We have reached the stage of the presidential primary season when the group No Labels tries to pretend it is an actual force in Washington, and not just a silly vanity project for a bunch of rich people making a fetish object of the words “centrism” and “bipartisanship.”
On Monday, No Labels announced that six presidential candidates had signed onto its Problem Solver Promise. This is a gimmicky pledge stating that if elected, the candidate will start working with a bipartisan Congressional group on one of four items within 30 days of Inauguration Day next January. The items are defined broadly and generically enough that promising to work on legislation for one of them is a little bit like promising to use the bathroom within a couple of hours of eating dinner. It’s not so much a goal to strive for as it is an inevitability.
Who is going to argue that this list of goals should not be a priority? Create 25 million new jobs over the next decade? Sure, sounds great. Who doesn’t agree with creating new jobs for the American worker. Secure Social Security and Medicare for the next 75 years? Awesome!
To stabilize Medicare, then, will Republicans finally accept Obamacare as the law of the land, seeing as how it is helping to slow the growth of Medicare spending, which improves the program’s long-term stability? Will the GOP accept that one of the most widely-recognized ways to secure Social Security would be to raise the cap on the payroll tax from its 2016 level of $118,500, which would make it a much, much more progressive tax and do most of the work of solving the system’s long-term funding problem? Or would that conflict with the infamous Grover Norquist pledge that most Republican lawmakers have signed promising to never, ever, ever, never raise a single tax under any circumstances?
In the latter case, would that put the onus on liberals to accept means testing and benefit cuts? Because there is no reason they should accept even modest levels of either if Republicans will flat-out refuse any kind of a payroll tax increase. So who gives in?
The other two No Labels goals are to balance the federal budget by 2030 and make the United States energy-secure by 2024. The former likely can’t be accomplished without massive cuts to the social safety net that no Congress will pass unless the American people elect a passel of 435 syphilitic howler monkeys to the House later this year. (Insert your jokes about that being an improvement.) The latter goal will flounder the minute Sen. Jim Inhofe, a man so in thrall to the oil and natural gas companies that one of them might as well have grown him in a research lab, thinks that energy security might include green sources, such as wind and solar, that hurt his backers’ bottom line. Does anyone see Oklahoma sending a more progressive senator to Washington to take over Inhofe’s chairmanship of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee anytime soon? Because I sure don’t.
The whole idea that these pie-in-the-sky dreams can be accomplished if only the president will sit down with the Congress and search for common ground on all these issues breaks down the minute you realize that the gap between the parties is not one of personal animus and incivility, though there is plenty of that. The problem lies in the sorting of the Republicans into an ideologically inflexible party with a mostly white, conservative, homogenous base. A party that has chased away the social liberals who were once sprinkled throughout it. A party whose rhetoric has been poisoned by a couple of decades of talk radio, where a moderate centrist like Barack Obama has been turned into the unholy love child of Stalin and Mao.
This inflexible partisan attitude was bad enough when No Labels was founded in 2010. It has arguably only gotten worse in the five years since then, years that included Obama’s re-election after a bitter campaign. No Labels’ entire shtick is based on the pretense that is eschews partisan positions in favor of solutions, but its two current co-chairs are two former senators, Jon Huntsman and Joe Lieberman, who have been marginalized or cast themselves out of their own parties over their apostasy from the prevailing partisan lines.
But this civility and “reaching across the aisle” that No Labels preaches is part of the argument that Chris Christie and John Kasich, two of the pledge signers, are making for their candidacies, even if their careers betray the idea that they would be uniters of any sort. (The idea of Christie, screaming antagonist of union schoolteachers everywhere, as a paragon of civility is particularly hilarious.)
Of the other signers, Rand Paul will soon return to being a marginal senator with zero influence in his caucus while Ben Carson may very well have signed the pledge while napping. Martin O’Malley, the sole Democratic signer, can put it on his resume when he is pushing to be Secretary of HUD in Hillary Clinton’s cabinet.
The last signer to note is Donald Trump, who never signs anything he isn’t sure he can talk his way out of later. It’s hard to believe that the serious, hard-working centrists of No Labels could possibly see his endorsement as a plus. But who knows? They might just be deluded enough to think that a fast-talking bullshit artist like Trump is the solution to all their problems.