Thursday, November 15, 2007

Unity08 – DOA?

Several months ago, I heard about a new political organization called Unity08. It’s a movement that was formed out of disillusionment with the current two political parties, the belief that neither party represents the opinions of most Americans. The intent was the group would conduct a national primary (on line) to pick a unity ticket for President and Vice President. OK, full disclosure here. I heard about Unity08 from Sam Waterston. Well, not in person as I would have liked, but from some sort of news release talking about his involvement. Since I’m a casual fan of Sam and am aware of his charitable work, I thought I’d check it out. So I signed up to be a Unity08 member.

My first email from Unity08 said, “As a supporter of Unity08, you're in a special position to lead the country in a new and exciting direction away from partisan bickering and polarized politics.” I went to their website to dig further into what the organization was about, and found that I was a little confused about exactly how they were going to revolutionize and reinvigorate this next presidential election.

To get more information, I watched Sam’s appearances on shows hosted by Bill O’Reilly, Chris Matthews, and Stephen Colbert. Sam seemed to be a good choice for spokesperson and with each appearance, seemed to get more comfortable with explaining what Unity08 is all about. And then – nothing. TV coverage dried up.

Unity08 had an on-line chat covering ballot access issues. There seemed to be a lot of questions being asked during the chat that didn't appear to be addressed. Some of the questions dealt with how Unity08 would identify candidates, difficulties in getting members, and raising cash when Unity08 seemed just a concept and not a candidate, etc. Clearly these were not ballot access questions, but it told me something – that some Unity08 members had issues with how the organization could be taken seriously if there were no big names willing to take up the challenge. By the way, I downloaded the final chat transcript at that time, and it doesn’t include all the questions that all the chatters asked, only those dealing with ballot access issues. This was of great disappointment to me, and made me wonder why they felt the need to edit those questions out without explaining why.

Initially, their web site was a little scattered and weak, although there were some decent blogs and a forum where people could discuss issues. I seemed to notice a lot of bickering going on about various potential candidates and issues, which made wonder again if the organization can pull off a unity ticket when Unity08 members had so many varying opinions. Does Unity08 really know what the American people want – and is it reasonable to expect there will be a candidate out there that can be all things to all people? My skepticism grew.

They also conducted a line scale survey – which I spent the time to complete – to poll members on various issues and people. It seemed to be helpful to identify the hot buttons, but was a little light on identifying potential candidates. OK, my impatience was starting to grow. I wanted to know, if I chose to back Unity08 with any money, to whom I would be giving my stamp of approval.

Somewhere during the time Sam Waterston appeared on the Colbert Report, Unity08 ran a poll involving a possible running mate for Stephen Colbert. Stephen Colbert? I know they were just trying to be funny, and maybe to grab a younger demographic, but for an organization trying to define itself, it seemed the wrong time to be funny.

I was, at first, delighted when I received an email recently telling me about their redesigned website. Great news, I thought, maybe the site’s home page would explain Unity08 in a way to get people interested. Maybe information would be easier to find. Maybe we’d get a front page like a news website, with changing content to draw people back to the site. Again, my hopes were dashed. The message boards seemed to be gone, previous blogs seemed to be wiped away. (Hmmm – did some sanitizing take place?) And horrors – there was no trace of Sam Waterston. NONE. Did Sam have second thoughts about his involvement – or did he just simply not have the time anymore? Either way, his face and his name seem to be missing, strange considering they made a huge deal about him being spokesperson. Maybe I just can’t find the right place on the website. The new site, if anything, doesn’t do any better than the last to excite, and draw in, new OR existing members, or make it easy to find information quickly.

While digging through the new site, I found, in the FAQ section, that Unity08 describes itself as "...registered as a PAC. It is not a political party." How did I miss this before? Was it even on their old site? I never realized that it wasn't going to drive candidates separate from the other two dominant parties. In my opinion, this goes back to Unity08's failure to clearly define itself to current and potential members/donors.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Unity08 won’t be a significant force this election. It may only be a great concept in search of the perfect candidate. Right now, it seems more like a racehorse coming strong out of the starting gate, only to stumble early and finish last.

And I’d rather put my hard-earned money on a surer winner.

The Frequent Critic

Sam Waterston speaks for Unity08

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