What's in a Label?
I am not quite sure what to make of the new No Labels organization that debuted with a big confab of political elites in New York on Monday. The membership is a centrist mix of moderate Republicans, Democrats and independents. Its mission is to promote pragmatic policy solutions in a political environment that transcends polarized partisanship, a tall order given the bitter nature of our current national politics.
My concern is that politics is really about the art of compromise between competing ideological viewpoints. I’m not sure how well that works as a governing principle when it’s baked into the political soufflé at the outset. We know that third parties typically coalesce around big political personalities like Ross Perot or Ralph Nader, but the No Labels folks say they are more like an independent advocacy group trying to influence how the two existing parties behave in the legislative arena. They have no doubt been influenced by the successes of the tea party movement in the recently concluded midterm election cycle.
I don’t hold out much hope that the group will be able to directly influence the legislative behavior of the remarkably polarized Congress that will be seated in January 2011. Perhaps it will be able to do so indirectly through mobilizing the significant mass of American voters clustered around the center of the ideological spectrum, virtually all of whom hold both parties in very low esteem these days. Without this kind of grassroots energy, the group will seem like a bunch of failed Republican and Democratic institutional elites grasping for political power now that they are on the outs with the conservative and liberal power bases of their respective parties.

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