On Monday January 14, 2013, No Labels held its “Meeting to Make America Work!” in New York City and introduced their new co-chairman, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and former Republican Governor of Utah Jon Huntsman.
The meeting was attended by over 1,300 citizens from around the country. They heard from the new co-chairman, various co-founders, and members of Congress about the pressing need for Congress to begin working together to solve the many problems facing the country. Citizens were also encouraged to get the message of the organization out through social media, face-to-face interaction, as well as writing to or meeting with their Congressional leaders to encourage them to join the newly formed “Problem Solvers Bloc” in Congress.
With their new national spokesmen and fairly new slogan “Stop Fighting. Start Fixing,” No Labels is looking to capitalize on the frustration that many Americans are feeling about the growing polarization of a Congress, which has received the distinct honor of being the least productive in American history.
What is not to love about an organization of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents coming together and asking Washington to put labels, vitriol, and partisanship aside to solve the pressing issues of the day? Sounds like movement just waiting to take off, right?
In theory, yes. Who doesn't like the idea of things getting done in this country? But in reality, No Labels has some major problems that is preventing it from being a real force in American politics.
They don't take any stances. The first problem is their refusal to take a stand on a lot of issues. Yes, they have come out with proposals to “Make Congress Work!," “Make the Presidency Work!," and now to “Make America Work!” Some of the proposals are good, some not so good.
But their main message is the notion that both sides are at fault for the gridlock in Washington. In the words of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, that is fundamentally dishonest. Right now, the root cause of the paralysis in this country is a Republican Party led by far right, uncompromising Tea Party representatives who have absolutely zero interest in governing the country.
From the very first day of Obama's presidency, they have refused to compromise with Congressional Democrats on anything. One-third of President Obama's stimulus package was tax cuts for working families and small business and yet not a single House Republican voted for it and only three Republicans in the Senate voted for it.
President Obama's health care plan was based largely on a 1990's proposal made by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank (now run by Tea Party darling Jim DeMint). The bill got zero Republican votes in both the House and the Senate.
For more recent history, we can take a look at the 2011 and 2012 fiscal cliff and debt ceiling negotiations. Time and again President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner held bipartisan meetings to try and reach a grand bargain. Obama compromised on spending cuts, raising the eligibility age for Medicare and even cutting benefits for current Social Security recipients and each time the Republicans said no and brought us to the brink of defaulting on our debts and going over the fiscal cliff. A recent Politico story reports that House Republicans are seriously considering allowing our nation to default on its debts and sending the economy into a tailspin just so they can get what they want from President Obama.
If No Labels is serious about ending gridlock in Washington, they need to take a stand and blame the people who are the real cause of it instead of straddling the fence with the “both sides are at fault” message they have been pushing since they first launched in December of 2010.
Their reforms will not change much. A five day work week, bipartisan seating, question time? These are all good ideas. But even if these were enacted, how exactly would that change anything? If members are forced to come to work five days a week, they would spend five days a week getting nothing done due to hyper-partisanship.
Members of the 112th Congress did bipartisan seating at the State of the Union in 2011 and 2012 and they were the most unproductive, polarized Congress in American history.
The main reason Congress is so gridlocked is because of gerrymandering. Many members of Congress are gerrymandered into safe seats where they only fear a primary from a more "idealogically pure" challenger. As a result, members of Congress have no incentive to compromise or get things done. Their constituents don't want them to. They call this country a representative republic for a reason.
Unless gerrymandering changes, Congress will not. It's that simple. However, No Labels doesn't think it is too big of a problem. The new co-chairs of the event went so far as to say the problem of gerrymandering is “almost totally irrelevant to the urgent challenges at hand.”
They lack sustainability. There is no question that No Labels puts on a great show and they get their supporters from all over the country to come to their events. Having worked for the organization, I have a great appreciation for how hard the back office staff works to put events like the “Meeting to Make America Work!” together. They do it with very little manpower and on a very tight budget and they pull it off almost flawlessly. There are a lot of bright minds working for the organization.
And because of their intelligence and hard work, No Labels usually gets a lot of great press at these events and a huge spike of new sign-ups and activists. However, once they hit that high point, they are unable to sustain it for very long. Groups like the Tea Party are always in the news. No Labels pops up in the news during these events and two days later they are gone and not really thought about and I am not sure that Senator Manchin or former Governor Huntsman can change that.
Senator Manchin is a newcomer to national politics and is not well known outside of West Virginia. Former Governor Huntsman was the only Republican in the 2012 primary race to fully endorse Paul Ryan's Budget (the guy on Mitt Romney's ticket) and yet he could barely get 3% of the vote. If he cannot get Republicans to vote for him after endorsing Ryan's beloved budget plan, how is he going to draw a large portion of the electorate to No Labels?
Despite a message that resonates with a lot of Americans, No Labels as an organization has yet to make a significant impact on the political culture in America. While I hope that their message does change the way Washington works, I do not see it happening. If they cannot rally Americans around their organization now, in the age of high polarization, gridlock and a deeply unpopular Congress, when exactly will they be able do it?