The No-Labels movement: just another fad – By George J. Marlin

The following appears in the December 31, 2010-January 6, 2011 issue of the Long Island Business News:

Plenty of positive media has been showered upon the “No-Labels” political movement founded by Democratic fundraiser Nancy Jacobson, the spouse of uber-pollster Mark Penn, and Republican strategist Mark McKinnon.

This group hopes to attract “enlightened” reformers, “good government” patricians and “genteel” political independents disgusted with Washington gridlock, political extremists, partisanship, blah, blah, blah.

Political wags believe No-Labels is the brainchild of Michael Bloomberg’s political consultants who stand to make a fortune if the mayor, as some speculate, spends a billion dollars running as a third-party presidential candidate in 2012.

Such movements are not new and have been led by disgruntled elitists who couldn’t make it in one of the major parties. In 1980 there was the independent candidacy of John Anderson, who was the darling of college kids thanks to his frequent appearance in the Doonesbury cartoon strip. Anderson, who lectured that a Ronald Reagan presidency would destroy our liberties, received only 5 percent of the vote and retired to political obscurity.

In 1992 and 1996, the sanctimonious flake Ross Perot, who bizarrely claimed President George H.W. Bush sabotaged his daughter’s wedding, ran to stick it to Republican bigwigs. By siphoning off just enough GOP votes, his candidacy enabled Bill Clinton to win both races with pluralities.

An example of a New York No-Labels type is Howard Mills, who in his 2004 race against U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer declared, “I reject [political] labels … I am not into labels.” Mills was not much of anything and the results proved it: He got only 24 percent of the vote.

No-Labels enthusiasts live under the delusion that political clashes and hyperpartisanship over issues are bad for the nation. They fail to grasp that the Founding Fathers created a federalist system of checks and balances to ensure a degree of gridlock.

To avoid mobocracy James Madison, the “Father of the U.S. Constitution,” insisted on a Senate upper chamber, with six-year terms to check the lower House chamber. Madison approved of factions and reasoned that to “divide the trust between different bodies of men, who might watch and check each other … [would prevent] fickleness and passion and [the temptation] to commit injustice on the majority.”

The No-Labels crowd also dismisses honestly held philosophical stands as extreme and does not appreciate the need for first principles – not immutable ideologies – to guide one when making public policy decisions.

As a conservative I insist on such principles and subscribe to these canons found in Russell Kirk’s monumental 1953 work “The Conservative Mind”:

  • Belief that divine intent rules society as well as conscience; that most political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.
  • Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and egalitarianism and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.
  • Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes; that equality before courts of law are recognized, but equality of condition means equality in servitude.
  • Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic leveling is not economic progress.
  • Faith in prescription and distrust of, in the phrase of Edmund Burke, “sophisters and calculators.” Tradition and sound prescriptions provide checks upon man’s anarchic impulse.
  • Recognition that change and reform are not identical.

These standards by which all policies are measured have served American conservatives well for generations. President Reagan, for instance, confounded Washington insiders and got 80 percent of his policies enacted precisely because he adhered to them.

Like its predecessors, the No-Labels movement will fizzle out because the issues that move elites – campaign finance reform, nonpartisan elections and publicly funded campaigns – do not energize the public. Expect No-Labels members to be short-lived political morning glories who will run back to the safety of their exclusive clubs and gated communities. Real reform will come from members of the established parties pushing the envelope to fix the nation’s ills.

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