Everybody loves the spirit of compromise. Except voters. Mar 10, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 25 • By JAY COST
Historically, potent third parties or outside political movements have had one of two origins. On the one hand, they were driven by powerful personalities who did not fit cleanly within either of the major parties: Theodore Roosevelt (1912), George Wallace (1968), and H. Ross Perot (1992, 1996) are the three primary examples. On the other hand, they represented some interest or faction that was being ignored by the two major parties: Among such groups, we may count the abolitionist movement of the 1830s-50s as well as the populist movement of the 1880s-90s.
The group called No Labels fits neither of these categories. So what is it? Judging by No Labels: A Shared Vision for a Stronger America, it is a vanity project for politicians looking to inoculate themselves from the electoral downsides that their party labels might carry. Its rallying cry is “Republican politicians of blue states, Democrats of red states . . . UNITE!”
That is scarcely a stirring call to action—and of course, No Labels does not want you to walk away thinking this. Still, the impression is undeniable, at least when you get beyond the clichés and tautologies with which this book is riddled. My favorite among its many non sequiturs comes from Alice Rivlin, former director of the Office of Management and Budget under Bill Clinton, who explains, “We must break the gridlock by restoring dialogue and cooperation right now.” In other words, we must break gridlock by breaking gridlock. In another section, we are told, “Washington isn’t lacking a way, but increasingly, it seems to be lacking the will.”
If you ever played junior varsity football and would like to revisit the pep talks about giving 110 percent, then this book is for you. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for serious solutions to today’s problems, then you’d do best to look elsewhere. The Big Idea of No Labels is that America must plan to have a plan for national greatness. Beyond that, this is mostly an opportunity for incumbent politicians to tell us how awesome they were before they got to Congress. Representative Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), for instance, regales us with a story of how he and the Republican leader of the legislature worked together to build a veterinary college. Representative Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) explains how he and Ron Kind (D-Wis.) almost got the medical device tax repealed (which, by the way, Kind had voted for in the first place). Representative Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) explains how she prevailed upon a Democratic-controlled Congress to help the 66 families of Treece, Kansas, relocate because of an environmental hazard.
Verily, these stories of courage and perseverance can serve as a template for tackling Medicare and the runaway cost of college educations. Yet the central premise of No Labels—If only all of Washington were more like Jon Huntsman, Joe Manchin, and Charlie Dent—makes it not so much useless as harmful. It implies, falsely, that personalities and partisanship are the cause of our problems, when in fact the opposite is true: The nation’s problems are sufficiently substantial that there is no consensus on how to solve them, hence the yawning partisan divide. Democrats and Republicans disagree on basic premises about what to do next, and, as is evident from No Labels, nobody in the middle has any actual ideas about how to bridge the divide.
In the end, political disagreements are not about people in Washington being jerks; they are about real trade-offs between competing visions of the public good, something that No Labels willfully ignores. For instance, No Labels calls for a balanced budget in 2030, as if that were possible without substantially raising taxes, cutting the military to the bone, or totally reorganizing the welfare state. In other words, absent the kind of robust economic growth that the United States witnessed in the 1990s, balancing the budget will create vast classes of winners and losers—hence the gridlock of today.
The same goes for No Labels’ call to reform Social Security and Medicare to ensure that they are sustainable for the rest of this century. Great! But that would require either raising taxes or altering the structures of these programs, which means that somebody, somewhere, is going to be much worse off.
The country at large is certainly frustrated by the lack of consensus in Washington, but if people want someone to blame, they should look in the mirror. There are many dysfunctional things about our government, but gridlock isn’t one of them. Gridlock is a product of the absence of public consensus. Both parties offer divergent paths forward, but election cycle after election cycle, the nation as a whole exclaims, “I can’t decide!”
8:00 AM, Jan 17, 2012 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
If Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign had a theme or a defining characteristic—something voters might easily identify with the candidate—it was probably his often-repeated contention that the country was facing a “trust deficit” between its citizens and elected officials. It’s no small irony, then, that if Huntsman’s campaign accomplished anything at all—a debatable proposition—it was to grow that trust deficit.
8:04 AM, Jan 16, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
At the end of the New York Times blog post that first reported Jon Huntsman would be dropping out of the presidential race today, there's an interesting bit of analysis explaining why the former governor of Utah never caught fire within the Republican field:
1:50 PM, Jan 10, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
There’s a lot of silliness on all sides of the Bain Capital debate.
On the one hand, Newt Gingrich’s attacks (and the follow-on assaults by Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry) on Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital have been unfair, over the top, and, for that matter, all over the place. Gingrich, Perry, and Huntsman deserve much of the criticism they’ve received from conservative commentators.
On the other, Mitt Romney’s claim throughout his campaign that his private sector experience almost uniquely qualifies him to be president is also silly. Does he really think that having done well in private equity, venture capital, and business consulting—or even in the private sector more broadly—is a self-evident qualification for public office? One assumes Mitt Romney would agree that Chris Christie is a better chief executive of New Jersey than Jon Corzine, and that Rudy Giuliani was a better mayor of New York than Mike Bloomberg. But Romney’s biography looks a lot more like Bloomberg's or Corzine's (leaving aside Corzine's recent misadventures) than like that of Giuliani (pre-mayoralty) or Christie. Past business success does not guarantee performance in public office. Indeed, Romney sometimes seems to go so far as to suggest that succeeding in the private sector is intrinsically more admirable than, e.g., serving as a teacher or a soldier or even in Congress. This is not a sensible proposition, or a defensible one.
3:04 PM, Jan 9, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
At a campaign stop with student supporters this morning, Jon Huntsman knocked Mitt Romney’s record on jobs. “Governor Romney enjoys firing people, and I enjoy creating jobs,” he said.
5:57 PM, Jan 7, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
The first televised presidential debate in over three weeks will take place tonight at St. Anselm College in nearby Goffstown, with another debate tomorrow morning on NBC’s Meet the Press. A lot has changed since that December 15 debate in Sioux City, Iowa. Michele Bachmann will be absent tonight, having dropped out after her disappointing performance in Iowa, and Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich have dropped in the polls since then.
1:00 PM, Jan 6, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Robert Scott, a local Republican leader, is introducing this crowd of around 200 at the Newport Recreation Department to presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. At least, that's what he says he's doing.
9:21 PM, Jan 5, 2012 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
There's no question Jon Huntsman has been praised by more Democrats and left leaning commentators than any of the other Republican presidential candidates. But until now, that praise has gone one way. Earlier this week, however, Huntsman's top fundraiser, Ann Herberger, announced her new “hero” was MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.
7:47 PM, Jan 5, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman both went up with their first television advertisements in New Hampshire on Thursday, just days before the primary on January 10. The Gingrich ad is a continuation of the former House speaker's big push to depict rival Mitt Romney as insufficiently conservative for Republicans, citing in particular the Wall Street Journal's characterization of Romney's economic plan as "timid." Gingrich had previously said he would not run attack ads. Watch it below:
2:03 PM, Jan 5, 2012 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
The New Hampshire Union Leader reports:
“Jon Huntsman continued his courting of New Hampshire voters in a visit with health care providers at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center Tuesday afternoon.
3:23 PM, Jan 4, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Hours after Mitt Romney eked out a win over Rick Santorum in Iowa, Jon Huntsman, who ignored those caucuses to focus solely on New Hampshire, made the case that the race is still fluid.