With former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-UT) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) making the media rounds as the new co-chairs of No Labels, it’s time to reflect on the present and future of an organization I have supported with enthusiasm ever since its inception. Unfortunately, the present still contains the No Labels theme song; even I can admit that its very existence is embarrassing, to say nothing of the execution. It’s the elevator music on each conference call I’ve joined and it never gets better. Please scrap it.
But there are more important criticisms to address as well. Salon.com’s Alex Pareene is back, gleeful that No Labels took his advice and is shifting its focus to procedural reforms. But he’s not happy with the “No Budget, No Pay” proposal – he thinks the priority should be a good budget, not any budget at all, and he doesn’t want to hurt members of Congress who aren’t as rich as others. My guess is, if he were a member of Congress, he would have a very hard time letting go of his favorite things long enough to implement actual spending changes.
He also thinks mandatory bipartisan seating at joint sessions of Congress is “incredibly silly.” Had he said making this seating mandatory takes away the choice to demonstrate one’s bipartisan bona fides, or that it would lead to a different kind of cliquishness, I might have agreed with him. But the “gimmick” he treats with such scorn has been known to improve relations among members of Congress. See Rep. Scott Rigell’s (R-VA) comment here for an example.
The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin is unhappy with Huntsman’s presence; she thinks someone as brashly critical of the Republican Party as he has been will do No Labels no favors. She would rather see NL “repeal campaign finance reform,” “improve the mainstream media” and “get some constitutional perspective.” She’s not impressed with the focus on procedural reform. But she forgets the multitude of other think tanks focusing on all three. Why wouldn’t No Labels want its own niche?
Ezra Klein, writing in the Washington Monthly, was more generous than Pareene or Rubin. He sees the value in the procedural focus, despite his distaste for No Labels branding. (And, honestly, I would have hoped for them to find a new name by now.) He acknowledges that it is a “start,” but a good one. Of things like bipartisan seating, he asks “Why not?” Exactly.
Should No Labels achieve its procedural goals, it could eventually move on to identifying and funding candidates who suit their message, and perhaps even putting together a real policy shop, drafting and lobbying for the most mutually beneficial solutions for various legislative issues. The options for growth are endless. The leadership is talented and, whether Rubin likes it or not, recognizable and respected. A few tweaks to the user interface and No Labels could become a real Beltway force.