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TAUBE: A label for No Labels

Rejecting partisanship, some have formed their own partisan group

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Do you take pride in calling yourself a conservative, liberal or libertarian or using any other type of political label? If so, be forewarned: Your days are numbered. The thought police are out in full force, ready to sweep away this crime wave known as (gasp) political ideology.

Obviously, I'm just teasing. But what isn't funny is the way a high-profile group, No Labels, is arrogantly - and incorrectly - trying to change the nature of political discourse when it comes to our ideological leanings.

No Labels is an organization composed of centrist Democrats, Republicans and Independents. It's run jointly by a Democratic fundraiser, Nancy Jacobson, and a Republican strategist, Mark McKinnon. It even has prominent supporters, including New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, outgoing Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and former U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker.

What is this group's purpose? According to its website, No Labels thinks "hyper-partisanship is destroying our politics and paralyzing our ability to govern." Its organizers "believe in the vital civil center - a place where ideas are judged on their merits. We believe that together we can make the future better and brighter - and give us what we all deserve - a government and a political system that works - one driven by shared purpose and common sense."

Moreover, two of its founders, William A. Galston (former deputy assistant to President Clinton) and David Frum (former speechwriter for President George W. Bush), wrote in a Washington Post op-ed column that No Labels isn't "a nascent third-party movement ... stalking-horse for an independent candidacy ... [or] a front for anyone's agenda." Rather, it is, in "an act as old as America, citizens ... coming together out of frustration and patriotism to give their country a better future."

It's all very fascinating - and completely preposterous.

Contrary to popular belief, political labels aren't negative things. There's nothing wrong with having an ideological slant on a political, economic or cultural issue. If anything, it's a positive attribute because it shows a person may have given some time and thought before taking a particular position. While some people thrive on gut reactions, of course, if a person can publicly defend a position - whether we agree with it or not - it has to count for something.

In contrast, those who abuse or reject political labels are the real problem. We've all met people who call themselves conservatives or liberals - and, after speaking to them for a short while, we wonder if they truly know the difference between deficits and debts. Meanwhile, people who steadfastly refuse to be pigeonholed in a particular political mindset are usually the ones calling right-wingers "fascists" and left-wingers "communists." Why? Partly because they don't know any better and partly because they don't understand the history and evolution of most political ideologies.

As well, some people who refuse political labels don't like - or won't accept - the label that naturally fits them. There's no point rejecting a political label, or hiding from it for personal and/or professional reasons. Sometimes it's best to face facts and accept that you have a political designation.

But when it comes to No Labels, the result is even more ludicrous. Some political partisans who claim they don't believe in hyperpartisanship have formed a partisan group that uses partisan rhetoric to champion its cause.

How so? Well, it seems the No Labelers forgot to consider that the word "partisan" doesn't just refer to political ideology. Partisanship also can include a bias or allegiance toward certain groups, causes, conferences and even parties. By joining this particular group, all of its supporters - even the independents - inadvertently took a partisan position. And because many No Labelers have kept their political labels intact (for example, Mr. Frum still lists his political designation as Republican on his Facebook page), they have not checked their partisan egos at the door.

Sorry, No Labels, but you've actually said Yes (to) Labels.

Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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