No Labels was once the embodiment of a dream. It was the dream of a bunch of wealthy and bored coastal elites who’d determined that the biggest problem facing America was “partisanship,” and that the answer was to give up “ideology” and instead pursue a “centrist” agenda composed mainly of moderately conservative budget reforms and gimmicky demonstrations of bipartisan comity. The fact that “centrism” itself is as much an ideology as liberalism or conservatism didn’t matter – the cause was righteous, and the donations were plentiful.
The No Labels dream is coming up on its fourth birthday, and in that time the group has made exactly zero progress toward its goal of untangling gridlock in D.C. It’s actually worse now than it was in 2010, in spite of No Labels’ frequent calls for bipartisan seating for legislators at the State of the Union address.
What is has succeeded in doing, however, is becoming exactly the sort of scummy, insider-D.C. institution that pretty much everyone expected it would be. Yahoo! News’ Meredith Shiner has all the ugly details on how No Labels doesn’t really do anything except raise money for No Labels:
Much of the group’s budget goes toward sustaining or promoting itself. According to No Labels’ confidential document, the group employed 22 paid staffers and eight consultants as of May. Of its projected $4.5 million budget for 2014, only 4 percent — or $180,000 — of spending was slotted for “Congressional Relations.” By contrast, administrative and operational expenses got $1.035 million over the same time period. Another 5 percent was set for travel. A further 30 percent ($1.35 million) was earmarked for digital growth and press, and 14 percent for fundraising.
What do they have to show for all this money raised and spent on themselves? “Even in its own May document, No Labels claimed only one legislative victory: a bill that passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee by voice vote.” The group’s list of “accomplishments” is a depressing read, consisting largely of favorable press clips, members of Congress wearing No Labels pins to various functions, and the fact that “No Labels' hashtag #FixNotFight was a trending topic on Twitter during the 2013 State of the Union address.”
No Labels’ big new initiative is to designate various members of Congress as “Problem Solvers.” (One might be tempted to say they’re “labeling” them, but that’s a cheap joke that I certainly won’t make.) But this, too, has caused some controversy, mainly because it’s a silly idea that the group clearly didn’t think through.
Again, from Yahoo! News’ Shiner:
In April, No Labels gave its “Problem Solver Seal” to [Cory] Gardner, the GOP challenger to the Senate Democratic incumbent Udall. Gardner touted the seal as an endorsement from No Labels, a situation that incensed members of the Senate Democratic caucus.
Gardner and No Labels then were forced to clarify the meaning of the seal after Democratic members threatened to leave the group and multiple No Labels board calls were held to discuss the matter.
Gee, how could anyone misconstrue a prominent D.C. good-government group’s conferral of “Problem Solver” status on a candidate in a hotly contested Senate race as an “endorsement”? No Labels’ “clarification” of what it means to be a “Problem Solver” only reinforces how poorly considered this idea was: “Use of the Problem Solver Seal does not constitute a political endorsement, since candidates from different parties in the same race may be awarded the seal.” And in order to tout the coveted “Problem Solver” status, you have to use very specific terminology. You can say you’re “approved,” “certified” or “recognized” as a “Problem Solver” – basically every synonym for “endorsed.”
One wonders if they understand that the whole point of elections is to argue that you’re better at solving problems than your opponent. By calling one candidate a “Problem Solver” but not the other, you’re quite obviously endorsing that candidate. By calling them both “Problem Solvers,” you’re boldly declaring that you stand for nothing and should not be paid any attention.
And that, basically, is No Labels in a nutshell. Their stated intention is to be high-minded “problem solvers” in Washington who will cut through the gridlock, but most of what they do is silly and self-defeating, and most of the money they raise is spent on promoting themselves.