‘No Labels’ seeks solutions, civility
As President Barack Obama sought a middle ground between Republican and Democratic lawmakers battling over including rich folks in a Bush tax cut extension, a group called “No Labels” launched to fight “hyper-partisanship” and give solution-seeking moderates a political voice.
The group’s organizers include former President George W. Bush media adviser Mark McKinnon of Austin. He appeared recently on programs like the PBS News Hour and Meet The Press.
“No Labels” kicked off Dec. 13 before approximately 1,100 people who think it’s a good idea for elected officials to put aside hyper-partisanship and reach across political divides to find common ground.
Besides McKinnon, some of the high-profile supporters who appeared before the group at Columbia University in New York were New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.
Later that day, McKinnon and Democratic consultant Kiki McLean, another of the group’s founders and a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, discussed their goals with PBS’s Judy Woodruff.
Many fed-up Americans “see the hyper-partisanship, they see loud microphones on the left, loud microphones on the right, and nobody really rewarding good behavior in the middle,” McKinnon said. “In fact, (congressmen) are getting punished whenever they try and extend their arm across the aisle or work in a bipartisan fashion.
“And, yet, that’s what most of America wants,” McKinnon said. “So, as we face some of the greatest challenges we have ever had, Washington is virtually paralyzed because neither side is willing to work with the other side in order to make any progress.”
McKinnon should know. As a media consultant, he’s gotten sucked into some of the vitriol that has become commonplace in American political campaigns.
McKinnon, a principal at the corporate planning firm Public Strategies, Inc., almost three decades ago was editor of The Daily Texan at The University of Texas at Austin. His first involvement in electoral politics was for Democrat Lloyd Doggett’s 1984 try for the U.S. Senate.
McKinnon consulted in dozens of campaigns, including the late Democrat Ann Richards in her first campaign in 1990 and Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock’s 1994 re-election campaign.
After quitting political media consulting in the mid-1990s, McKinnon was drafted to handle then-Gov. Bush’s media for his 1998 re-election campaign, and then his 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns.
He has said that regular advertising is for market share, and you say “our dog food is better.” Political advertising is about winning. So you say of the opposition, “their food will kill your dog.”
McLean told Woodruff the dialogue indeed must be toward finding solutions, not a word war.
“If the goal when you start a conversation is to make sure somebody else loses, we all lose. And there’s too much of that going on today,” McLean said.
“Look, working together doesn’t mean that there won’t be days that Mark and I don’t draw the line in the sand between one another and have just a real fundamental difference,” McLean said. “But there are plenty of things that Mark and I know that we can talk about together.”
The group wants to be a gathering point for supporting political leaders who seek consensus solutions rather than partisan advantage, and for identifying and holding accountable those who don’t.
“When you do the right thing, when you pick solutions over your own political future, we’re going to be behind you,” McLean said, letting politicians know “millions of Americans will be there for you.”
No Labels (www.NoLabels.org) plans to:
• Organize Republicans, Democrats and Independents in all 435 congressional districts, with monthly “meetups.”
• Establish a Political Action Committee to get involved in the 2012 party primary races of congressional members who draw challengers from “the ideological extremes of either party.”
• Monitor all members of congress “to ensure they are not playing hyper-partisan games.”
• Sign up a million “ Citizen Leaders” to be part of the No Labels effort. • Be active on college campuses.
The group was immediately belittled by commentators on the right (radio attack dog Rush Limbaugh) and left (Frank Rich of the New York Times) as just another naïve do-good effort to mobilize political moderates.
Among the challenges No Labels faces is that most of the nation’s congressional districts are drawn to elect either a Republican or Democrat, making the general election results a foregone conclusion. That in turn tends to attract people at the poles of political opinion, be it left or right.
Another is whether an expensive political system largely dependent on funding by vested interests can be changed by the people elected by it.
McKinnon insisted to Woodruff that there are millions of passionate, “radical moderates,” findable through the Internet, who can organize to change things.
Maybe we’ll find out in 2011 redistricting and congressional activity, and in 2012 elections, whether McKinnon is right.
Longtime Texas political columnist Dave McNeely, who retired from the Austin American-Statesman in 2004, writes a weekly column on Texas politics for three dozen Texas newspapers. With longtime Dallas journalist and author Jim Henderson, McNeely is the author of “Bob Bullock: God Bless Texas.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or