In a democratic political system, the consent of the minority to the majority's power is the measure of legitimacy. The majority, after all, has what it wants. How dissenters are treated and the degree to which they assent to the majority's possession of power while retaining the ability to dissent from the majority's policies and objectives shows how much the majority is trusted, respected, and considered within the bounds of acceptable political behavior. One of the markers of the Bush regime is the degree to which it has no legitimacy with most of the citizens. They are still trammeled by the institutions of government, but have continuously sought to dissolve these boundaries and rule through sheer force.
The increasing rejection of Obama by voters is a measure of his declining legitimacy. People who once thought they would gladly vote for him, like me, are now implacably opposed to him. He is no longer legitimate in our eyes. He has not sought legitimacy, which would mean facing up to oposition and allowing himself to be challenged, questioned, and probably be found wanting by some people, but has opted to pursue power at any price. Participating in and profiting from the media hatred of the Clintons, throwing out accusations of racism to try to forestall criticism and inflate AA vote counts, encouraging people to be "Obamacans" not Democrats, the "Democrat for a Day" strategy, engaging in intimidation and threats to extract caucus votes, aggressively trying to monopolize money specifically to silence alternative voices, and treating voters who do not choose him first with contempt.
Lack of legitimacy means relying on force to win. If you have to bully people to make them be quiet, you have lost legitimacy. If you have to remove votes from the contest in order to win, you have lost legitimacy. The objection Hillary supporters have to "teh Rulz" to exclude Michigan and Florida is how nakedly they are used to force the numbers themselves into submission. The rules, as Hillary made clear in her incredible speech today, have a legitimacy problem just like Obama himself because of their instrumental use for the benefit of a particular candidate, not just to the detriment of a competitor, but to the detriment of democracy itself. Insisting on unity as a substitute for legitimacy corrodes the institutions meant to defend democracy. Insisting on unity in order to avoid dealing with dissent is self defeating.
Take a moment to read comments by CMike, documenting the highly contested election of 1972, and Esmense, relating a personal memory of that election, and the ways in which the Democrats have fought over these questions of contestation and legitimacy before.
BTD on TalkLeft has spent many inches of blog posts trying to talk the Obamacans down from their rarified atmosphere and get serious about this Unity stuff, but the part of the puzzle he misses (or has missed in the past, as his recent posts have been of much sharper caliber) is the failure of the Obam camp to establish the conditions for legitimacy, starting first and foremost with seating Michigan and Florida as is. Failure to create the conditions under which vast majority of the party will have no doubts that he will serve the interests of the party and be protective of those who dissent from him will leave not just Obama but the party itself in dire straits in the months to come. Riverdaughter has a brilliant post up on The Confluence. You need to go read it all beause it is good in every regard, but these two paragraphs get to the heart of the matter:
Who is giving them permission to set aside their ethics and shuffle off the standards of acceptable behavior? Who is running the party that allows for the brutal suppression of one half by the unleashed id of the other half? I put the blame at the top of the party and Obama himself.
There is a price to be paid for such aggressive and insensitive behavior. People do have free will. The party belongs to the people who believe in its principles. Those principles of social justice, equality and shared responsibility can not be discarded for Change! without the party suffering some severe blows to its foundation. Going forward, the party becomes a fragile shell, easily blown to bits by outside forces because its foundations of support have been carelessly undermined.
You gain legitimacy by being willing to risk power. This is the root cause of Obama's failure to be a unifying figure even as he preaches Unity. Obama would have lost some power in relation to Clinton early on by being willing to seat Florida and revote Michigan (I have said before that had he agreed to an immediate MI revote he would have won that state), but he would have gained an immeasurable amount of legitimacy with the voters, which would be paying off now. Clinging to a formal numbers count and defending that as the measure of victory rather than leaping for the chance to be affirmed by the voters is may garner a party nomination, but it makes Obama look like a beleagured dictator bleating about how he won an election that everyone knows was dirty and compromised.
Unity is power to quell dissent, legitimacy is power under conditions of dissent.