First, No Labels is a great organization. Their furious focus on problem-solving via finding shared values and then getting together to find the most effective way to pass the necessary legislation is of course something very dear to our hearts. They're led by an inspiring pair: Joe Lieberman and Jon Huntsman. They have successfully formed a caucus in Congress and managed to get a whopping eight presidential candidates to speak to the convention and take questions.
They have their own four-point strategic agenda for the country, the content of which we won't comment on. There's a strong emphasis that getting these things done will require bipartisan Congressional support, and they believe they have strong evidence that these are goals that almost all Americans share. Great.
But we have some feedback for how No Labels approached the convention. No Labels is recruiting problem-solvers, which is excellent.
There was a hashtagged question hanging around the room of the convention: "How?" This referred to a core question brought up at the beginning of the conference: "how are we going to pivot Congress to be able to work together effectively and become 'problem solvers?'"
Well, great question!
Unfortunately it wasn't actually the center of the conversation. Most attention went towards two things:
- Championing the need to put the nation before the party, the need to solve problems, the need to work together, the need to find shared values. Espousing that the people need to be empowered, leadership needs to lead, and legislators need to be ready to compromise.
- Stump speeches by presidential candidates.
Most of this had little at all to do with how to re-kindle bipartisan engagement -- how to create that "problem-solver" culture.
I fear that all of this has been said before, and many times.
Probably the most tangible answer to "#how" for No Labels is that it has that 4-point National Strategic Agenda, and the legislative participants of the convention are calling on citizens to pressure their own legislators to support the strategic agenda. So "go pressure your congressperson to get on board" might be the way No Labels answers that question.
Such an approach is predicated on an idea that Americans are all ready to start working together, that politicians just plain aren't listening, and what the country needs is a rallying flag or lightning rod to get enough momentum to start that bipartisan engine.
What I think is ultimately missing is, ironically, the core of the problem-solving process: root cause analysis. In order to solve a problem (in this case, partisan gridlock), one needs to understand what's driving it.
Our analysis is that No Labels' approach is too superficial to be successful on its own. We contend that there's a reason that highly partisan, polarized legislators keep getting elected, rather than replaced with more bipartisan, cooperative folks. Voters are voting for them and re-electing them. All elected legislators have one big incentive: do what's necessary to get votes, or you won't be in office next time to get anything else done.
We think that big question we really need to answer is, "why is it that Americans say they're fed up with partisan gridlock on the one hand, but then vote for and support folks that take hard, uncompromising positions, on the other?" What kind of convention can we have that will pivot the mindsets of Americans to reject hyperpartisan candidates, rather than elect them? As soon as, but not until, the citizen culture around politics changes, I think politicians will have their hands tied by their own voters.
What No Labels is doing is amazing stuff--I might even say it's necessary. But it, alone, isn't sufficient to drive the change we need.
--Erik, for StC