as if he’s labeling dissent as unhelpful or even un-American. Basically, his message seems to be if you’re not with us you’re part of the problem.
The Founding Fathers certainly didn’t care too much about unity. As I mentioned in a post before, the political atmosphere of the Revolutionary/Founding period was probably the most rancorous period in our history. The Founding Fathers couldn’t agree on whether or not to split with England or stay and press for more rights. Once the split happened, they couldn’t agree on how to prosecute the war. Should Washington try for a bold, decisive move crushing the invading army on the field of battle or should it be a “war of posts” whereby Washington would adopt a defensive position only joining in battle when absolutely necessary, thereby wearing the enemy down in a protracted war? Once they had achieved independence and it became obvious that the Articles of Confederation weren’t doing the job, the Founders were divided on whether to revamp the Articles or ditch them and create the government eventually outlined in the Constitution. And even the system laid out in the Constitution not only sets up an adversarial system among the three branches with checks and balances but also has the individual States contending against the Federal government.
And then of course, the Founders gave us the two party political system. And although at the time, most of them detested the idea of partisanship (Jefferson famously saying “If I could not go to Heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”), James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution”, later admitted that it was one of the greatest of their generation’s contributions. The party founded by Jefferson and Madison was created solely for the purpose of thwarting the efforts of the Federalists led by George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson spent most of his time as Secretary of State (for Washington) and Vice President (for Adams) scheming against and trying to undermine the authority and accomplishments of the very administrations he was “working” for. And he did it all because he felt these fellow patriots were betraying the “true spirit” of 1776. So the myth of the all-for-one-and-one-for-all attitude of the Founders is just that, a myth. The fact is that the Founding Fathers recognized that constant debate and contention gave our government the best chance of meeting the challenges it was sure to face.
The Founders for the most part were unified in their desire to see America succeed; they just strongly disagreed about what success meant and about how to achieve it. The same holds true today. I believe that, with a few exceptions, most of our politicians want what’s best for America and her people. But we all have different ideas on what truly is best and how to go about making our vision for America a reality. The best thing our politicians, specifically the presidential candidates, can do is jettison the silly rhetoric and have honest discussions about their ideas on the direction our country should take.