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No Labels: A Shared Vision for a Stronger Two-Party System

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published
Editor's Note: This is a book review and the opinions expressed herein are the author's.
"No Labels stands for something vitally important— and utterly commonsense. It stands for the basic principle that if we want to move forward as a country, we need leaders who are willing to sit down with anyone— conservative, liberal, or anyone in between— so long as they are willing to work to achieve shared success for America." - U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, "No Labels: A Shared Vision for a Stronger America"

This is a great quote. This is exactly what problem solving in the United States needs to look like. Solutions should not be defined by labels, but should be the result of a comprehensive effort to move America in the right direction. This means solutions should be nonpartisan, and a growing organization like No Labels with the influential members it has can spearhead a real effort in Congress to make this happen.

But, this is not exactly what No Labels is offering.

No Labels proposes a vision for the United States where lawmakers actually work together and seek bipartisan consensus regarding the nation's biggest problem. The organizations calls its book, "No Labels: A Shared Vision for a Stronger America," the first step toward a better America.

The book offers nice words, but they come off more like the broken promises of hope and change that captivated voters in 2008. It is a nice vision of America to see lawmakers reach across the political aisle to do what is best for America, but No Labels offers no strategy for making this happen -- the first step is made with no path to follow.

How do you get a lawmaker more concerned about re-election to shift his or her priorities? How can one expect a politician who only represents less than 5 percent of his or her constituency to work across the political aisle? How can lawmakers join together to discuss the real needs of the American people when Congress lacks adequate representation?

To these questions, No Labels offers no answers. Jon Huntsman and leaders with No Labels say that while reform efforts to improve elections in the U.S. are noble, they are not immediate solutions and the No Labels vision is an immediate way to end hyper-partisan gridlock in Washington. However, how immediate is their solution if they cannot answer the above questions?

Even Republican U.S. Representative Charlie Dent almost gets to the heart of the matter:

"Around Washington, it sometimes feels like we’re engaged in trench warfare. Too many seek safety and security in their own trenches— especially if their general reelection seems a sure thing— and no one wants to get out and venture into 'no man’s land.'"

Many lawmakers know a general election victory is practically guaranteed, but it is the primary elections that keep lawmakers in the comfort and security of their own trenches. As long as they can clear that hurdle, victory is assured.

No Labels gives good one-liners, but they are things that Americans have heard time and time again on the campaign trail. They are empty words from “Problem Solvers” who are incapable or unwilling to come out with real, strategic plans to solve the nation’s biggest problems.

No Labels lists 4 goals lawmakers should work to achieve:

  1. Create twenty-five million new jobs over the next ten years.
  2. Reform Medicare and Social Security so they are secure another seventy-five years.
  3. Balance the federal budget by 2030.
  4. Make America energy self-sufficient by 2035.

These are all great goals to work toward. They are also the same campaign promises we hear every major election year -- almost verbatim. Energy self-sufficiency in the next 20 years? It seems Americans have been hearing this for the last 20 years, well before the current gridlock that has made the 113th Congress the least productive Congress in modern U.S. history.

So, how do we turn this from partisan rhetoric to real solutions? What trade-offs will each side need to make? How can we go beyond partisan words and find the best solution for America?

"In this book, however, we have purposely stopped short of suggesting which trade-offs will be needed. That’s the mistake that is made too commonly in our political debates. Too often, political actors start parsing the smallest policy disagreements right from the beginning— before they’ve ever agreed on what they’re actually trying to achieve. Before long, they’re completely divided— and all because they got wrapped up in the details before they took the time to build consensus around the big picture."

It is the ultimate self-help book for America...

Bipartisan solutions, like what No Labels says we should strive for, sound good on paper, but often times do not result in real solutions. Most instances of bipartisan compromise have resulted in nothing changing at worst and a temporary remedy that just pushes the problem back a decade or so at best.

"Today in Washington, DC most people think of the words “bipartisan solution” the way they think of the tooth fairy. It’s a nice idea— until you grow up and realize it’s a fantasy," said Dr. Alice Rivlin. "But I’ve seen that fantasy become a reality many times, including twice in the last few years."

No, most people know that bipartisan solutions are possible as they have seen what bipartisanship in Washington means. What people think is a fantasy is that lawmakers could actually work toward real solutions that just don't combine partisan positions, but are nonpartisan. No Labels is still confined within the two-party system and believes that between Republicans and Democrats, the answer must be there.

"No Labels would respect the two-party system, embracing the most devoted Democrats and the most stalwart Republicans, the most ardent conservatives and the most passionate liberals."
What if Republicans AND Democrats have it wrong on an issue? No labels touts its No Budget, No Pay initiative in the book as a step toward progress. When a person hears the title of it, the first thought must be, "That is such a great idea! Why didn't we have something like this in place before the government shutdown?!"

We did. A No Budget, No Pay law was signed by President Obama in February 2013. It didn't assure a budget would be passed by the end of the fiscal year, however, because lawmakers didn't have anything to worry about. First, lawmakers would still be paid at some point. Second, Congress has essentially become a millionaires club.

Again, at face value, the initiative sounds great, but it doesn't solve any problems. Even if it spurred lawmakers to act, it wouldn't mean Congress would pass the best budget proposals. In fact, it would likely have an adverse effect where lawmakers just scramble to put something together. The law obviously didn't do anything to prevent a government shutdown which cost as much as 120,000 jobs and billions of dollars. (Figures mentioned in No Labels' book)

Americans want our lawmakers to work together, but they want them to seek out real solutions that go beyond the strictures of partisan ideas. That is why a growing number of people are rejecting party labels and why party registration is at an all-time low. Real change, like what No Labels says they are working for, won't happen if the current electoral system prevents adequate representation.

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