So now a new group has appeared claiming to eschew all political labels. Appropriately, they have taken the moniker “No Labels.” A closer examination of this group, however, seems to indicate that this is about as artificial as artificial can get.
The “No Labels” approach is inherently contradictory. Simply by creating the group and giving it a name, it has been labeled. Now we have Republicans, Democrats, and No Labelers. While it claims to be inclusive, it seems to attract primarily those to the left of center, whether Democrats or Republicans. The thing is, they don’t consider themselves left of center; rather, they place themselves squarely at the center and conclude that anyone not of their ilk is a “wingnut.” In fact, one of this group’s founders, John Avlon, wrote a book using that term.
I think it’s also instructive that this movement, such as it is, arose only after Republicans took back the House, made gains in the Senate, swamped governorships, and dominated state legislatures in the November elections. Why all of a sudden the need for a centrist party? Obviously because the Republicans did so well—and they must be stopped.
This effort is probably not going to make much of a dent in American politics. The idea that there are no “sides” in political debate is fanciful. Even the Founding Fathers had to face up to that. The Constitution, as originally written, did not take into account the development of political parties. There was this high hope that statesmen would govern for the good of all. Yet during Washington’s administration, we divided into Hamiltonian Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans.
When Washington stepped down after two terms, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were their respective parties’ nominees for the presidency in 1796. Since the Constitution had electors simply vote for their preferred person without respect to party, Adams won the presidency but had Jefferson as his vice president. Adams tried to make it work, but Jefferson would have none of it, as he was going to make another bid in 1800. This dysfunctional situation was soon corrected by a constitutional amendment.
In 1820, James Monroe won reelection without any real opposition, as the Federalist party began to disintegrate. America now had only one party, a “No Labels” dream world. Well, that’s exactly what it was—a dream. In 1824, four individuals within that one party vied for the presidency. The vote was so fractured that the matter had to be resolved in the House of Representatives since no one candidate received a majority of the electoral vote. John Quincy Adams won the House vote, but his choice of Henry Clay, Speaker of the House, as his Secretary of State, led Andrew Jackson to charge that a corrupt bargain had ensured Adams’s election. This led to a very bitter election battle in 1828, from which Jackson emerged victorious. From that point on, America has always had opposing political parties.
Actually, when you think about it, the “No Label” people are advocating that no one take a strong stand on any policy issue. In their minds, everything is fluid. Another way of describing this mindset is to recognize that these people are without any solid principles. How is that good for any nation?
I refuse to walk away from labels. In fact, I revel in them. I don’t mind being labeled at all, as long as the labeling is honest. There are four labels, at least, that describe me personally. They are, in order of importance, as follows:
Christian: My firm belief in the truth of the Christian faith informs all that I think and do. This is not a label I will ever abandon because it defines who I am more fundamentally than any other.
American: This is where I live. It also defines me. I am grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given to be part of this grand constitutional experiment. I believe that America has been exactly what Abraham Lincoln called it—the last best hope of earth.
Conservative: This is a relative term. A conservative in North Korea is quite different from a conservative in America. It all depends on what you wish to conserve. Yet I like this label in the context of modern America because it means I favor the governmental system established by the Founders as well as the moral order that has always prevailed.
Republican: This is the loosest of the labels, but still functional. At this time, the Republican party remains the best available structure through which to reclaim that which is Christian, constitutional, and conservative.
I don’t see much hope, therefore, for this new “No Labels” movement. As we watch its demise over the next months, there is no need to shed any tears. We should focus instead on the eternal, time-tested principles that will lead us back to political and cultural stability and do our best to argue on behalf of them in the public sphere.