In such a divisive time, the one thing that people may be able to agree on is that Congress should be getting more done. In 2010, citizens with this same thought came together to establish No Labels, an organization attempting to change the way Congress operates and solves some of the country’s most salient problems. On their website, they describe themselves as a “social welfare advocacy organization dedicated to activating citizens, organizing leaders and pushing for reforms to move America toward a new attitude of problem solving.”
One of No Labels biggest victories was the passage of ‘No Bill, No Pay’ which stipulates that Congressional pay checks are contingent on their passage of a budget. One of their current projects is a bill that would force both Congressional bodies to set goals to guide their legislative session. No Labels sees this as a way to put cooperation and problem solving above partisanship. They also have 60 policy ideas that range from the economy to social security to energy, amongst others.
Alright, real talk – I, like everyone else, want Congress to do more. I want active citizens and leaders and an America where we are solving problems instead of talking around them. The title of the organization comes from their desire for leaders and citizens to discuss and rate ideas based on merit rather than party distinction. In theory, I believe this too. If we are going to move beyond a country facing paralyzation from polarization, then there has to be recognition of ideas and people beyond party identification.
However, there are some problems with their approach. No Labels’ website claims that “childish name-calling and directionless debates have replaced principled discussion and intellectual honesty as the hallmarks of our politics.” Again, I agree that Congress needs to get its act together. But to pretend that politics was cooperation and intellectualism until recently is naïve and false. (Have these people not listened to the Hamilton soundtrack?) If only our politicians insulted each other the way they used to. ‘Crooked Hillary’ wouldn’t even register as an insult on the radar of some of our Founding Fathers. Trying to move Congress towards a glamorized historical ideal seems like a waste of valuable grassroots energy and focus. If the political theater requires some mudslinging and name-calling as cover before the bipartisan concessions begin, then so be it.
Besides glamorizing history, No Labels also seems to glamorize the issues that divide the country. In their FAQ section, one of the questions is how the group feels about gun rights and abortion. The answer says “Social and other divisive issues are used in politics to score points, stoke fear and anger and divide the nation. We believe there are plenty of issues that folks can agree on, so we focus on those instead.” This answer smacks of white people claiming colorblindness. No Labels wants to create 25 million jobs over the next 10 years, but if women or people of color or member of the LGBTQ community are barred from these jobs because of discrimination, then it doesn’t matter. Making child care more affordable is an important priority, but if women can’t afford birth control then they still lack control over their bodies and their lives. Better infrastructure in schools won’t help a transgender student who fears going to the bathroom.
Progress for the sake of progress is forward motion, but is it truly the problem solving endeavor that No Labels claims to want? Where will sanitized progress get us? True progress is a winding road of fits and starts that takes an uncomfortable amount of time. We can find areas of agreement to offer brief reprieves. Or we can sacrifice short-term wins for more persistent victories. This may be a group that resists labels, but if I were going to give them one, it'd read 'Be Better'.
Dylan is a runner, frequent-flyer, and amateur historian transplanted from New England
COPYRIGHT MILLENNIAL POLITICS LLC 2017