Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review:
No Labels” seems like a dodge to me. Or at least it used to.
I’m referring not so much to the No Labels group as to its idée fixe. The group was established in 2010 by an array of moderate Republicans and what we used to think of as “New Democrats.” Describing itself as a “movement” — the better to suggest a grassroots surge rather than a Beltway-insider gambit — No Labels devotes itself to making Washington “work”: to transcending partisan and ideological branding, to finding the common ground needed to solve the nation’s problems.
But what if Washington is the nation’s problem? Not the much-touted dysfunction of our central government but the very conceit that the problems of 320 million people are suitable to being solved by a Beltway political elite whose lives are increasingly remote from those of the people they nominally represent?
To say that “no labels” is a dodge is to use too loaded a word. No Labels members are deeply concerned about our country, particularly our security. Their desire to fix what ails us is genuine. To my mind, though, they are hearkening to a time more fondly imagined than actually lived — a time when political adversaries put their differences aside and addressed challenges cooperatively. Presuming their good faith, as I do, it is better to say the project is ill-conceived.
Our political divide is about principles, not labels. Labels have always been given to sets of principles, but principles and politics have never been mutually exclusive. The practice of politics in a constitutional democracy is, after all, the repetition of a calculation about principle: Knowing that everyone does not agree with me but that I have opportunities to convince them over time, how much can I afford to compromise today such that my principles can advance in the short run and prevail in the long run?
Still, the No Labels people do have a point when they argue that labels hinder effective governance. I don’t think, though, that this is because the labels make us intransigent. It is because the labels make ever less sense. Their main effect today is to obscure the real scrimmage line in our politics.