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Sorry, No Labels, the problem here isn't a lack of bipartisanship

Posted by Jesse Singal  July 29, 2011 12:38 PM

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As we hurtle toward debtastrophe, it's interesting to stand Paul Krugman's column yesterday next to the most recent arguments from No Labels, a group launched last fall that aspires to solve the nation's problems with a steady diet of staunch bipartisanship.

"The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren't complicated," Krugman argues, since any reasonable observer can tell that, given the extent to which Obama and the Democrats have shown a willingness to compromise, it's Republican intransigence that is preventing an agreement. Pundits who revert to their standard "pox on both their houses" intellectual tics aren't doing their jobs.

No Labels doesn't quite agree.

For those unfamiliar with the group, it's a profile in what is in fact center-right blandness with a hasty coat of Seriousness painted over it. Slate's Chris Beam summed No Labels up pretty well when it launched last fall:

The group's mission statement is filled with the bland pablum of political campaigns. It's the kind of stuff that's so obvious, no one would ever disagree. "Americans are entitled to a government and a political system that works&mdash;driven by shared purpose and common sense." Unlike all those groups that prefer a political system that doesn't work. "Americans want a government that empowers people with the tools for success ? provided that it does so in a fiscally prudent way." Me, I'm for spending wads of money on failure. "America must be strong and safe, ready and able to protect itself in a world of multiple dangers and uncertainties." That is going to upset their rival group, Americans Against Strength, Safety, Readiness, and Ability To Protect Ourselves. Their mission is so popular, even Akon could get behind it. (Sample lyric: "See a man with a blue tie/ See a man with a red tie/ So how about we tie ourselves together and get it done.") And if members were worried about how it would play in the polls, don't worry: Its founder, Nancy Jacobson, is married to Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn.

So what does the group have to say now, during the first bona fide political crisis of its existence? Take it away, No Labels:

Pledges to single-issue groups like Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, which demands elected officials promise to never vote for increases to net tax revenues, is a major force behind the stalemate in Washington over the debt crisis. At the same time, 110 Representatives and 11 Senators have added their names to the Progressive Change Campaign Committee's "Social Security Protector's Pledge." When our leaders sign pledges, they lock themselves into iron-clad positions and take away the flexibility necessary to adapt to changing times and circumstances.


We are a country of broad interests, of 300 million people with different hopes, dreams and needs. Our elected officials must represent the diverse interests of their constituents?not make promises to a privileged few that prevent them from serving the needs of the majority.

So a pledge to never increase taxes for any reason is equivalent to a pledge never to cut Social Security, which prevents millions of elderly citizens who paid into it their whole lives from slipping into abject poverty, and which, despite claims to the contrary, isn't in crisis and isn't a major drag on the nation's economy. And Democratic stubbornness on Social Security is as much to blame as Republican stubbornness on taxes for the current impasse. This is an... interesting take on the situation.

No Labels paints itself as the only adults in the room, standing above all the squabbling children (politicians and pundits) and providing reasonable, commonsense solutions. But the group's take on the debt ceiling negotiations is, in fact, a deeply immature one. Adults don't just wave their hands and blame everyone involved in a dispute. Adults inquire and collect evidence and figure out whose arguments make more sense. Maybe labels are harmful, but it's pretty easy to affix one to a group that sees mainstream GOP policy on taxes as equivalent to mainstream Democratic policy on Social Security: lazy.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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