Next time you hear a liberal politician speaking, check your watch and count the seconds until you hear a call for unity. The problem -- we're told -- is that we are divided, and consequently, more interested in fighting than in solving problems.
Barack Obama offers a good, if somewhat self-congratulatory, example from a speech he gave after winning the North Carolina primary election -
"...it's possible to overcome the politics of division and distraction; that it's possible to overcome the same old negative attacks that are always about scoring points and never about solving our problems."
The idea of "unity" has emerged as a potent talisman for Left. Much the same way a charge of racism bring things to a screeching halt, unity and divisiveness (its evil counterpart) are used with great effect to stifle inconvenient conversations across America.
How reasonable are expectations of unity? Why should it be essential that we come together and work toward solutions?
As often the case when we travel through the looking glass into left wing politics, almost everything on the topic is exactly opposite of what a rational person might assume.
Unreasonable Expectations of Unity
Morality: Calls for unity are frequently heard in the context of issues concerning religious morality. Opposition to abortion and non-traditional marriage are both often characterized by the Left as "wedge issues", as if religions dating back several millennia were specifically crafted to provide talking points in some 21st century political contest.
The term "wedge issue" is noteworthy. What exactly does this mean? The fact that there are two separate opinions on a subject and a politician is attempting to clearly distinguish his or her position on such is supposed to be a bad thing? Isn't that the point of politics? Isn't this the point of freedom of speech, debate, and assembly?
Another oft-heard complaint is that the opposition is inflexible and not open to compromise. The fallacy here is that every issue has a middle ground in which the Left and right can meet without surrendering their principles. In our own checkered past of slavery and Jim Crow is it not a blessing that the abolitionists and civil rights protesters were unwilling to seek that "middle ground"? Does anyone, in hindsight, look back fondly on the Missouri Compromise?
More often than not, when religious citizens have agreed to compromise the "end-point" of negotiations becomes nothing more than a way-station from which to launch further demands after a brief intermission in the debate. This dynamic is clearly evidenced by the evolution of California's Domestic Partnership laws into a, previously unknown, constitutional right to marriage.
Ideological Unity: As well as demanding unity on issues of faith, liberals are also often outraged at divisions of an ideological nature. This statement on Illegal Immigration policy from Barack Obama's website illustrates the point :
"Barack Obama has played a leading role in crafting comprehensive immigration reform. Obama believes the immigration issue has been exploited by politicians to divide the nation rather than find real solutions."
Note the use of language. People who do not agree with Mr. Obama's immigration policies are "exploiting" the issue to "divide" the nation -- as opposed to Barack Obama who is interested in finding "real solutions". To disagree with him is to "exploit" and "divide," which is nothing more than respectable code for hurling the r-word.
Scientific Consensus: Al Gore has a lot to say on this subject. The following screed aimed at the so-called "global warming denier" sums it up nicely:
"The debate is over! There's no longer any debate in the scientific community about this. But the political systems around the world have held this at arm's length because it's an inconvenient truth, because they don't want to accept that it's a moral imperative."
By definition, expecting unity in matters of science violates the core principles of the scientific method. Although theories can be generally accepted, they are only as strong as their ability to refute alternative hypothesis.
There was once a strong "scientific consensus" for the idea that the Earth was the center of the universe. The preposterous notion that the planets revolved around the Sun was as far from the mainstream as you could get, and divisive.
Too ancient an example? How about the scientific consensus surrounding racial classifications and eugenics which were popular in Europe and America in the 20's and 30's? Seems unthinkable today but these were mainstream opinions, backed by a healthy majority of biological and social scientists.
The idea that skeptics to all, or part, of the theory of anthropogenic global warming should just fall in with the rest of the crowd is a great disservice to renegades like Copernicus and Galileo who rejected the prevailing consensus to advance what - at the time - were very radical ideas.
Reasonable Expectations of Unity
There are at least two areas where an expectation of some degree of political unity is appropriate: solidarity in times of war and standards for citizenship and national identity.
In both cases the Left's previous demands for unity fall away to leave nothing but the rustling of grass and the sound of crickets. In these cases we are told that not only is it an unreasonable expectation, it is indeed their duty to speak out. Presto chango -- a wedge issue becomes "the highest form of patriotism".
Unity in a Time of War: It is not fair to ask citizens living in a free country to keep their opinions to themselves in the run up to a war. This is usually a period of great debate with legitimate differences of opinion, tactics, and ideology on all sides. Clearly this is no time to call for unity.
The same cannot be said of a country which is currently engaged in a conflict. Unless the war in question is thoroughly barbaric and wrong, (think Hitler in Poland or the Japanese in Nanking), the reasonable expectation is to present a united front. This does not mean that all citizens agree with every tactic, or even the majority decision to fight. It means that once you've committed to the course of action you do your best to pull together and win.
Obviously there is always a role for reasonable criticism and self-examination, (i.e., Abu Ghraib, or rethinking tactics prior to the surge), but it should be done within the context of a country that is united in winning the conflict.
This license has been radically expanded, reaching points -- as in the case of the New York Times publishing sensitive details of previously effective anti-terror programs -- arguably just short of treason.
Unity of Identity as Americans: The motto on our coins -- E Pluribus Unum -- says it all. Roughly translated as "Out of Many - One," it is a sentiment which has served us practically as well as poetically. For almost 200 years, it was unquestioned that immigrants would cede allegiance to their country of origin and adopt the language, customs and culture of America. No one expected them to forget where they'd come from, but clearly it was well understood that assimilation was the desired end point. Immigrants chose to come here and were allowed in with varying numbers. Americans generally welcomed them, providing they too loved and appreciated the country that had offered them shelter and opportunity in their time of need.
Somewhere around 1965 Liberals began attacking this social contract. The rise of multiculturalism with its emphasis on the left side of the hyphen, (i.e., Mexican-American), and its relentless balkanization of the country into hostile competing camps has recast one of our great societal assets as an oppressive form of subjugation.
Despite their uninterrupted calls for the rest of us to forgo our inherent racism, in the end it is the Left which is incapable of seeing the world through any other lens. Their 21st century tribalism is about as far as you can get from unity, and it's a great loss for all of us, because this unity -- unity as Americans -- is much more than an empty campaign slogan. E Pluribus Unum is the promise of America, a country, which for all its flaws and shortcomings, is still more a shared ideal than any geographic location or common ancestry.
For all their talk of unity as a value, liberals employ it selectively and strategically to advance positions which are far from inclusive. On issues of faith and policy the left-wing hand wringing around "divisiveness" often amounts to nothing more than a gag order for those they don't agree with. In the intersection of science and public policy the term "scientific consensus" is used with similar designs to stifle minority opinion, (which if unfounded would ultimately be discredited through the rigors of the scientific method anyway).
Conversely, when we consider the cases where political and social unity is a reasonable expectation in our society, liberals will have none of it. Patriotic support in a time of war is routinely mocked and derided, with those choosing to do so referred to as ignorant or brainwashed. The same is true of calls for assimilation and shared culture which are characterized as nativist or xenophobic.
There's no unity on the question of unity in politics and society.