The Slatest

I Will Only Take a Democratic “Unity Pledge” if I Can Still Complain That Joe Biden’s First Fundraiser Was Hosted by a Comcast Executive

A grinning Biden prepares to get into in to a car as he's followed by reporters.
Joe Biden in Washington, D.C. on April 5.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The latest hot trend in Democrat World is to ask primary candidates and their supporters to take a “unity pledge.” The grassroots activist group Indivisible launched its version last Thursday, which calls in general terms for a “constructive” primary in which “shared values” are highlighted and everyone immediately gets behind the eventual nominee rather than continuing to hold grudges for the next 1,000 years. On Friday and Saturday, #resistance celebs George Takei and Alyssa Milano, whose combined Twitter/Instagram followers total 9.94 million, took things a step further and asked their social-media hordes to agree not to speak “negatively” about anyone in the race at all:

The motivation here is the idea that nasty primary campaigns can depress the enthusiasm of the losers’ supporters; Indivisible has addressed that problem directly by scheduling a “Weekend of Action” after the Democratic National Convention during which supporters of both winning and losing primary candidates will be able to join hands to knock on doors and make phone calls for the nominee. Another motivation is the idea that negative primary campaigning can pre-emptively destroy the winning candidate’s reputation among general-election swing voters, hence the Takei/Milano/My Mom model, in which if you can’t say something nice you shouldn’t say anything at all.

The problem with unity enforcement, though, is that it tends to protect the status quo, because it means never criticizing the frontrunner, which gives party insiders and major donors—who are free to line up behind particular candidates before they even launch their “exploratory committees”—even more influence than they already have. Joe Biden, for example, has already gotten more endorsements from top party figures than any other candidate despite having only been in the race for only a week, and he leads in most polls in part by virtue of name recognition. But is the average Democratic voter really well served by a regime in which it’s considered improper to criticize Biden? Or, to be more specific, is the country better off if Democrats aren’t complaining that Biden held his first official campaign fundraiser at the home of the man who supervises lobbying operations for Comcast, a monopolistic mega-corporation that is reviled by its customers? If it’s not cool to complain about that kind of thing, why even have a Democratic Party at all?

It seems like Indivisible’s version of the pledge would allow me to make this point, for what it’s worth, so long as I did so while emphasizing shared values (let’s say by pointing out that 77 percent of Democrats favor the enactment of laws restricting the amount of influence that big donors have on the political process) and presenting constructive context (let’s say by pointing out that candidates like Elizabeth Warren and John Hickenlooper have already outlined proposals to prevent further monopolization of the American economy). Alyssa Milano’s unity pledge, however, would forbid me from speaking my truth.

But as I have always said, I will not be silenced by Alyssa Milano. Joe Biden, do better!