A new movement is officially launching today in New York City: "No Labels," a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and independents dedicated to the proposition that all political views are created equal and our most pressing need is not partisanship but solutions. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough will moderate the convention, to be attended by over 1,000 delegates from all 50 states.
Their goal is to shift political discourse, partly by monitoring the conduct of elected officials. Those who "reach across the aisle" to find common ground with the opposite party will be singled out for praise; those who indulge in the name-calling, take-no-prisoners style of Limbaugh and Olbermann will be castigated. An op-ed by William A. Galston and David Frum explains why No Labels is a welcome phenomenon. "Liberal" Galston and "conservative" Frum claim the system does not work if politicians a) "treat the process as a war in which the overriding goal is to thwart the adversary," or b) "treat the members of the other party as enemies to be destroyed."
No disagreement there, but Frum and Galston push a little further when citing the results of a poll showing that 61 percent of independent voters agree that "governing is about compromise" and finding common ground, while only 32 percent agree that "leadership is about taking principled stands."
There's some sleight-of-hand going on here. Or might I say sleight-of-mind? "Common ground" is not that hard to find. Common ground is more jobs, economic stability, international security-everyone agrees on those. Where we disagree is how to accomplish those goals. Stimulus or spending cuts? Supply-side or side of pork? That's where principle comes in. It's inadvisable, if not impossible, to compromise on opposite approaches-a little of this and a little of that may work in the kitchen, but in policy it produces a mush that postpones problems rather than solving them. Compromise may often be a necessary evil, but it shouldn't be the goal of governance.
Why do we dislike labels so much? That wasn't always the case: Americans have up to recently been proud to identify themselves as Freemasons, bimetallists, Presbyterians, Democrats, abolitionists-select all that may apply. Now we don't like to be boxed in, deprived of "options." We're queasy about being pegged to a stereotype or associated with yahoos. But extending our personal reluctance to national policy is wishful thinking at best.
"In an act as old as America, citizens are coming together out of frustration and patriotism to give their country a better future," report Frum and Galston. They should brush up on their history. The original American act was to take a stand against royal oppression. The demonization of King George figured prominently in the Declaration of Independence. "A better future" didn't mean that the colonies compromised on becoming partially independent, even though that's what a lot of them wanted. Instead, rightly or wrongly, a handful of partisans had a vision, seized the initiative and eventually carried the day. In a way, partisanship created America. We won't get rid of it that easily.