What Does New 'No Labels' Movement Stand For?

Can a centrist movement be successful if it stands for nothing?

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On Monday, organizers for the nascent centrist/bipartisan group No Labels expected a thousand Democrats, Republicans and Independents to gather in New York City to decry hyper-partisanship and listen to a star-studded line-up of speakers including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Florida Governor Charlie Crist and many others. The movement says it is not a think-tank, a third party, or any "stalking horse" for any centrist candidate to get elected. It also eschews endorsing a single issue, preferring to say that it seeks "common sense," "less ideological" approaches to governing. Since No Labels is abstaining from any position other than noting that it would like to get away from "hyper-partisanship," pundits are speculating what, exactly, the purpose of the movement is, and how it will work.

  • Bloomberg Gets His Presidential Platform, Even If He Won't Admit It Yet  Although the mayor has repeatedly said he will not run for president, David Usborne at U.K.'s The Independent notes that if he so chooses, "he could certainly expect the support of the No Labels group, in the same way that MoveOn.org rallies behind whomever the Democrats put forward and that the Tea Party has sprung up to give grassroots backing to the conservative wing of the Republican Party." The conventional wisdom surrounding a Bloomberg bid, Usborne figures, is that he would run if he feels the main party candidates "would worsen" the polarization of American politics (He gives the example of a Obama vs. Palin vs. Bloomberg match-up. A hypothetical case study is played out here).
  • It's a Bland Trojan Horse for Generic Liberal Politics  figures Slate's David Weigel, who's full name for the movement is "the most important post-partisan trojan horse for generic liberal politics since either Unity08 or HotSoup.com." Mocking "No Labels," he concedes, is "easy." What strikes Weigel is that the come-togetherness of the event feels identical to the Glenn Beck 9/12 movement. But, "the comparison is actually a little unfair to Beck. The Fox News host, at least, is intellectually clear and consistent about how he wants Americans and politicians to act, and what policies would work in the long term, when the crises come."
  • There's Plenty of Heavyweight Political Strategists Behind the Scenes  "Looking at the political backgrounds of the organizers of No Labels, there is an inescapable connection to the Clintons, writes Luisita Lopez Torregrosa at Politics Daily. "Several worked in Bill Clinton's presidential campaigns and in his administration. Some also worked in Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign." No Labels plans to organize meetings in "every district" across the nation. "For a fledging political group operating on a shoe string, it certainly trumpets a far-reaching vision," Torregrosa observes.
  • 'Good Luck' Electing Centrist Candidates  While National Journal's Beth Reinhard notes that the group is aiming for to be "something big" that can attract "Americans fed up with traditional party labels and partisan gridlock," she also notes that is a much harder proposition than it seems. "Flame-fanning media outlets, gerrymandered voting districts, and primary elections tilted toward candidates at the extremes are just tributaries to the flood that No Labels is trying to stanch," she writes. Moderates in both parties are an "endangered species" and politicians who compromise are swiftly "shown the door." Reinhard concludes: With $1 million dollars in seed money, activists in all 435 congressional districts, and 20,000 Facebook followers, "No Labels is one of a few signs nationwide of pushback" against hyper-partisanship.
  • It's About Moving Away from Hyper-partisanship  In an opinion contribution to CNN.com, three of the group's high-profile backers--Evan Bayh,David Walker and Christine Todd Whitman--explain the message of No Labels by venting their frustration at the "dysfunctional state of our current political system." The House has become "ideologically driven" to an unproductive degree and only "about 70 seats in the house are really contested." As a result of this polarization "the political fringes of each party have an undue influence on how over 365 of the 435 seats are decided." No Labels will commit to provide "public support for those elected officials who seek solutions to our problems and who are willing to work across the political aisle and bridge the ideological divide to make progress." The final line of the article may be the most revealing about the ideology of No Labels: "Together we can achieve fiscal responsibility with social justice."
  • Whatever It Is, No One Seems To Care   In a succinct post for Commentary magazine, John Podhoretz notes that--at the time he was watching the live feed of the No Labels rally--"a grand total of 508 people are watching the webcast." Also, he can't quite figure out what it's all about except that there's some politicians saying "there's too much partisanship and polarization and we need to work together to get things done." For good measure, Podhoretz notes that "bipartisanship" doesn't exactly mean good governing strategy: 
Do they mean things like … the Iraq war, for which half the Democratic caucus in the Senate voted in 2002? Or the No Child Left Behind Act, probably the most bipartisan piece of legislation of our generation, back in 2001? Or … the TARP bailout in 2008, which had bipartisan support as well? Those votes, and the policies that followed from them, have really done a lot to advance the cause of bipartisanship, no?

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