The group No Labels, begun as an idealistic effort to break the partisan logjam in Congress, says it is re-inventing itself by acknowledging the ideological divide and working to bring the two sides together.
The makeover includes two familiar politicians serving as co-chairs and a commitment to what they are calling “problem solving.”
“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.”
That perspective is shared by the group’s new co-chairs — West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and former Republican Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who gave their first joint interview to Yahoo News since taking their new roles.
“It’s not about centrism, it’s about a new attitude toward the realities we face. It’s about finding Democrats and Republicans who will check their egos at the door,” said Huntsman, whose decidedly centrist run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination flamed out early in the primary process.
Huntsman and Manchin will be among the marquee speakers at “A Meeting to Make America Work!” the group’s conference in New York on Monday. Others include newly elected Maine Independent Sen. Angus King; Newark, New Jersey Mayor and Democratic Senate candidate Cory Booker; and Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller, who will address the group by video. Former President Bill Clinton and Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, will send taped messages.
Huntsman and Manchin told Yahoo News they envision a more aggressive agenda for No Labels, like improving the group’s small donor fundraising, using digital tools to broaden its grassroots operations and recruiting more lawmakers to team up with with the organization and embrace its goals.
To that end, No Labels has helped launch a congressional “Problem Solvers’ Group” — 12 Republican lawmakers, 13 Democrats — who have begun holding meetings and working on some reform measures. Several members of the group are attending the New York conference.
They still have the same problem as far as I can see: relevancy. Moderates, or centrists if you want to call them, have been disappearing from the American political landscape for more than a decade. What’s left are highly partisan ideologues who take a gimlet eyed view of sitting down with the other side about anything. In a culture where compromise equals treason, the idea that a group of minor politicians and well meaning civilians could turn the world upside down and bring sanity and comity back to politics is an unrealistic stretch.
Even if they include both liberals and conservatives in the group, these are hardly the bitter ideologues who could use a seminar in good governance. They are, by definition, moderate conservatives and moderate liberals — groups despised by their fellow ideologues as being squishy and unreliable in a fight.
Relevant or not, No Labels will continue to attract media attention because in Washington and New York, the yearning for an alternative to the bickering and brawling political culture is strongest. But it’s hard to see how they can make any progress as long as hatred for each other remains as strong as it appears to be today.