In one of the more positive reports, an Associated Press correspondent deemed it "auspicious" that No Labels "attracted several GOP-aligned officials who were defeated in last month's midterm elections." To be more specific, those Republicans -- or in the case of Gov. Crist of Florida, a Republican apostate -- were defeated in last summer's primaries. If such characters serve to signify No Labels' bipartisanship, they also signify something else that was probably implicit in the group's anti-polarization mandate. The group may claim that it's "Not Left, Not Right," but its choice of martyred Republicans marks it as an anti-Tea Party movement. Members may reject the label. They might point out, maybe rightly, that they reject polarizing extremism from the left wing of the Democratic party. But the symbolism of yesterday's event is inescapable. Maybe they invited Tea Partiers, and maybe some were there who weren't mentioned in reports, but No Labels leaves the impression that its call to common ground leaves TPs out.
Christopher Beam's article on Slate typifies the almost contemptuous reception No Labels has received in some circles. He writes:
Everything you need to know about the new political group No Labels is contained in its slogan: "Not Left. Not Right. Forward." It's smug. It sounds like an Obama campaign catchphrase. And it ignores the whole reason politics exists, which is that not everyone agrees on what "Forward" is.
Beam argues that No Labels simply wants to ignore that the public itself is ideologically polarized. "Politicians aren't any meaner now than they were 30 years ago," he writes, "It's just that over the last few decades, the two parties have become more ideologically coherent." For some people, though, that's just another way of saying politics has gotten meaner. Meanwhile, Beam tries to minimize the number of truly independent voters in the country, claiming that swing voters (his definition of independence) represent no more than 10% of the electorate. At the same time, he claims vaguely that structural incentives exacerbate ideological polarization, and that these can't be remedied without "labels" that tell people what a group's ends are, not just its means.
The group itself explains its, er, label this way:
The “No” in No Labels means no preconditions, a “No” to the hyper-partisanship of labels.We cannot make progress until we check our preconditions at the door. In this way, we will mobilize the people who feel that we cannot go on this way forever. We must create a political force powerful enough to say "No," to the stagnation that paralyzes our nation.Hence, our name, No Labels, is significant for this very reason, that it begins with a no rather than the yes. It says “no” to the labels that would define us as separated when in fact, we are one country with common hopes and aspirations.
In this context, labels are simply cues to ignore other people's opinions or interests because they're "special" or, worse, "un-American." This mission statement is at odds with Beam's fatalistic account of fundamental, irrepressible disagreement on the meaning of "forward." I don't know Beam's own politics, but he seems to take for granted that there is not or can't be an objectively compelling definition of forward, or of the common good, while No Labels' appeal to "common hopes and aspirations" at least acknowledges the possibility. No Labels' understanding of the common good may inevitably put it in opposition to the Tea Partiers, who have their own understanding that is absolutely conditional upon individual entrepreneurial freedom. The TPs may have a skewed notion of the common good, one with little regard to the good of each or all, but at least they have a notion. I don't know if someone like Beam, who seems to question whether there's a common good at all, is the best person to judge them or the No Labels group. The group may have problems from the start, but it doesn't quite deserve the catcalls it's been getting from cynics and fanatics alike.