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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

White Rabbit Day

Yesterday the blogosphere was full of talk about Unity ’08, a nascent third-party effort with a twist: the idea is to build a party online, agree on an agenda, draft candidates to run for president and vice president in 2008, and then get them on the ballot across the country.I found the talk especially interesting because two ol’ pols from my home state of Georgia, Ham Jordan and Gerald Rafshoon (both veterans of the Carter presidential campaigns) are in the forefront of the effort, along with Hotline founder Doug Bailey and former independent governor of Maine, Angus King. My old boss Sam Nunn is being mentioned as a possible candidate (don’t hold your breath, folks; Nunn’s got bigger fish to fry, like saving us all from loose nukes).My colleague The Moose hailed the effort but warned it would have a hard time overcoming the various institutional barriers to a third party. Over at Daily Kos, diarist Redshift notes that Unity ’08’s “crucial issues” list looks a lot like that of Democrats.My reaction was a little different: third-party efforts that begin with the concept of an agenda and the idea of a candidate tend to take its promoters through the looking glass in pursuit of White Rabbits they can never quite catch. Some of you may remember a similar effort back in 1995-96, organized by a group of former elected officials dubbed “the secret seven” (Bill Bradley, Dick Lamm, Tim Penney, Lowell Weicker, Paul Tsongas, Gary Hart and the self-same Angus King). Their deal was to promote “intergenerational equity,” a bit of a code word for entitlement reform, and the press got all excited by the possibility that the group would run one of its number for president as a third-party candidate in 1996.By a pure coincidence, I was moderating a panel at the Minnesota conference where Lamm, Tsongas and Penney showed up with the promise to reveal the “secret seven’s” plans. After much hype, the three did a long presentation on the budget and entitlement spending, admitted they had no plans for a candidacy, and then basically disappeared from view as the horse-race-deprived political media lost interest. My advice to the Unity ’08 crew is that they better get some serious candidate possibilities out there to define their effort and make sure their interactive agenda-building initiative doesn’t become a freak magnet. Otherwise, they’ll be chasing White Rabbits until their potential constituency disappears through the looking glass.

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