Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Just ask Charlie Murphy

Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy asks: What's so great about unity?
One of Barack Obama's major campaign themes is the promise that he will "unite" America. Obama is an incredibly skillfull campaigner, so I must assume that he wouldn't be pushing this trope unless there were good reason to believe that it works. Of course, Obama is far from the only politician to promise unity. Remember when George W. Bush promised that he would be a "uniter, not a divider"? That was a fairly successful campaign theme too.

This emphasis on unity for its own sake seems misplaced. After all, unity is really valuable only if we are united in doing the right thing. Being united in doing the wrong thing is surely worse than being divided, if only because division reduces the likelihood of the harmful policies being enacted. And even if the policies proposed by the would-be "uniter" really are beneficial, it's not clear why broad unity in support of them is preferable to just having enough votes to get them passed.

UPDATE: Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic asks: What's so great about hope?

1 comment:

Rob said...

Interesting tidbit, but a little straw-mannish, isn't it? Surely unity in doing the right thing is an implied of Obama's pitch. I don't really hear anyone talking about "unity for its own sake" and certainly not "being united in doing the wrong thing."

The question of whether broad support is preferable to just-enough-support-to-pass really is interesting. From the standpoint of a Democratic primary, one of Obama's arguments is that he can achieve a realignment of American politics because he (the argument goes) can gain the support of more than 50%+1 of the country.

And again, built into this is the idea that that realignment would be beneficial to the country.

So I guess the argument in favor of broad support is that it means your preferred policies are better positioned not just to win but to keep winning over time, which is how actual change happens, right?