Despite a splashy New York launch, No Labels lacked a clear agenda and grassroots support and was largely dismissed as irrelevant. But with new leadership and a sharper focus, the group, which is redeploying with another New York conference on Monday, has shed some of its early idealism in favor of a more pragmatic acceptance of the partisanship that has divided the country and embroiled Washington in recent years.
“We started off thinking there was a broad group in the middle, but quickly realized that wasn’t productive. People have very different notions of what the middle is,” said Mark McKinnon, a longtime adviser to former President George W. Bush and a No Labels founder. “So we grew beyond that, and now have strong conservative and strong liberal partisans who want to participate.”…
“If you carry the No Labels brand, that says something – it means you’re bragging about problem solving, not just bragging about yourself,” Manchin said. “I think you’ll see people climbing aboard and wanting to become part of this.”
In response, a new organization—No Labels (NoLabels.org)—has emerged. No Labels is not a “moderate” or “centrist” organization: Its hundreds of thousands grassroots supporters include liberals and conservatives as well as moderates, Democrats and Republicans as well as independents. The organization does not ask its members to abandon their partisan and ideological commitments. (I’m a lifelong Democrat, an identification I have no intention of changing.) Nor is it a third party, or a stalking horse for independent candidacies.
Unlike the DLC and PPI, No Labels’ mission is not to reform a single political party. Its mission is to change the way our government does business and the way the leaders deal with each other. It stands for reform of Congress and the Presidency, for new principles of political leadership, and (most important) for a new attitude among elected officials. No Labels is working to provide a home for legislators—regardless of partisanship and ideology—who are focused on solving problems rather than scoring points, honorable men and women for whom compromise is a badge of honor, not a betrayal of principle…
But aren’t the purists right? Doesn’t compromise mean setting aside one’s principles? It can, but it need not. The core responsibility of every representative is to support only those initiatives that he or she conscientiously believes will promote the good of the country. During times of deep division, compromise is especially hard: it will require each individual to endorse a package that includes elements that he or she regards as bad public policy. A compromise becomes possible when all parties conclude that despite its defects, it represents an improvement over the status quo and helps solve a pressing problem.
That leads to the reasons why I suspect we’re on the brink of a major political realignment.
1. Americans are disconnected and frustrated with politics unlike virtually any time in the history of polling.
2. The country is in the midst of a wrenching economic shift from the industrial era to an info-tech economy. The transition coincides with unsettling social change. The nation’s institutions, especially government, are not adapting.
3. History suggests that periods of socioeconomic change in the U.S. lead to political upheaval, including transformation of existing parties and the rise of new ones.
4. Technology gives consumers enormous purchasing power, which has been used to democratize commerce and other institutions. One example: In a few short years, Americans gained the ability to ignore an artist’s album and buy only a favorite one or two songs. The music business was radically changed by we, the people. So why would Americans be expected to settle for the status quo in politics?
Michael Bloomberg, America’s most prominent and deep-pocketed advocate for gun control, would rather rehabilitate Republicans than oust them.
“Somebody got them the way they are now,” the mayor of New York said in a recent interview as he sat in the bullpen offices of City Hall, surrounded by a buzzing staff, blinking Bloomberg terminals and clocks telling the same time in each of the five boroughs. “Why can’t you change them?”…
“You have to change the people who are in the House,” Bloomberg acknowledged, as he sipped coffee from a recyclable cup under a portrait of Thomas Jefferson in the City Hall bullpen. He said he planned to use his super PAC, Independence USA, to tell the public, “This guy or woman is in favor of leaving guns in the hands of crazies who can kill your kids, the other one is not. I think you should vote for the other one.”
The other one, he specified, doesn’t necessarily mean the Republican.
No Labels might be less of a joke if the group’s list of 24 “Problem Solvers,” committed to bipartisanship and civil language, did not include Jon Huntsman (who not only holds no office but regularly smeared Republicans during his presidential campaign with such jibes as “anti-science” and recently accused Republicans of having no soul) or Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who is unmatched in his vitriol, penchant for anti-Israel remarks and general incivility.
One gets the sense the group is not so much interested in getting rid of labels as in getting rid of conservatives…
If No Labels is indeed interested in solving problems, they should start not with the politicians but with the people who put them there. The voters, God bless ‘em, do not punish the Jim Moran types but return them to office again and again. They vote for divided government. They are upset about the debt and about every measure to fix it except taxing other people (now we’ve done that) and cutting foreign aid (which is a ludicrously tiny amount of the budget). They self-segregate and tune in only to left-leaning and right-leaning media.
In part, it’s the self-congratulatory, schoolmarmish earnestness surrounding the campaign. No Labels actually gives out a label: the “Problem Solvers Seal” for candidates who have committed “to join a group of Problem Solvers.” It’s as cloying as a “Mean People Suck” bumper sticker and promises to be just as effective.
No Labels demands that “at all joint meetings or sessions of Congress, each member should be seated next to at least one member of the other party.” They pushed this idea before last year’s State of the Union and got more than 200 members to look for a cross-aisle BFF to sit with. If that led to an outpouring of legislative comity in 2012, I missed it.
Indeed, much of the campaign is warmed over Beltway pap. Pressed by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on the gun issue, Sen. Manchin could only sputter something about a federal “commission about mass violence” staffed by “experts from all different fields.” How bold!…
Our problems are legion: unsustainable middle-class entitlements, overextension abroad, the world’s largest per-capita prison population — and most of them stem from past occasions when “problem solvers” got together in chummy bipartisan fashion. We may need a little less collegiality to get out of this mess.
I’m telling you that the way to understand this debt limit thing, for example, the way to understand the fiscal cliff deal, the way to understand anything going on in Washington right now — I mean this from the bottom of my heart — is to understand that the objective, the political objective inside the Beltway is to eliminate any effective opposition to the Democrat Party. And yes, Republican moderates are complicit in this because they, too, dislike conservatives. Republican moderates hold out hope that the Republicans will win the White House again someday, and they will be in charge of all the money. A Republican moderate doesn’t talk about reducing the size of government, doesn’t talk about reducing spending. They just say they’re smarter and better at it, and they won’t go into debt as fast, but the conservatives are the problem.
The conservatives — and the latest example is Richard Mourdock. See, if you let the Tea Party and the conservatives handle this, they’re gonna nominate losers in the primaries. They don’t have any prayer of winning. We had a seat there, the Lugar seat, we lost it because the Tea Party conservatives are a bunch of neophytes and idiots, plus they’re conservative. So the objective, the moderate Republicans — and this isn’t new. I’ve mentioned this to you on previous occasions — really want to eliminate the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Don’t like ’em, pro-lifers, churchgoers, that sort of thing. The Democrats don’t like ’em for different reasons, but they don’t like ’em, don’t like conservatives. And Obama modus operandi is to not have any opposition.