Oxymoronic Political Unity
Like some astrological phenomenon, the call for political unity comes around every four years. After months of backbiting, personal attacks and mean-spirited infighting, immediately following bitter primary election battles, the victors hold pressers, victory parties and street gatherings to issue calls for togetherness.
Like a bad Beatles song, all they need is love, love from and for one another.
Unfortunately, in many cases, these alleged unity calls mislead party loyalists into ignoring the perpetuation of bad political behavior that precede them. Despite the outward appearances, a lot of the work done by partisan insiders during a primary election season is petty, personal and very damaging to the long-term interests of a political party.
Often the loudest voice screeching about unity is the evil genius behind the worst kind of inter-party sneaky manipulation. This phenomenon isn’t restricted to one political party, either. Both Republicans and Democrats practice this two-step, and both have their own masterminds that play this stupid game.
Here’s a scenario: Incumbent (and therefore powerful) office holder Mr. Smith reaches out to his preferred candidate in a contested primary race (other than his own race, of course). He and the aspiring candidate strike a deal to work behind the scenes to elevate the name and interests of the aspirant, while simultaneously avoiding mention of the other candidate(s) – we’ll call her Ms. Doe – from that same party. Often it goes even further, like Mr. Smith’s team spreading unfounded rumors about Ms. Doe to damage her reputation.
Then, when the heretofore evil plot is foiled by regular party voters, and Mr. Smith’s chosen candidate doesn’t win, Mr. Smith issues a call for unity, a coming-together of candidates that share nothing more than their partisan affiliation. All of the disloyalty and disunity that Smith has just spent months fomenting regarding Ms. Doe is forgotten in a rush to seal the partisan affiliation and appear as a unified team for the upcoming general election.
And Heaven forbid if Ms. Doe, the prevailing candidate not anointed by Mr. Smith, still harbors any form of resentment for Smith’s pre-primary antics. She is expected, nee demanded, to fall in line and stand shoulder-to-shoulder as though history and behavior prior to the primary is wiped clean by the ballot result.
It seems slightly irrational, right? And it is.
But in the world of politics, what seems patently irrational is actually the norm. Maybe that’s why our politics is so incredibly screwed up. In the upside down world of politics and campaigns, and staying within our scenario above, newly minted primary victor Ms. Doe is almost forced to swallow pride and good judgment and make a deal with the devil, in this case the devil being Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith, as a powerful party incumbent, has control over his local party machine. He has influence with the party organizing committee, with generous political donors, and most importantly, with dozens (if not more) of party volunteers that will stump, door-knock and distribute tchotchkes for the candidates that Mr. Smith prefers. Ms. Doe, especially if she’s new to the game, needs all the help she can muster in order to get her name out to potential general election voters.
So there it is.
Mr. Smith’s call for unity sounds like an appeal for healing, when in reality it’s a threat to heel. Heel as in the command to get your subservient pet to sit obediently by your side, often followed by the distribution of a treat.
For once, I’d like to see the candidate in Ms. Doe’s position reach out and bite off a few fingers of Mr. Smith’s condescending hand. Maybe then he (and those that think like him) might reconsider the behavior that forces a party to have to call for unity in the first place.
Unity calls that spring from months of underhanded, whispered rumor-mongering come across as hollow and arrogant. Maybe a better approach would be for Mr. Smith, and every powerful party incumbent, to do the right thing and keep the Hell out of a contested primary.
Maybe then we can dispense with these oxymoronic calls for party unity.