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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.

Ultimately, the ideal of unity is antithetical to democracy itself, which relies on constant competition and division between parties. When democracy works well, it is precisely because of our divisions, which check the power of incumbents and ensure their replacement by their opponents if the voters decide they have screwed up badly enough. If we really value unity for its own sake, perhaps dictatorship or one party oligarchy would be a better form of government.

Despite its vacuousness, unity rhetoric seems to be popular. Popular enough that both conservative and liberal politicians routinely resort to it. Popular enough that a brilliant candidate like Obama has made it a centerpiece of his campaign. Popular enough that nationalists, socialists, fascists, and communists have all made effective use of it. Remember "One People, One Fuehrer, One Reich"? No, I am not saying that Obama (or Bush) is like the Nazis and Communists. Far from it. However, the Nazi and communist examples do dramatically illustrate how unity doesn't have any intrinsic value. The achievement of national unity made these regimes even worse than they would have been otherwise, not better.

The interesting question is why people find the idea of "unity" so appealing. I tentatively conjecture that the popularity of unity themes is in part related to rational political ignorance and voters' lack of incentive to consider the issues carefully and systematically. Because voters don't have much incentive to consider policy issues in detail, they often fail to get beyond the warm, fuzzy feelings that appeals to unity inspire. If voters were more sophisticated in their thinking, they would not so easily yield to this temptation. They would at least ask: "What is it that he wants to unite us to do?" They would also recognize that tropes about unity are one of the most common excuses for flawed, inefficient, and oppressive policies. As economist Dan Klein explains in his article "The People's Romance," the unity theme has a long and sordid history.

UPDATE: Various commenters and others claim that Obama is merely expressing the fact that Americans share common goals. Even if this is true, it still doesn't prove that the unity trope is a good thing. After all, there is no value to having common goals if those goals are the wrong ones. Unity has value only in so far as it can be used to promote beneficial ends, and is positively harmful otherwise. Moreover, I doubt that Obama (and previous practitioners of unity rhetoric) merely seek to express a preexisting unity. After all, if the unity they appeal to already exists, there is no need to support their campaigns in order to promote it. Rather, Obama, Bush and many others promise to provide a greater level of unity than existed before. That is surely what Bush meant when he promised he would unite rather than divide, and what Obama seems to mean today.

Oren:
Ilya, I think that, by and large, the vast majority of Americans share the same ideals and goals. That unity stands above and beyond our differences on how best to achieve those ideals and goal and in stark contrast to the partisan echo-chamber that passes for political discourse.
2.8.2008 5:01am
tvk:
This is taking it a little too far, no? Voluntary unity is hardly a bad thing. First, a policy that has broad agreement is more likely to be correct than one that does not. Second, unity across a broad population creates economies of scale and prevents external enemies from exploiting division. To be sure, a population united towards a bad goal can do much harm; but all else being equal, a house divided against itself cannot long stand.
2.8.2008 5:07am
Arkady:
Ilya's a hedgehog.
2.8.2008 5:11am
Samir Chopra (mail) (www):
Ilya, I think you are interpreting Obama's remarks a trifle uncharitably. In the context in which he uses "unity", he is using it as contrast to the incredibly divisive eight years we have had to endure under a government that has sought to distinguish between those who were "American enough" and "not American enough" on all the basis of whether they supported a disastrous foreign policy or not (there were plenty of other divisive strategies used by our current administration as well , but this one example will suffice for now). I would interpret Obama's use of "unity" here in the same fashion as I would someone coming upon a scattered crowd, liable to lose their way because of their inability to co-ordinate any action that might be beneficial to them at large, and urging them to come together (to a greater extent than they had before) for their common good.
2.8.2008 5:37am
Ilya Somin:
a policy that has broad agreement is more likely to be correct than one that does not.

That assumes that people agree on the policy because of their opinions about its merits rather than for the sake of "unity."

unity across a broad population creates economies of scale and prevents external enemies from exploiting division.

That implies that unity might be beneficial when used to unite against external threats. It doesn't prove that unity is a good thing more generally. As for economies of scale, they can and do exist even in the absence of political unity.
2.8.2008 5:43am
wuzzagrunt (mail):
Samir Chopra wrote:

Ilya, I think you are interpreting Obama's remarks a trifle uncharitably. In the context in which he uses "unity", he is using it as contrast to the incredibly divisive eight years we have had to endure under a government that has sought to distinguish between those who were "American enough" and "not American enough" on all the basis of whether they supported a disastrous foreign policy or not (there were plenty of other divisive strategies used by our current administration as well , but this one example will suffice for now). I would interpret Obama's use of "unity" here in the same fashion as I would someone coming upon a scattered crowd, liable to lose their way because of their inability to co-ordinate any action that might be beneficial to them at large, and urging them to come together (to a greater extent than they had before) for their common good.

Samir has struck upon a rich vein of truth, apparently, without realizing it. In the partisan political context, appeals to "unity" mean that you should agree with "our side" unless your intention is to be divisive and subvert the "common good". Democrats use this construction more than Republicans, but that's merely because Republicans have different words for the same sentiment. Words like "hope", "change", "unity", and "fairness" are substitutes for actual ideas that may have to be defended with intellectual vigor. No politician wants to go there!

Partisanship and principled disagreement serve useful purposes, and don't get nearly enough respect. In the current political climate, using your opponent's record--and even his own words--to challenge him, is considered "smearing" and "slinging mud". Better that we just wave bumper stickers at one another.

Is it just me, or does the process seem to get ore insulting with each passing election?
2.8.2008 6:52am
sashal (mail):
sure, "unity" is overrated.
let's continue be divisive and smear the majority of Americans, just like wing nuts like to do....
2.8.2008 6:56am
ChrisO (mail):
Republicans mostly win on scaremongering, and then block policies most people want (and one you loath). Obama wants to end that.
2.8.2008 7:08am
SirBillsalot (mail):
Wazzagrunt is right. Obama's definition of unity is much like Harry Reid's definition of bipartisan.

But it sounds nice when you don't accompany the word with any substance.
2.8.2008 7:10am
Jacob (mail):
Politician celebrates X.
Nazis and Communists also celebrated X.

The obvious conclusion is that X has no intrinsic value, not that X may have some value that can be be outweighed by some great evil.
2.8.2008 7:33am
Bill Harshaw (mail) (www):
Remember Thomas Jefferson's words--something like "we are all Republicans, we are all Federalists now". And the "Era of Good Feelings". Unity is not a new trope.
2.8.2008 7:57am
pluribus:
There have been times in our history when unity has served broad national goals and served it pretty well. In 1787 "a more perfect union" came out of the differences, divisiveness, and competition of the Articles of Confederation. There was another time when divisiveness reached an extreme and unity seemed like a pretty good solution to the problem. 1861-65. And the unity (called "Union") was reached on the basis of a morally defensible principle, the end of slavery. There was another time when unity was important to the achievement of a national goal. 1941-45. Again the unity was reached on the basis of a morally defensible goal, the defeat of Nazism and Japanese imperialism. Pretty hard to think of comparable periods in our history when unity achieved unfavorable results, though constant argument, bickering, disagreement, and impugning oh motives did mess things up pretty well in the Vietnam years. I think unity is a defensible goal, even desirable, when it is achieved on defensible grounds. Wasn't it Franklin who told his fellow-revolutionaries, "We must all hang together or we will surely hang separately"? In Franklin's sense, hanging together is just another way of saying unity.
2.8.2008 8:00am
merevaudevillian:
he is using it as contrast to the incredibly divisive eight years we have had to endure


Samir, I think you're being a bit disingenuous. The "divisiveness," as it were, has certainly not pervaded Bush's entire eight [sic] years. I would entertain an argument that it has been for a majority of it.

Of course, this narrow-sighted, "present and futurism" perspective forgets that America has endured far, far more divisive years. Like, say, the Civil War. To believe that Americans were somehow "united" in the Clinton administration is naive and revisionist history. (Recall that Bush ran on a post-impeachment platform of "ending the politics of personal destruction" and "reaching across the aisle," too.) It's simply that when this mantra of "change" is uttered enough, people who disagree with Bush think there's divisiveness (and wouldn't mind being on the winning side). If it's President Obama or Clinton, I can assure you that the 2012 Republican candidates will be calling for "change" and "unity" (because, as all minority political parties, they're left on the sidelines).

Indeed, it's ironic that the "divisiveness" is deemed at its height when the White House and Congress have divided political control, which demands cooperation (and which, indeed, has been largely achieved, with only a handful of vetoes from the White House).
2.8.2008 8:09am
Anderson (mail):
Most people are uncomfortable with disagreement, b/c they have insufficient faith in themselves and their own beliefs.

To some extent, this is due to the political ignorance Prof. Somin notes; but it's also human psychology (one might say "human nature").

My favorite example is the fundamentalist who insists that others join his sect, b/c it bolsters his own insecurity. Note the tendency to "megachurches" where one can be surrounded by a thousand or more fellow worshippers.

Hence the appeal of "unity."
2.8.2008 8:18am
NatSecLawGuy:
"Ultimately, the ideal of unity is antithetical to democracy itself."

I find this statement over-broad. Yes, democracy is built on the precipice of dissension and that we build institutions to appreciate that effect. However, antithetical? As long as dissension is free flowing and is given its protections, why does the idea of unity object to democracy.

My impression is that your assumption is that to achieve unity we will have to stifle dissension. Maybe, that is true (see Federalist No. 10), but maybe count me an idealist in thinking that its possible to build a strong unity without disparaging dissent.

Finally, as to unity in political rhetoric. Almost always a tactic, but for some reason every time I hear it sounds darn good. Which while I would consider myself ignorant, I would not count myself an ignorant voter. I also believe the unity that is discussed is a unity in how to approach our policy decisions. For too long we have held sway over policies on what party raised the issue or supported the cause. Truly, an ultimate sign of voter ignorance. Thus, I think much of the unity that is being discussed is to bring a rationality back to the debate.

Further, I also think the unity discussed is to beat back the trend of the "me" generations. The so-called "greatest generation," was disciplined in unity and returned with a sense that the greater good is worth working for because ultimately that impacts me. That rationale is not present in the populace today because the largely prevailing sentiment is "what can you do me?" versus "what can you do for my country?"

One last point, before I am accused of being a socialist, I do not think this is done largely through governance. I personally think this brought about mostly by changing the tune sung at the top. Meaning having a strong leader (which I believe McCain, Obama, or Clinton could achieve) and him/her encouraging the innovation and cohesion of the American ideal. It doesn't come from a mass of federal legislation. Actually, I think that works against rather than for changing the prevailing sentiment.

Thus, the talk of unity is rather refreshing to me (as it was in 2000). I just hope this time it take more substance than form.
2.8.2008 8:36am
ChrisIowa (mail):

1861-65. And the unity (called "Union") was reached on the basis of a morally defensible principle, the end of slavery.


But in the campaign of 1860 and winter of 1861 the Democrats were calling for compromise that would preserve the Union by preserving slavery.
2.8.2008 8:47am
PersonFromPorlock:
It's been done: "Ein Volk, ein Reich...."
2.8.2008 8:48am
Gilbert (mail):
The unity he is talking about is our willingness to move past the culture wars. It's neither vacuous nor purely academic. This country needs to reach the point where we can do things like solemnly contemplate a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade and abide by the outcome, whatever it may be.

He is talking about leading -- leading us to choose to lay down arms and to stop this cycle where 50.1% of the country seizes power for as long as the other 49% can be bound and gagged, until the roles reverse.

Even the attempt to do so, successful or not, is something completely outside of Clinton's capacity. She's been in the trenches, as she constantly reminds us. That's why her negatives are so astronomically high.

And for all of you who CONTINUE to complain that Obama lacks substance, just ask yourself whether you would rather have Hillary's healthcare plan or Obama's (Mandates and fines or voluntary participation and opt-outs). One would think that was a substantive difference, but maybe we will have to wait until Hillary gets the nomination and decides its her turn to be Supreme Dictator to find out how different they are.
2.8.2008 8:51am
wuzzagrunt (mail):
ChrisO wrote:
Republicans mostly win on scaremongering, and then block policies most people want (and one you loath). Obama wants to end that.


No, you are!
2.8.2008 8:53am
TN DC Atty (mail):
I tentatively conjecture that the popularity of unity themes is in part related to rational political ignorance and voters' lack of incentive to consider the issues carefully and systematically. Because voters don't have much incentive to consider policy issues in detail, they often fail to get beyond the warm, fuzzy feelings that appeals to unity inspire.

Otherwise ignorant voters are also probably going to be nevertheless aware of the actual costs of friction between more politically-invested people in their workplaces, families, and relationships. Unity wouldn't just offer them warm fuzzy feelings - it'd offer them real day-to-day benefits. Those benefits may be tiny compared to the benefits that might be achieved through political disagreement, but rationally ignorant voters have already decided not to be concerned with that second set of benefits.
2.8.2008 9:16am
rarango (mail):
Judging by some of the commentary, it looks like unity is really defined as "lets all agree to do it MY way." Democrats were in power for 40 years and all but shut Republicans out; in 1994, Republicans started their 12 year run and shut democrats out. We are now back to what, IMO, amounts to divided government, and are, in reality, doing quite well. No particular idiotic position is getting pushed through (other than perhaps the "stimulus package" and pork), we have a relative stalemate. I do love disunity.

Unity reminds me of Rousseau's idea of the General Will--and thats not something I would like to replicate in American politics. No matter who is interpreting the general will.
2.8.2008 9:40am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

Voluntary unity is hardly a bad thing.


Not when it's voluntary.

When politicians call for it, though, it seems coercive "unity" is what they really want.
2.8.2008 9:40am
Jody (mail):
I think it works because most people are a little fascist. Seriously.

Consider, "United we stand, divided we fall." the value of consensus as well as these calls for unity.

Each case is premised on the notion that the individual should be valued less than the collective. Sometimes this is true, but a lot of times it isn't.

In my mind, the problem with fascism is a matter of degree. How much more is consensus valued over opposition? How much is unity valued over partisanship (which in turn is its own form of fascism)? To what spheres of life should this apply? What to do with those who oppose consensus? At what level of consensus does unity become more valuable than individualism?

The political mechanisms created by answering these questions can then become very unstable when information is noisy which can give a false sense of consensus (see ChrisO's assertion which I assume is true for his circle, but probably not for the nation as a whole) or when fascist principles are applied in inappropriate spheres (see "consensus" in the AGW debate - what should matter is what are the verifiably correct predictions)
2.8.2008 9:41am
Warmongering Lunatic:
"Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions." — Terry Pratchett, The Truth
2.8.2008 9:43am
pluribus:
I said:


1861-65. And the unity (called "Union") was reached on the basis of a morally defensible principle, the end of slavery.


ChrisIowa replied:


But in the campaign of 1860 and winter of 1861 the Democrats were calling for compromise that would preserve the Union by preserving slavery.


Are you arguing that unity was achieved in 1860 and 1861? Or that preserving slavery was a morally defensible principle? I'm having trouble seeing what your point is.
2.8.2008 9:46am
SeaDrive:
It's a politician's job to achieve consensus. Certainly, Congress can't work without it. You may approve or despise the goal depending on whether you agree with the likely consensus position, but it's patronizing to quibble about a call to common purpose.

If leadership and consensus are such terrible things, perhaps there is an opening for a different perspective. Look for my presidential campaign in 2012 on a platform of no leadership at all. "I promise to provide no initiative at all. I'm just going to sit in the White House and see what Congress sends up Pennsylvania Avenuse for my signature."

Geesh!
2.8.2008 9:48am
JBL:
Gee. I was kinda hoping his talk about unity just meant he was planning to get rid of all those silly diversity regulations and policies.
2.8.2008 9:51am
pluribus:
If I read him correctly, Obama is not saying that unity without content is desirable, but unity on the basis of things we can agree on. Let's cross party and ideological lines to find issues that unite us, not constantly dwell on issues that divide us. His remarks about Reagan as a transformative president were an effort in that direction. Hillary responded with the old brand of divide and conquer politics. Don't you dare try to say anything favorable about a Republican president! It's not enough to disagree with the opposition. We must demonize them.
2.8.2008 9:57am
Scote (mail):

PersonFromPorlock:
It's been done: "Ein Volk, ein Reich...."


...er, or more recently, "I'm a Uniter, not a Divider." And we must do "X" (no matter what X is or how much it conflicts with the constitution) because to do otherwise is to let the terrorists win. The Unity thing you are trying to lay on the Democrats is also a Republican principle--i.e., we need Unity so everyone else needs to conform.

Yeah, the "Unity" stuff can be scary. Let's not pretend it is an Obama thing, though.
2.8.2008 10:00am
Jerry F:
I think that the idea of unity assumes a political model where everyone fits in a scale from far-left to far-right, most politicans are at one of the two ends of the scale and the general public tends to gravitate toward the middle. Under this framework, the assumption is that the views on the center are more beneficial because they are less partisan and representative of the beliefs of the average American. Unity corresponds to upholding the views of the center.

This is why Obama's use of unity rhetoric (whe he himself lies at the very far left-wing end of the spectrum) is wholly out of place, but still a good political strategy for voters who can't look at the issues.
2.8.2008 10:00am
OrangeLettuce (mail):
The interesting question is why people find the idea of "unity" so appealing.

Answer: Because leftist PC ideas are postmodern, and postmodernism is irrational. People believe all-cultures-are-equal because they believe it, not because it can be supported by evidence. Postmodernism can not defeat contrary ideas, it has to shout them down.

A demand for conformity is a necessary and logical feature of irrational belief systems.
2.8.2008 10:04am
Joe Kowalski (mail):
Keep in mind that another one of Obama's common meme's is that we should be able "to disagree without being disagreeable." I think this is the model present (although on a smaller, more intimate scale) in the Supreme Court right now. The justices routinely have rather strong disagreements with each other, but they know full well that it absolutely cannot get personal. They actively maintain decorum and respect for each other. That I think is the model that Obama is going after.

As for Bush trying that same meme eight years ago: I don't think Bush has/had anywhere near the inspirational ability that Obama does, and the people he hired and surrounded himself with (loyalist neo-cons) didn't help the situation.
2.8.2008 10:08am
darelf:
Just to get it out of the way... Terry Pratchett is an idiot.

Ok, now... from a completely normal person's ( at least for America ) point of view, people get tired of constantly fighting everything in their lives: traffic, crowds, their kids, other people's kids, religion, politics, et cetera, et cetera ( as the King of Siam would say )

Why do you think most American's don't vote? Unity becomes at least a nice idea, even when they know very well that it isn't really ever completely possible. They want enough unity to get by.
2.8.2008 10:13am
Perry (mail):
Ilya,

Id posit to you this:

If GWB would have approached the American people openly and honestly when we started the Iraq War by saying - 'were going to be in there an awful long time' , 'its a long and difficult path to accomplish what we're trying to accomplish', 'Iraq may not be the most direct way for us to fight global terrorism, but its our easiest target' and so on and so on, his approval ratings and that of the who republican party woudln't be in the toilet like they are today.

So in Obama, I see not someone who may actually represent the policies that matter to me the most, but at least one who MIGHT not try and stomp them down the throats of the American public by any means necessary.

And as a side note, you can't even tell if the policies that you THINK are backed by your candidate will hold past his inauguration. Some of us who voted Bush way back in 2000 thought that he was going to follow some of that fiscal conservatism Reagan language that he had began to use. In 2008, that sentiment seems a little, well.... misguided? naive?

Well hindsight certainly is 20/20 and all but give me a president who doesn't treat the public like they are children and/or a nuisance. Thats all that I ask.
2.8.2008 10:16am
fennel:
"This emphasis on unity for its own sake seems misplaced."

Ilya's Kindergarten teacher should be immediately fired.
2.8.2008 10:29am
aerty (mail):
I haven't had time to read all the comments, so I hope this isn't redundant. It's an obvious point, but needs to be made.
Unity for the sake of merely getting things done may be overrated. But unity in the sense that we are one country, despite all our differences, is appealing not only on an emotional one but a rational one as well.
I am as conservative as they come, and have voted for Republicans all my life (after my foolish liberal adolescence). And I can see myself voting for Obama, even over McCain who I also like. Why? Because he would symoblize something. He would be the antithesis of the ugly poison from the Clinton and Bush years (for which the Republican party in my view has the majority of the responsibility). He speaks inclusively, not exclusively, and I don't think it's an act, or merely rhetoric. I can see Obama reaching out to political opposition for effective compromise. Even though he's very liberal, I sincerely think he would be a center-leftist rather than an ideolgoue.
Coming back to unity, I think one could make a spiritual analogy to the Christian faith. One of the most important teachings of Christ is that there should be "unity of the Spirit." He prayed in the Gospel of John that "they would all be one, even as We are one," meaning that His disciples would express the oneness inherent in the Trinity. And yet the Christian church has all sorts of manifestations, churches, denominations, sects, etc. The church does not appear to be very "one."
But I think most Christians would say that "unity" or "oneness" is something deeper, focusing on what unites Christians (central doctrines of the faith, perhaps subjective experiences as well) rather than what divides them (less significant doctrines, traditions and practices).
So it could be argued that the Christian church has no visible unity. It could also be argued that there is a unity which is transcendant.
Don't misunderstand me, because I'm not implying that Barack is some kind of Messiah. I'm just making an analogy. When he speaks of "unity" I believe he means something profound, something transcendant. I also think that's why there's such a strong response from people who listen to him.
America is a diverse and divided country. But what unites us is strong than what divides us. The last few years have been brutally divisive, and I would argue "un-American." For example, accusing people of being treasonous or unpatriotic for having differing views on the war in Iraq, terrorism, surveilliance, etc. (Again, I say this as a Republican.) I think Obama would deal with issues in an inclusive way, rather than a divisive and exclusive way. Even if he governs from the left, I don't think he would purposely divide the country or slander his critics. His approach would be that of a unifier, laying hold of what is best about this country.
Just my two cents...
2.8.2008 10:32am
Chris Bell (mail) (www):
Like several others have said, he doesn't mean "unitary policies". He means unity in the recognition that we are all Americans, despite politics that may divide us.



In other words, no more disgusting comments like the one Romney made yesterday.
2.8.2008 10:42am
Anderson (mail):
Postmodernism can not defeat contrary ideas, it has to shout them down.

Ah. So the Southern Baptists in my state are actually ... postmodernist?

Interesting. I'll have to chat them up about Derrida sometime. All that "fundamentalism" is obviously ironic.
2.8.2008 10:47am
Mike Keenan:
Is there a specific set of policy proposals that support "unity"?
2.8.2008 10:52am
wfjag:
Good blog. Interesting that few of the commentators deal with your fundamental question: "Unity behind what?"

McCain and Clinton have track records. Obama is largely unknown and has avoided taking specific positions on most issues. It's no wonder that Clinton is now challenging him to debates -- Her negatives are known, so she won't lose supporters. If he debates, some of his supporters will find that they disagree with what he really means and drop away. However, he may, for now, be able to avoid debating on substantive issues, and count on the fact that between the Dem. Convention and the election is only 8 weeks, which is very little time for people to educate themselves on specifics, especially since McCain has a track record with lots of specifics to attack. Obama is smart and that's not a bad strategy. Clinton also realizes that if she has to rely on SuperDelegates to secure the nomination, a lot of Obama's supporters will feel cheated and won't support her election bid. So, Clinton's best strategy is to call Obama out for debates -- especially before there are more primaries or caucuses. Meanwhile, McCain needs to develop some Conservative Cred -- get his negatives out there (so they are "old news" in Sept to Oct) and work on the theme "You may not agree with me, but at least you know what I stand for" (in case Obama gets the nomination).

Changing directions completely:

pluribus wrote:


I said:

1861-65. And the unity (called "Union") was reached on the basis of a morally defensible principle, the end of slavery.

ChrisIowa replied:

But in the campaign of 1860 and winter of 1861 the Democrats were calling for compromise that would preserve the Union by preserving slavery.

Are you arguing that unity was achieved in 1860 and 1861? Or that preserving slavery was a morally defensible principle? I'm having trouble seeing what your point is.


The notion that the Civil War was fought over slavery is revisionism. It was fought over federal supremacy vs. doctrine of disunionism. Initially both sides anticipated a short, relatively bloodless conflict -- since prior to that time the experience of the US in major wars had been the War of 1812 and Mexican War. The Emancipation Proclamation was effective Jan 1, 1863 (prior to that captured or run-away slaves were "contraband" and still considered to be property) and only effective in the CSA states. Slavery was not abolished until the ratification of the 13th Amendment after the Civil War was over. I'm not complaining that slavery was abolished as a consequence of the Civil War and efforts during Reconstruction to ensure that the people who led the CSA never again had the economic strength to challenge the federal government. However, it was not fought to free the slaves. And, in light of Reconstruction Era politics, I don't think that by any stretch of the imagination that one can conclude that "unity" was achieved anywhere -- although the Union was preserved.

And, Chris -- in 1864 the Democrats were also calling for a negotiated peace which allowed the CSA states to preserve slavery. As late as August 1864 George McClellan was well ahead of Abe Lincoln in popularity. McClellan was promising to bring the troups and negotiate an honorable peace (although it wasn't clear what he intended if the CSA would not re-join the Union). The fall of Atlanta to Sherman had a decisive political effect since it clearly signaled that the CSA was doomed if the Union persevered. By that time most people were more interested in vengenance than in securing freedom for slaves, especially since nearly every family had members who were casualties. Lincoln's plans for bringing the CSA states back into the Union (which Johnson tried to implement and for which efforts he was impeached) were much more lenient than those that the Radical Republicans enacted to govern Reconstruction. The program of the Radical Republcans reflected popular opinion, since they were the ones elected to Congress by popular vote (for the House) and by the state legislatures (for the Senate). The abolition of slavery was a consequence of the Union's military victory, and the Radical Republicans' political victories, rather than any "unity" (either national or even in the North).

There is one important lesson not to overlook in this -- Then we killed each other. Today we only call each other names. On the "Good to Bad Scale" that looks like a Good.
2.8.2008 10:56am
Jason F:
Ilya, are you familiar with the history of the legislation in Illinois mandating that the police tape all interrogations? Briefly, then-State Senator Obama proposed such a requirement. It was vehemently opposed by the police, by the (Democratic) governor, and by the majority of his colleagues in the state legislature. State Senator Obama met with all of those constituencies, worked with them to identify why they objected to the law and to come up with solutions to the problems they identified. The end result was that State Senator Obama's bill passed with overwhelming support (including the overwhelming support of the police).

That's the kind of unity Senator Obama is talking about. Viewing the other 50% of the country not as an enemy to be conquered, but as a partner with whom to engage.
2.8.2008 10:57am
Houston Lawyer:
So he's going to get all Americans to agree that the war in Iraq is good. That would be some unity that I could get behind.

It will be very difficult for him to get any "unity" for his policies if he doesn't campaign on what those policies are.
2.8.2008 11:00am
alias:
Do anarchists generally vote?
2.8.2008 11:01am
Redlands (mail):
wuzzagrunt said, "Is it just me, or does the process seem to get more insulting with each passing election?"

Yes. Preaching unity has just about the same degree of meaning as promising "change."
2.8.2008 11:23am
aerty (mail):
After 8 years of Bush, "change" means a lot. I don't feel insulted at all for hearing about "change."
2.8.2008 11:27am
Frog Leg (mail):
Jason F. has hit the nail on the head. Obama's ability to work with all sides is what has been lost, and contributes to the poisonous political atmosphere in Washington.

It reminds me of a story I heard when Rove (I think it was Rove) met with a moderate Republican senator about some bill. The colloquy went something like this:

Rove: This bill is now certain to pass.
Moderate: Sure, but if we made some very minor changes, it will get 80 votes.
Rove: Who cares? We have enough votes already.

Rove's mindset is exactly what needs to be expelled from Washington.
2.8.2008 11:28am
pluribus:
wfjag:


The notion that the Civil War was fought over slavery is revisionism. It was fought over federal supremacy vs. doctrine of disunionism.


So Alexander Stephens was a "revisionist," eh? What did he know? He was only the vice-president of the Confederacy.


Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. [Applause.] This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.


Alexander H. Stephens
Cornerstone Address, March 21, 1861

www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1861stephens.html
2.8.2008 11:29am
DiverDan (mail):
So many posters seem to miss the point that "unity", by itself and without reference to a specific goal or object, is neither good nor bad. The German people were certainly "unified" under Naziism - How did that work out for the rest of the world? And the Confederacy was certainly "unified" behind the principals of States' Rights (specifically the right to continue to keep slaves) -- it was only the divisiveness of a bloody civil war which resulted in the freedom of millions of people from perpetual treatment as chattel. Even during the Bush years, a specific instance of "unity", the bipartisan effort to add the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, can not be considered an unqualified success, given the effect that it has had on accelerating the insolvency of the Medicare Trust Fund ("Trust Fund"? Now there's an oxymoron - there's no identifiable fund, and absolutely no reason to trust that benefits will be there in the future for those paying these taxes today!). Yes, we were a unified nation during World War II, and that was a good thing, but the benefits were attributable exclusively to the ultimate goal of defeating Naziism and Imperial Japan; unity simply assisted in achieving the goal. If you take the Federalist Papers seriously, then the divisions between various factions in America are a positive good in ensuring that a "united" America does not oppress a minority faction, and in protecting against foolish and hasty policy decisions. Thus any call by Obama, or Clinton, or any other politician during a vapid stump speech, for "Unity" which is made without reference to a specific policy goal is empty jingoism, bumper sticker politics without substance.
2.8.2008 11:35am
aerty (mail):
DiverDan, that's the first time I've ever heard Obama accused of jingoism.
I think Reagan gave a similar impression about "unity," although I don't recall him using the term in that way. He simply talked about what was great about the country, and many Americans of diverse beliefs responded. I don't think it was empty rhetoric. He (Reagan) meant it, and people knew what he meant and responded.
2.8.2008 11:39am
sdf (mail):
What a bizarre discussion.

What's so great about "unity"? What's so great about "experience"? What's so great about "strength"? What's so great about "leadership"?

Nothing. They're just nouns. They can mean whatever the hell we want them to mean, depending on the context. What on earth is the point of arguing over whether "the concept of unity" in the abstract, should be considered a good or a bad thing?
2.8.2008 11:44am
JB:
It's fairly clear to me that Frog Leg, Jason L, et al have it right. Obama's talking up unity in response to 7 years of accusations by Republicans that anyone who disagrees with them is a traitor, 5 years of irrelevant shouting by the Democrat netroots for impeaching Bush, and 7 years of increasingly-serious jokes about the United States of Canada vs Jesusland.

While some degree of disunity is beneficial, when policy disagreements cause people to fling around words like treason, impeachment, and secession, we need a bit more unity.
2.8.2008 11:46am
Mark Field (mail):

the ideal of unity is antithetical to democracy itself, which relies on constant competition and division between parties. When democracy works well, it is precisely because of our divisions, which check the power of incumbents and ensure their replacement by their opponents if the voters decide they have screwed up badly enough.


Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but this strikes me as a profound misunderstanding of Federalist 10. Madison was NOT celebrating division. What he was doing was asserting that in a large country, the only measures likely to pass were those on which the country was truly unified. These were the "permanent and aggregate interests" of the nation.


The notion that the Civil War was fought over slavery is revisionism. It was fought over federal supremacy vs. doctrine of disunionism.


Hmmm. Here's the SC Declaration of Secession (in part):

"The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection."

Here's Mississippi's:

"In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin."

And the opening to Georgia's:

"The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic. This hostile policy of our confederates has been pursued with every circumstance of aggravation which could arouse the passions and excite the hatred of our people, and has placed the two sections of the Union for many years past in the condition of virtual civil war."

There's lots more. Slavery caused the Civil War. The only "revisionism" is the denial of that fact.
2.8.2008 11:47am
pluribus:
wfjag:

I'm not complaining that slavery was abolished as a consequence of the Civil War and efforts during Reconstruction to ensure that the people who led the CSA never again had the economic strength to challenge the federal government.

That's very big of you, wfjag. When did you come to this very liberal conclusion?
2.8.2008 11:52am
therut:
Change,Unitity,working with the other side, change Washington, Stop corruption, I am outsider are all rhetoric used over and over again in every election. Unfortunately it works cause the younger voters have not lived long enough to recognize that they have heard this before. All fluff for the masses.
2.8.2008 11:52am
Anonymous Guest:
With due respect to therut, what other realistic alternative is there? Unless Barack Obama turns out to be Josef Stalin in disguise, he can't possibly be worse than voting for the other "known" evils that are being presented. I'd rather roll the dice, thanks.
2.8.2008 11:57am
alias:
I agree with sdf.

A presidential candidate who touts his "leadership" qualifications is missing something very important. Leadership is only good if the leader's chosen direction is a good one. We should not forget that Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Nancy Pelosi are also "leaders," but that does not make them intrinsically good. If someone says "I'm a leader," voters should ask "where does s/he want to lead us?"

"Unity" rhetoric is just like any other rhetoric. Obama has found a few words that trigger positive feelings in people (the others being change and hope), and his campaign strategy is to repeat them as often as possible. It's much easier than talking substance, and voters don't respond to substance anyway.
2.8.2008 12:01pm
akwhitacre (mail):

If I read him correctly, Obama is not saying that unity without content is desirable, but unity on the basis of things we can agree on. Let's cross party and ideological lines to find issues that unite us, not constantly dwell on issues that divide us. His remarks about Reagan as a transformative president were an effort in that direction. Hillary responded with the old brand of divide and conquer politics. Don't you dare try to say anything favorable about a Republican president! It's not enough to disagree with the opposition. We must demonize them.


Pluribus has this right. Since the Clinton years, we've had 'round-the-clock coverage of the deeply-held belief by those in Congress and the White House that cooperating with the opposition is opening the door to future failure. Congressmen lose their seats for implying the opposition has good ideas.

Obama is trying to get away from lock-step party politics, and therein lies the contradiction: unity already exists in Washington. It just happens to be a unified group of Republicans and a unified group of Democrats. Most Americans, if they're honest with themselves, see reasonable solutions coming from members of both parties, and it would be nice to have a President who reflects that--without then getting slaughtered by his or her unified party.
2.8.2008 12:08pm
K Parker (mail):
Gilbert,
The unity he is talking about is our willingness to move past the culture wars. It's neither vacuous nor purely academic.
Maybe not vacuous or academic when Obama says it, but it's certainly disingenuous when a commenter mentions it without including the highly important fine print: "with 'our side' in the winning position".
2.8.2008 12:11pm
SeaLawyer:

Obama is trying to get away from lock-step party politics, and therein lies the contradiction: unity already exists in Washington. It just happens to be a unified group of Republicans and a unified group of Democrats. Most Americans, if they're honest with themselves, see reasonable solutions coming from members of both parties, and it would be nice to have a President who reflects that--without then getting slaughtered by his or her unified party.



How is Obama trying to get away from that. Do know any of his policies? What actually makes Obama a unifier?
2.8.2008 12:13pm
DCP:
Saying the Civil War was fought over slavery is like saying George Bush was elected twice because of the abhorrent practice of partial birth abortion.

It's just picking a very ugly feature from a myriad issues of contention and holding that up as some sort of post hoc moral justification.

Lincoln, Congress and the Supreme Court had all given their blessings to slavery in some form when the machinery of war began to sputter into action.
2.8.2008 12:28pm
rarango (mail):
I do have a few questions with respect to "unity:"
1) Does unity mean you are aware that there is another view point(s) about policy solutions?
2) Do you expect those holdling other view points to adopt your prescription?
3) are you willing to compromise your positions?
Basically, talking about unity appears to be a crock until you start answering some specific questions. Having said that, I do like Obama at a gut level, but politicians always tell you what they think you want to hear, and will never tell you how, precisely, they are going to govern.
2.8.2008 12:28pm
CrimsonTribe:
I'm not so naive to think that there was some golden period of bipartisanship where Democrats and Republicans loved each other and always cooperated, but I am wrong in thinking that things were somewhat better in the past? I was only a teenager in the Reagan years, but I remember that, say, Tip O'Neill and Reagan had a better relationship than Pelosi and Bush. Is that wrong?

It seems to me that this is the kind of unity Obama is talking about.
2.8.2008 12:29pm
rarango (mail):
DCP: well said--trying to ascribe a single cause for an event like the civil war seems like a foolish undertaking to me. But, of course, single explanation analysis is always a much easier undertaking when faced with a complex set of issues.
2.8.2008 12:31pm
Zathras (mail):
CrimsonTribe, I think you're right. Reagan definitely got along better with the Democratic Congress than Bush does today. A good example of this is the 1986 Tax Reform Bill. This bill was a mammoth undertaking. No one was shut out in its crafting. In the end, no one was happy with everything in the bill, and yet it overwhelmingly passed. This type of legislation is crucial to do periodically (perhaps every 15-20 years). However, there is not a chance of this type of bipartisanship possible the way politics is done today.
2.8.2008 12:38pm
Gary McGath (www):
When people hear about "unity" from someone they generally agree with, they assume it means "We'll all be united in what *we* want to do." Unity is a promise that those other people will be brought over to *our* side.
2.8.2008 12:46pm
Helen:
"JB" commented:

While some degree of disunity is beneficial, when policy disagreements cause people to fling around words like treason, impeachment, and secession, we need a bit more unity.

And, then, just five comments later, "alias" include Nancy Pelosi in a list with Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

I disagree with Nancy Pelosi as much as anyone, but, Yes, JB, we need a bit more unity.
2.8.2008 12:47pm
therut:
There is a reason our Country is not as "unified" as it may seem it was in the past. Multiculturalism is present. The idea of diversity at all costs. The PC police. Idenity politics. The USSC usurping the Constitution and Federalism has leaked into social issues not just economic. Abortion, Gay marriage, Gun control are all very new social issues pushed by one party the the Courts are generally becomming sympathetic to. There can not be unity on these issues. To say so is a lie. It remeinds me of Dean saying if the Republicians would just quite worring about guns, God,abortion and gay marriage things would be better. What he meant is let out views on these issues win cause they really should not matter. A deceitful idea of so called unity. Obama believes all semi-automatic firearms shoud be banned ----UNITY. He believe in liberation theology and social justice-------UNITY. He believes in socialism --------large welfare state,robbing Peter to give to Paul, giving to Ceasar what is Gods. He believes what is up is down. I do not. There can not be unity anymore unless it is by Government coersion. Hell they are going to place my medical care in their hands and expect me to step in line and chant UNITY. No way ever.
2.8.2008 1:00pm
Thoughtful (mail):
On the causes of the Civil War: the disputes well argued above can be, ahem, unified by making the distinction found in Jeff Hummel's excellent "Freeing the Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: The History of the Civil War". Hummel notes there are two related but distinctly different questions to answer:

1. Why did the South (want to) secede? Answer: To preserve and maintain slavery.

2. Why did the North refuse to allow the South to secede? Answer: To preserve and maintain the Union.

This is why the CSA Constitution affirms slavery and Northern politicians were willing to accept slavery's continuation if the Union could be preserved. There is no "either-or" conflict here.

As to the question of Obama and unity, I think the simple explanation of why he stresses it is that testing has shown it plays well, both among Democrats and generally. And he maintains unity by speaking in generalities. Generalities regarding unity often sound, if taken seriously, fascistic, because the implication is that one should sacrifice one's personal goals for a "national" goal: unity. Unity is also a favorite of political leaders because the underlying assumption is "Don't question authority". Unity also makes it easier to call for "sacrifice", another favored meme of politicians. ("Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your volk, ahem...country")
2.8.2008 1:01pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Ilya, I think that, by and large, the vast majority of Americans share the same ideals and goals.
What? You obviously aren't getting out enough. About 1/3 of America believes that same-sex marriage is either a good idea, or should be mandated by the courts. At least 1/2 thinks it is a bad idea--with some prepared to tolerate the fig leaf of "civil unions."

A tiny fraction of Americans (perhaps 5%, but it is the 5% that runs the media) wants to ban all guns, or at least license them so restrictively that only a few Americans would have guns. There's a solid 1/3 of Americans who consider restrictive gun control a reason to start shooting. There's another 1/3 to 1/2 who support passage of "reasonable gun controls"--including passing laws that have been on the books for decades now.

A clear majority of Americans believe that elective abortion should be either completely unlawful, or discouraged strongly enough that only a fraction of the current abortions would take place. A solid 1/4 of Americans believe that there should be few if any restrictions on abortion.

I am not persuaded that there is this unity that you imagine.
2.8.2008 1:02pm
David M (www):
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 02/08/2008 A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.
2.8.2008 1:02pm
A.C.:
For the past few presidential terms, the parties in Congress have been behaving more those in a parliamentary system than US parties did before the 1990s. There has been more effort to enforce party discipline in voting and less effort to work across party lines to design legislation with broad support. This is a strange development in American politics, I think, and it seems to have something to do with the polarized -- and ultimately fairly adolescent -- politics of the Baby Boom generation. Different factions don't just disagree. They hate each other's guts, and sometimes they speak as if the other side isn't entirely human. (They also tend to think that their own side is the highest form of humanity anywhere, ever, something about which all sides are seriously mistaken.) High school clique warfare, anybody?

Lots of people want to tell all sides in that fight to shut up. It's unpleasant to watch, for one thing. For another, there's a serious risk of either legislative paralysis or crazy, whacked-out policies. People who only talk to their own side end up in an echo chamber of sorts, and their positions tend to become more extreme over time. Taking input from a broader range of sources tends to keep this from happening.

That said, I still think Obama is too far to the left. I would probably vote for him if at least one house in Congress had a solid Republican majority, because then he would be forced to compromise towards the center. As it is, however, I guess it will be McCain. And for the same reason.
2.8.2008 1:04pm
The Unbeliver (mail):
Mark Field:

Ironically, your excerpts from the seccession declarations actually prove wfjag's points rather than refute them. Per those three quotes, the states were not seeking to leave the Union because someone had a philosophical disagreement (about slavery), they left because they disagreed with laws passed on a federal/national level and sought to be free of them.

Similarly, the Union did not go to war because they felt bad about losing a philosophical debate; they fought to enforce the idea that (1) the national government held power over the land, therefore (2) a state could not opt-out of the Union simply because they wound up on the minority on an issue. Or did you never read Lincoln's Declaration of War?


Whereas, The laws of the United States have been for some time past and now are opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the Marshals by law :

Now, therefore, I, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the Militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of 75,000, in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed.

I appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate, and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union and the perpetuity of popular government, and to redress wrongs already long enough endured.


Certainly slavery was the issue at hand which sparked the existential crisis of a party seeking to deny the power of the federal government; in a previous case it was whiskey (in opposition to federal taxation). But the war was undeniably fought to preserve federal supremacy, in the particular area of its power to compel individual states to comply with federal law.

(For obvious reasons this also started the decline of federalism in the US as a check on the federal government's power; but that's a lengthy discussion for another time.)
2.8.2008 1:11pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

While some degree of disunity is beneficial, when policy disagreements cause people to fling around words like treason, impeachment, and secession, we need a bit more unity.
Agreed. The difficulty is that when national survival is at stake, and one faction of the Democratic Party (the Michael Moore wing) argued against the Afghanistan invasion, claimed that it was driven by a desire to control an oil pipeline, then claimed that the Iraq War was fought for oil--that's treason. Michael Moore is a liar. He lies because it makes him rich. Other parts of the treason wing of the Democratic Party claim that the U.S. attacked itself, or allowed the terrorists to attack in order to start a war.

Legitimate arguments could well have been advanced against the Iraq War--and certainly against some of the incompetent decisions made by the Bush Administration in how it was fought. But except for the Michael Moore/Move On wing of the Democratic Party, Democrats went along with the Bush Administration. We were unified. Parts of this were a mistake, no question--but at least in 2003, only the traitor wing of the Democratic Party was claiming that Bush was lying.

The willingness of Democrats who knew better in 2002 to play cynical politics about the Iraq War in 2004 absolutely infuriates me. It is why I will never be able to take the Democratic Party seriously. It is not an honest group, but a bunch of demagogues willing to tell any lie to get control, and willing to cozy up Michael Moore (remember him at the 2004 Democratic convention?) and the 9/11 Truthers to get back in charge.
2.8.2008 1:12pm
Gilbert (mail):

"McCain and Clinton have track records. Obama is largely unknown and has avoided taking specific positions on most issues."


Say this again, maybe it will be less wrong the 100th time. The whole problem with McCain and Clinton, on both sides, is that they are unpredictable. Obama takes clear positions on just as many issues as anyone else, all you have to do is look them up.

I get so freaking tired of hearing people repeat this stuff.
2.8.2008 1:17pm
Prosecutorial Indiscretion:
"Just to get it out of the way... Terry Pratchett is an idiot."

No word or series of words can properly articulate how wrong you are.
2.8.2008 1:20pm
wfjag:
Dear pluribus:

Interesting that you quote CSA VP Stephens, and ignore CSA President Jefferson Davis' First Inaugural Address, February 18, 1861, Alabama Capitol, Montgomery, Al. Not once did Davis mention slavery.

He did say:


The declared purpose of the compact of Union from which we have withdrawn was "to establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity;" and when, in the judgment of the sovereign States now composing this Confederacy, it had been perverted from the purposes for which it was ordained, and had ceased to answer the ends for which it was established, a peaceful appeal to the ballot-box declared that so far as they were concerned, the government created by that compact should cease to exist. In this they merely asserted a right which the Declaration of Independence of 1776 had defined to be inalienable; of the time and occasion for its exercise, they, as sovereigns, were the final judges, each for itself. The impartial and enlightened verdict of mankind will vindicate the rectitude of our conduct, and He who knows the hearts of men will judge of the sincerity with which we labored to preserve the Government of our fathers in its spirit. The right solemnly proclaimed at the birth of the States, and which has been affirmed and reaffirmed in the bills of rights of States subsequently admitted into the Union of 1789, undeniably recognize in the people the power to resume the authority delegated for the purposes of government. Thus the sovereign States here represented proceeded to form this Confederacy, and it is by abuse of language that their act has been denominated a revolution. They formed a new alliance, but within each State its government has remained, the rights of person and property have not been disturbed. The agent through whom they communicated with foreign nations is changed, but this does not necessarily interrupt their international relations.



And,


Actuated solely by the desire to preserve our own rights and promote our own welfare, the separation of the Confederate States has been marked by no aggression upon others and followed by no domestic convulsion. Our industrial pursuits have received no check. The cultivation of our fields has progressed as heretofore, and even should we be involved in war there would be no considerable diminution in the production of the staples which have constituted our exports and in which the commercial world has an interest scarcely less than our own. This common interest of the producer and consumer can only be interrupted by an exterior force which should obstruct its transmission to foreign markets--a course of conduct which would be as unjust toward us as it would be detrimental to manufacturing and commercial interests abroad. Should reason guide the action of the Government from which we have separated, a policy so detrimental to the civilized world, the Northern States included, could not be dictated by even the strongest desire to inflict injury upon us; but otherwise a terrible responsibility will rest upon it, and the suffering of millions will bear testimony to the folly and wickedness of our aggressors. In the meantime there will remain to us, besides the ordinary means before suggested, the well-known resources for retaliation upon the commerce of an enemy.



And,


We have changed the constituent parts, but not the system of our Government. The Constitution formed by our fathers is that of these Confederate States, in their exposition of it, and in the judicial construction it has received, we have a light which reveals its true meaning.



Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861, Washington, D.C., however, repeatedly referred to slavery. Among the things he said:


I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this, and many similar declarations, and had never recanted them. And more than this, they placed in the platform, for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves, and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read:

Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes."

I now reiterate these sentiments; and in doing so, I only press upon the public attention the most conclusive evidence of which the case is susceptible, that the property, peace and security of no section are to be in any wise endangered by the now incoming Administration. I add too, that all the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and the laws, can be given, will be cheerfully given to all the States when lawfully demanded, for whatever cause -- as cheerfully to one section as to another.


While Lincoln called for the preservation of the Union, at no point did he then call for the abolition of slavery.

You and Mark Field conflate two different issues. The CSA states seceded to preserve their way of life and their "property." As a 21st century person you don't comprehend that a 19th century man (women having many fewer rights) would regard another human as "his property."

Neither side anticipated a war as long and as bloody as occurred. But, after 600,000 dead and millions wounded, a better justification than federal supremacy vs. the doctrine of disunion was needed. The Northern justification became ending the moral scourge of slavery. The Southern justification became "the Glorious Lost Cause."

I'd also suggest that you read the dissents of the first Justice Harlan "The Great Dissenter." Although he had been a slave owner, he could not find the words "separate but" in his copy of the Constitution. To him "equal" meant "equal."

Pluribus, the end of your 11:52 am comment actually proves my conclusion. Then we killed each other. Today we only call each other names. I do see that as progress. And, I also see as progress the inability of a 21st century American to understand how a 19th century American could regard another human as chattel. Still, it is revisionism to intrepret the events leading to the Civil War from a 21st century perspective.
2.8.2008 1:20pm
Evelyn Marie Blaine (mail):
Clayton E. Cramer wrote:
What? You obviously aren't getting out enough. [ ... ] I am not persuaded that there is this unity that you imagine.
The disagreements you mention, although they stir the passions, are on a larger scale small compared to the enormous consensus on fundamentals. Think of all the positions so universally agreed to that no one even thinks to mention them -- the authority of a written constitution, the legitimacy of a multi-party system, the illegitimacy of political violence as a response to electoral defeat, relatively broad protections for political dissent, nonpartisan judges, an adversarial judicial process, jury trial, the importance of criminal and civil law remaining relatively stable over time, one person one vote, the nonexistence of a state church, more or less gender-, race-, and religion-neutral legislation, a broadly capitalist economic system, and the like. Probably 90-95% of the population would assent to these principles, and no one who seriously called into question any of them would have the slightest political success in the US.
2.8.2008 1:21pm
pluribus:
Thoughtful:

1. Why did the South (want to) secede? Answer: To preserve and maintain slavery.
2. Why did the North refuse to allow the South to secede? Answer: To preserve and maintain the Union.

This is correct. But slavery and preservation of the Union were closely related. The Southern states believed that they could not preserve and maintain slavery in the Union, so they seceded. Secession led them to bombard Sumter, and the war began. By opposing secession, the North was refusing to let the South establish a separate slaveholding republic. Secession was the immediate "cause" of the war, and preservation of the Union was the immedate response, but slavery was its motivating "cause," the issue at the root of it all. Without slavery, without the fear that it was endangered, the South would not have seceded. And the war ended with the 13th amendment abolishing slavery.
We we might say:

1. What caused the Civil War? Answer: secession.
2. What caused secession? Answer: slavery.
2.8.2008 1:31pm
Mark Field (mail):

You and Mark Field conflate two different issues. The CSA states seceded to preserve their way of life and their "property."


I agree with this. They seceded to preserve slavery; that was the "way of life" they meant.


Ironically, your excerpts from the seccession declarations actually prove wfjag's points rather than refute them. Per those three quotes, the states were not seeking to leave the Union because someone had a philosophical disagreement (about slavery), they left because they disagreed with laws passed on a federal/national level and sought to be free of them.


The laws they disagreed with were laws affecting slavery. They didn't leave because they disliked the rule against perpetuities. When you compare the Confederate Constitution to the real one, it's easy to see that the principal changes involved slavery (e.g., in the territories).

I should add that the volume of evidence that slavery motivated the South to leave is gigantic. I can't possibly quote it all on this blog (and it's off-topic anyway). But to deny that slavery was the basis for secession is truly revisionist. Historians even have a name for it: the myth of the "Lost Cause".

Thoughtful's post at 1:01 is a pretty fair summary.
2.8.2008 1:45pm
pluribus:
wfjag:

I also see as progress the inability of a 21st century American to understand how a 19th century American could regard another human as chattel. Still, it is revisionism to intrepret the events leading to the Civil War from a 21st century perspective.

Obfuscation. Alexander Stephens was not a 21st century American, for heavens sake! Yes, Southern slaveholders thought they had an "inalienable" right to own human beings (and their wives and their children and their grandchildren and great grandchildren, on into the indefinite future), breed them, sell them, beat them, use them however they wanted. And some of them also thought the "inalienable" right was so precious they were willing to take up arms against their own own government to preserve it. It doesn't take a 21st century perspective to understand this. Nor is it by any stretch of the imagination "revisionism."
2.8.2008 1:46pm
Mr. Liberal:
All I have to say is that Ilya Somin is incredibly naive.

It is not about unity versus disunity as a binary. (i.e. Bush - "you are either with us or against us"). It is about unity and disunity on a continuum.

Our government is not intended to be based on disunity. Any student of history will recall that the Founders abhorred political parties and factions, precisely because they cause an excessive amount of fractious disunity. Just as excessive unity on all issues would not be a good sign, excessive disunity has its own dangers.

Somin is obviously correct in thinking something like absolute unity would be a bad thing. But, Somin is very foolish to interpret Obama as suggesting that he seeks such a thing. If you think of unity as being a continuous variable, one might visualize it fluctuating on a graph, nowhere near either absolute unity or absolute disunity. Obama is suggesting that it is good to move from where we are now, a point of relatively high disunity.

Were the Founders wrong in being suspicious of factions and the excessive disunity they reinforce? I do not think so. Excessive disunity prevent necessary collective actions. (Something that I do not expect a silly libertarian to understand.) In extreme scenarios, it may also degenerate into violence and civil war.

I know that Somin rejects the Founders on countless issues, on everything from the meaning of the First Amendment to the takings clause. But I think the Founders were right to be suspicious of excessive disunity caused by factions.
2.8.2008 2:09pm
Mr. Liberal:
Here is a question:

Is a tendency to think in simplistic binaries, somehow fundamental to libertarianism?

(1)
"All taxation is theft."

(2)
Unity means absolute unity.

(3)
Government doing anything not on an arbitrary list of "essential" functions is bad.

I find it amusing that Somin has chosen to interpret Obama in a patently ridiculous way. But, I think it may be a reflection of his own tendencies to think in binaries.
2.8.2008 2:19pm
pluribus:

Historians even have a name for it: the myth of the "Lost Cause".

Yes, and myths are always created by the losers. They keep creating them to "explain" their losses, and they revel in losing over and over again.
2.8.2008 2:25pm
alias:
And, then, just five comments later, "alias" include Nancy Pelosi in a list with Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

Poorly executed joke.
2.8.2008 2:30pm
Kazinski:
I think what Obama is trying to tap into is a resentment of hyper-partisanship. The blogosphere is a good example of that. Quite a bit of the commentary you see isn't a advocacy of a position or even a critique of a rival position, it is a quote from someone on the other side and then a hyperventalation about the ramifications of the quote and a condemnation of the person. You see it over and over again on the left and right. Just a few examples Taranto at least once a week features a quote from a liberal and disects it, Malkin does the same, on TV, Kieth Olberman has his whole "worst person in the world" schtick. Its entertainment and we eat it up when our guys do it and deplore it when the other guys follow.

So Obama isn't really campaigning for unity, he is campaigning (just like Bush did in 2000) against the opposite of unity. With the bonus that if he gets elected, and runs into resistance on a issue, no matter how principled the resistence, he can say "The American People spoke clearly in the last election that it was time for the end of partisan stonewalling, and my opponents are thwarting the will of the American people."
2.8.2008 2:57pm
BGates:
Think of all the positions so universally agreed to that no one even thinks to mention them -- the authority of a written constitution
Did the words of the constitution have a fixed meaning when they were written, can we know what that meaning was now, and should we care? -Are 3 questions that seem unsettled right here on the blog
the legitimacy of a multi-party system
Bush wins = Diebold stole the election. Hillary wins = same thing, sometimes.
the illegitimacy of political violence as a response to electoral defeat(read the comments)
nonpartisan judges get 20 commenters on this blog to define that term
more or less gender-, race-, and religion-neutral legislation More? Or less?
a broadly capitalist economic system 'Sicko' made $25 million and was unabashedly pro-socialist (which is an interesting sentence itself).
2.8.2008 3:07pm
Frog Leg (mail):
Mr. Liberal, I think you're right about this. I was thinking of the phrase "overly reductive," rather than "simplistic binaries," but there is much overlap here.
2.8.2008 3:44pm
glangston (mail):
Unity will fast become an over-used word. I'm sick of hearing my Governor Arnold in CA saying he's trying to "reach out across the aisle" to the majority Democrats. It should be the other way around, the majority reaching out to the minority.

Unity is not only over-rated, it's lost it's way.
2.8.2008 3:54pm
Pyrrhus (mail) (www):
Ilya-

"Various commenters and others claim that Obama is merely expressing the fact that Americans share common goals. Even if this is true, it still doesn't prove that the unity trope is a good thing."

And the mere fact of similar goal does not entail the fact that those goals would be satisfied by unity. For example, in a zero sum game, players may have similar desires that are constrained, rather than enhanced by unity.
2.8.2008 4:31pm
Frog Leg (mail):
So Pyrrhus, are you saying that America is a zero-sum game?
2.8.2008 5:14pm
bittern (mail):
Y'all pretty much nuts, people. Kowalski and Kazinski are both correct in their points, though. And nice post, Evelyn Marie Blaine.
2.8.2008 5:16pm
George Weiss (mail):
i was thinking Ilya's exact thought when last i heard the unity stuff.

the only thing i can think of as a benifit to unity it that it decreases the already unlikely event of so called constitutional crises and political strife that shakes the foundation of our system (i.e congressional oversight supeanas answered by executive state secrets privilege claims, singing statements, and elections being decided by supreme court decisions..etc..)

of course, unity can also be bad in a democratic system as Iyla notes..and the benefit of argumentation and democratic give and take probably by far outweighs this benefit.
2.8.2008 5:16pm
Pyrrhus (mail) (www):
Frog Leg:

Saying that would be a pretty obvious over-simplification, wouldn't it?

However, there are certain features of society which approach zero sum games.

For example, most, if not all Americans like money. However, "uniting" our income (e.g. redistributing it) would not be beneficial for all Americans. Even setting aside wasteful inefficiencies, people with above average income would lose money. They would be hurt, in their conception, by unity.

Furthermore, if people redistribute to a certain group, the larger that group is, the less people in that group gain from redistribution. They would benefit from a smaller 'union' of redistribution recipients.

I think this is a pretty obvious and limited point, and dwarfed by Ilya's point that our natural goals (e.g. getting the government to give us more of other's peoples' money) even if widespread, are not necessarily just.
2.8.2008 7:22pm
TGGP (mail) (www):
2.8.2008 8:35pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
This discussion demonstrates exactly why Obama and other politicians appeal to unity (as well as change, bipartisanship etc...). If you notice many of the commentators interpret the call for unity slightly differently and that's the key. These are words that suggest to everyone you are going to accomplish the things they want without giving enough details for anyone to realize that they might disagree with the politician in many respects.

Now 'unity' is really just too much of a vague feel good word for me to really say much definite about it but at least partially the appeal to notions like unity and bipartisanship lies in the frustration people experience when things everyone agrees should happen get held up in bickering over how they should happen. I mean to take a particular example consider the fact that we have a broad political consensus that the government should give many citizens a cash award as an economic stimulus but it is being held up in debates about whether money should also be given to various other groups.

Except of course everyone imagines people uniting to do things their way. This sort of unity (except in times of crisis) is totally impossible because it's in everyone's interest to be just a little bit less into unity than the next guy. I mean if you are willing to make large compromises to the legislation so long as it gets past but I'm only willing to make small compromises guess who comes out ahead? The voters want unity in the abstract but protest against the specifics. Compromise is a great thing until your issue is given away.

Of course there is also a deep evolutionary appeal to calls for unity. As noted above unity is incredibly important when facing outside threats and those primitive peoples who didn't respond positively to calls for unity were more likely to get killed.

In either case it's a stupid reason to vote for someone. I mean everyone is for unity in the most general terms (people agreeing with me) so the only way it could communicate useful information is if they meant they were going to pursue unity in a particular fashion, i.e., compromise more on issues their party cared about, play less political hardball etc.. So if a politician doesn't lay out what he means by unity (and none of them really do) it suggests he is fooling at least some of the people about how he will pursue it...maybe you.
2.8.2008 8:40pm
Michael Z. Williamson (mail) (www):
I, for one, do not want to unite with anyone who likes Will Ferrell movies or the UN.
2.9.2008 12:53am
Elliot123 (mail):
Calling for unity is what a politician does when he doesn't have anything of substance to offer. If he had anything real to say, he would say it. Instead, he uses meaningless slogans.

"Change" is another good one. Change from what to what? What is the specific situation today, what is the desired specific situation, and what is specific different? Ever hear that from people calling for change?

Have we heard "come together" yet? I'm sure it is coming right after we "get the country moving in the right direction."
2.9.2008 3:00am
Mr. Liberal:
Elliot123,


Calling for unity is what a politician does when he doesn't have anything of substance to offer.


So, is it your position that Obama's specific positions on numerous issues are without substance?

The idea of increasing "unity" is not ridiculous, when one sees divisions preventing people from seeing and seeking productive agreement.

The idea of "change" is not ridiculous either. The idea focuses people first on the idea that the status quo is unsatisfactory (something that is often much easier to agree on than any particular program), as the first step to making some sort of progress.

This is not to say that specifics are unimportant. But, it is to say that one has to motivate change and seek some level of unity before on can move away from the status quo.
2.9.2008 3:18am
A.C.:
Mr. Liberal hit the fundamental problem.

Not everybody thinks the status quo is a problem, at least not broadly. Sure, everybody has three issues on which they want change, but most people want everything else to stay fixed and predictable. Corporations changing everything willy-nilly are exasperating. Politicians doing the same are far worse.

The fundamental conservative temperament isn't about right-wing radicalism. It's a call for sticking to the status quo unless there is a REALLY compelling reason to do otherwise. And that reason is a case that has to be made issue-by-issue... change for the sake of change is NOT a good thing. It screws people up psychologically and makes it impossible for them to plan for the future.

If "unity" helps society settle down to debate (rather than holler about) those areas in which a lot of people really want change, well and good. If it's just "stir 'em up and make 'em march," to heck with it.
2.9.2008 6:00am
SirBillsalot (mail):
I wonder also how much of this is because Obama has never really fought a properly contested race? Winning against Alan Keyes running as a carpetbagger doesn't count. Nor does winning a seat in Chicago and the support of a lot of university campuses.

So what happens when he finally emerges from his protective liberal bubble? I think he's going to get a shock. Obama's support is deep in certain enclaves, but it is not yet broad enough to win the electoral college. Unless he learns to argue his positions, a lot of people that he would need to persuade to win are going to properly interpret his call for unity as a demand for unilateral disarmament by someone not prepared to properly debate the issues.
2.9.2008 8:33am
MarkField (mail):

I, for one, do not want to unite with anyone who likes Will Ferrell movies


I'm with ya all the way.
2.9.2008 10:28am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
For the first time in my memory... "I agree with MarkField."

Folks, I think we may be witnessing the start of a new political movement. "Americans united against Will Ferrell"
2.9.2008 11:14am
Elliot123 (mail):
"So, is it your position that Obama's specific positions on numerous issues are without substance?"

Yes. I hear very little from him that is specific. What are the positions you refer to?

"The idea of increasing "unity" is not ridiculous, when one sees divisions preventing people from seeing and seeking productive agreement."

The idea of unity is rediculous if the person calling for the unity doesn't define exactly what he means. Divisions of opinion are very important when there are multiple valid approaches to the same problem. It makes one wonder if he knows. If he does, why keep it a secet?

"The idea of "change" is not ridiculous either. The idea focuses people first on the idea that the status quo is unsatisfactory (something that is often much easier to agree on than any particular program), as the first step to making some sort of progress."

It is redidulous focus on the deficiencies of the status quo without telling us 1) what specific aspects of the status quo are deficient, and 2) telling us what will replace them and how. It's also rediculous to agree the status quo is deficient if one doesn't know what is meant by the status quo. It's more rediculous to think someone who can't articulate that is a leader.

"This is not to say that specifics are unimportant. But, it is to say that one has to motivate change and seek some level of unity before on can move away from the status quo."

And that is what I mean by no substance. Say we need change but don't say what has to change. Say the staus quo is deficient, and don't say exactly what is deficient. Say we have to unite, but don't tell us what is meant by unity. No substance.
2.9.2008 1:10pm
Elliot123 (mail):
And it's even more ridiculous to mispell the same word over and over for over fifty years. That's very specific.
2.9.2008 1:13pm
Elliot123 (mail):
And after that last one, I am taking a timeout to concentrate on the value of proof reading.
2.9.2008 2:11pm
TyWebb:
Honestly, only a career academic, whose only real world experience (such as it is) was summering at two white-shoe firms and authoring six amicus briefs, could not see what's good about collaborative effort in a group organization.

When you sit in an office all day grading papers, preparing lectures, and writing articles, you probably get an appreciation for Emerson-esque solitude, with a dash of Ayn Rand self reliance thrown in. You create your own CV, you develop your contribution to the world--and so you see this world as a bit, well, lonely. No one helped you come to your ideas about eminent domain, and so that's how the whole world should work.

In the private sector, as well as in the public sector (collectively, hereinafter "the real world") "unity" in Obama's sense is an absolute requirement for sound decision-making and task resolution. Unity is not single-mindedness. It is collaborative effort. It is the ability to capture the issues presented in an abstract and fluid situation, and come to a reasoned understanding about how to address those issues. In my own experience, and (if I got paid a bit more and COL in the Washington area was a bit less, I'd bet a million on this) the experience of the vast majority of successful businesspeople, attorneys, doctors, clergy, and, yes, politicians, YOU CANNOT DO THIS ALONE. Period. I swear, if I had a nickel for every time a settlement negotiation I've been on has benefited largely from an open discussion and compromise... Yes, sometimes, unity on a bad idea leads you down a path you wish you hadn't traveled. What do you do then? You start the process over. If you have good people around you, and your relationship with those people is good, then you invariably find your way off of that path and onto another one that might be a little brighter.

To address two comments made earlier in the thread, OF COURSE principled partisan disagreement is a good thing. It's absolutely essential to the idea of unity. If you read The Kennedy Tapes, you'll see the essential failure of the Bay of Pigs fiasco is that, as Kennedy put it, his generals sat around the table, eating fruit salad, parroting the company line that everything about the invasion would work out. Later, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy utilized a much more savvy, collaborative, honest, and UNITY-based approach, and the result was much more effective.

This was reflected quite well, I thought, in the comment about Obama's work in the state senate. You don't railroad your ideas through an organization, eschewing unity for ideology. You'll almost always miss something. Much better to have a hundred sets of eyes addressing a problem, even if some of those eyes are connected to the brains of right wing nuts and pinko lefties.
2.9.2008 4:06pm
runape (mail):
Indeed. I had thought it obvious that Obama's point is that the federal government is wildly inefficient in significant part because political hacks disagree with policies put forth by the opposing party merely on the grounds that the ideas come from the opposing party. Hence, his comments about Reagan; he disagrees with the substance of many of Reagan's policies, but not simply because Reagan is a Republican. So, too, he is moderately pro-free trade, and favors cap-and-trade over command and control environmental regulation, because he agrees with those policies on the merits, notwithstanding the fact that they are traditionally associated with Republicans. "Unity" in this sense means a willingness to move past ideology for ideology's sake, and to consider policies on the merits. The original post strikes me as willfully ignorant to the extent it ignores this point, which really is quite clear from Obama's campaign. You should not purport to be presenting an objective view, Professor.
2.9.2008 8:24pm
Bandon:
The commenters in this thread appear to speak with considerable (though not complete) "unity" that Ilya has overstated the case against unity. He is right that unity is not inherently good, but he then questions whether unity has any value at all. Not surprisingly, there seems to be reasonable "unity" of opinion that unity in support of evil is bad. I really don't think that this is what Obama is advocating, and I'm pretty sure that Ilya doesn't think so either. So let's move on to discuss the rest to the unity issue.

The best leaders, whether in business or academia or politics, are able to identify shared positive goals and then inspire people to work together to achieve those goals. That's what Obama's talking about. When that happens, it's usually a good thing.

Of course, that doesn't mean that everyone one must agree with all the goals being set. However, if most people do agree, achieving a goal becomes a shared effort rather than only the personal effort of the person with the most power. This effort then serves democracy rather than subverting it.
2.10.2008 10:58pm
Bah (mail):
I only read the last twenty or so comments so my apologies if I'm repeating something that was said earlier, but I think that many of us are interpreting Senator Obama's words too literally.

When he uses the word "unity," he doesn't actually mean that we should all agree on a particular policy, but rather that when trying to come to a policy we should not strive for a solution that is acceptable to 51% of the population. We should work towards more moderate policies that can win the support of 60%-70% of the population. While he may only need 51% to get elected, sticking to policies that garner larger majorities of support helps to dilute the partisan rancor which many people find . . . distasteful. I think that this approach shows a respect for the other side and a respect for the citizens that are not in the 51% majority. It is far more accommodating of the minority viewpoint.

A lot of people have been turned off by the current method slamming through controversial legislation that 49% of the public finds completely unacceptable. I think that Senator Obama's message of "unity" is really a message for more civil discourse and a greater respect for compromise and the viewpoint of the opposing party. This is true even when that party is not in power and they didn't do the same thing when they were.
2.10.2008 11:42pm
Ferry Pellwock (mail):
Obama "paper trail" on the Harvard Law Review?

Regarding the attacks in this vein on Obama lacking substance, I've recently noted comments that there's an almost total absence of any "paper trail" of Obama's ideas and opinions -- especially this comment on the National Review's "The Corner" blog (via Instapundit).

A simple question: Does anyone know whether Obama, while serving on the Harvard Law Review from 1989-91, published anything? The law students on the Review all have the right to publish at least one piece (typically they publish at least their third-year papers, which they have to write anyway), and many publish at least two pieces. It would seem surprising if Obama published nothing at all in the very Review over which, he has so often boasted, he presided as President.

If Obama published NOTHING, that would tend to reinforce the contemporaneous impressions of his fellow editors (at least those a year behind him) that while "likeable enough" (to borrow a phrase), he was basically lazy in carrying out his duties. See my earlier comments here and here. It would be interesting if he was so lazy he didn't publish anything during the two years he served on the Review -- not even a short case comment or book review.

(Apparently, judged by the objective results of his work (later scholarly citations to the volume which he oversaw), Obama was the worst president of the Harvard Law Review in the past 20 years -- there was a huge drop in the citations to the volume he produced compared to the years just before, and just after, he served as president. See here.
In his recent interview on "60 Minutes" (see here, about 2:50 into the video), Obama conceded that other than his Review presidency he has no executive experience -- that the Review is the only thing he's ever run, setting aside his own senate office and his campaign. Analyzing his job performance on the Review thus seems like a legitimate, indeed important, task.)

If, on the other hand, Obama published something, that would help in the development and investigation of his "paper trail" -- and it might be that he published something interesting, even controversial, other at least revealing of his approach to at least legal issues.

In all likelihood, some readers of this blog either served with Obama on the Review or know people who served with him. It would be good if they could get this information out in the open, however it stacks up.
2.12.2008 5:42pm