No Labels avoids hyper-partisanship, but critics wonder: Where’s the political passion?

Two next-door neighbors from Como Park sat together and watched the president’s State of the Union address. One family was a yard-sign Democrat, the other a yard-sign Republican, and neither had really spoken to the other prior to Jan. 25. The viewing party that brought them together was sponsored by No Labels, a national grass-roots movement that aims to unite Republicans, Democrats and independents for civil and civic-minded discussions.

“It was really interesting to see two families that would have very little common ground talk to each other the way neighbors talk to each other about issues that tend to polarize,” said Laurence Reszetar, a Twin Cities attorney and state leader for No Labels, sounding as proud as a new father.  Reszetar joined on early to No Labels, founded about a year ago in Washington, D.C., by Democratic fund-raiser Nancy Jacobson and Republican strategist Mark McKinnon.

Nate Garvis
Nate Garvis

Nate Garvis, former government affairs vice president for Target with long involvement in state Democratic and Republican campaigns, is another No Labels founder. He recalls: “This thing started with Nancy Jacobson and I sitting in a booth at the Hotel Monaco in D.C. saying, ‘You have a daughter, I have two daughters. We don’t raise them in anger. What’re we going to do about it?’”

So No Labels got organized with a bi-partisan group of political operatives and insiders who believe that hyper-partisanship and dogma are death to the creation of solid public policy.

“We’ve created a very nasty political habitat in this country,” Garvis maintains. “The fact of that matter is that the design of our communications right now doesn’t just allow more access to information for everyone, it allows more access to information that you already agree with and then the anonymity of the technology allows us to say: ‘That’s not just a stupid idea, you’re a stupid person.’”

‘I’m just disgusted’
And it’s not just veterans like Garvis who are offended. Reszetar is 33 years old and grew up in a family that paid attention to politics (his mother worked in Washington, D.C., his father was in the military).

“I’m just disgusted about what I see on both sides. Governance by caricatures — I try to make you look as silly as I can,” he said.

Reszetar sees Minnesota as ripe for a No Labels movement. “There’s a pragmatism that exists in Minnesota that makes No Labels attractive to people here” he said.

According to the No Labels websitethere are 400 Minnesotans who have signed the “No Labels Declaration” and there are two active clubs, one in Como Park, the other in south Minneapolis. A third club is getting organized in Edina with an introductory meeting set for Feb. 15.

Motivating this middle-ground of politics is tough. No Labels does not take policy positions nor does it endorse candidates. And its advocacy of civil discourse and compromise can sound like political pap. Opinion columnist George Will, writing after the No Labels kick-off event in New York in December opined, “The perpetrators of this mush want to instruct everyone else about how to speak about politics.”

Not so, says Garvis, who adds, “If you get rid of the anger can you still have the argument.”  Furthermore, No Labels claims, there are organizations on the left and the right whose very existence relies on the preservation of high-volume rhetoric without resolution.  

Still, Reszetar acknowledges the middle hasn’t made it easy to get motivated. The extremes of what he calls the “four G’s” (God, gay rights, guns and gynecology) trigger a response and give supporters all the tools. “They make it very easy to plug in and go,” he said

No Labels appears to have the full arsenal of social media weaponry along with a roster of high-profile supporters like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, education reformer Joel Klein and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.

Garvis, Reszetar and others say the timing is right. Events in the Middle East and Africa highlight the importance of working to improve democracy, Reszetar says, “and it’s hard work [whereas] hyper-partisanship is the snack food of public discourse.”

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 02/10/2011 - 09:44 am.

    Once one side has abandoned the basic tenets of the enlightenment – that is, science, research, facts, and rational argument as guideposts for political discussion – there’s no room for middle-ground mediation. I’m not interested in compromising with people who think climate change is a global scientific conspiracy.

  2. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 02/10/2011 - 10:22 am.

    This is exactly what the political arena needs. Yet people like Jeff and George Will would rather continue banging their head against the wall because, you know…they’re just “smart” and the other guys are “stupid”.

    Jeff, if you’re so absolutely convinced your opinions are correct, then you should be able to convince the other side. If you can’t…

  3. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 02/10/2011 - 10:52 am.

    Never had much respect for labels but…

    A defined-point-of-view sacrificed for political sameness doesn’t exactly sound like the greatest way to go?

    But I suppose if you’re sitting on cold, metal folding chairs in a gray auditorium that smells like a church basement and sitting next to someone who thinks you’re a ‘socialist’ and, aforementioned progressive thinks neighbor is a ‘fundamentalist, me-and-mine’ guy…what portion of the brain do we deactivate without becoming a bloodless turnip in a crowd of now too-similar, reformed turnips?

    …try to squeeze a little passion from one of those after that portioned lobotomy?

  4. Submitted by TJ Jones on 02/10/2011 - 11:01 am.

    Well…the era of compromise lasted for the length one one article. As Jeff so clearly shows, we cannot go one comment without basically thinking the other side are a bunch of idiots not worthy of discussion

  5. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 02/10/2011 - 11:34 am.

    I have no problems with an organization aimed at improved civic discourse, but people are part of parties for a reason. A political partty is a pre-made coalition. If every time a bill comes up we have to form a whole new coalition we will get nothing done.

    And look at some of the positions held by some of the Republicans. At the 2008 presidential debates, NONE of the candidates said they believed in evolution. Almost none of the Republicans in congress believe in global warming. Just how are we supposed to have a “no labels” discussion with people who are intentionally ignorant.

  6. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 02/10/2011 - 11:40 am.

    No Labels is based on a fictional scenario that says that the Democrats are as far left as the Republicans are far right.

    That is completely false.

    The Republicans are farther right than any other mainstream party in the Western world. In Europe and Japan, their ideas would be considered far-right fringe.

    On the same world scale, the Democrats would be considered center-right. In some ways, David Cameron, British prime minister and head of the Conservative Party, is to the left of the Establishment Democrats.

    We need a third party all right. We need one that actually respects thoughtful people on the left instead of disparaging them or smugly trying to pull them rightward all the time by saying, “You have nowhere else to go.”

  7. Submitted by Jesse Gaibor on 02/10/2011 - 12:20 pm.

    Karen, Europe is in more dire financial shape that we are in the US. Is our goal to race toward the same leftist nanny-state entitlement culture as Europe? We are on our way with how our entitlement policies are in this country.
    Whether ideologies are “far left” or “far right”, that is why we vote in elections.
    There is no compromise with folks who have strong convictions/ a backbone.

  8. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 02/10/2011 - 12:48 pm.

    I think the point of my comment was partially missed. It wasn’t that I am fundamentally opposed to discussion and compromise – like most decent citizens of a democracy I consider discussion of ideas to be a central tenet. Rather, my point was that if you can’t agree on what the facts are and what rules of logic guide the discussion, it is not possible to proceed with discourse. I’m happy to discuss political philosophy, ideas for solutions and their merits, and prioritization. But – to continue to take climate science as one specific example of a pattern I see repeated with troubling frequency – if we can’t start the discussion on its scientific basis, what’s the point? Where can we go?

  9. Submitted by Dan Vogel on 02/10/2011 - 01:17 pm.

    Moderate Republicans lost their party to extremists. Now they want to start up a new party. Good for them. With Democrats the extremist/purist left the party for other fringe parties. I would like to see a No Label Republican moderate party working with Democrats to fix a broken system. Too bad that the IP doesn’t seem to be able to convince moderate Republicans to join the political dialog.

  10. Submitted by Cathie Perrault on 02/10/2011 - 02:56 pm.

    There are millions of people in this country who feel disconnected from government and are pulled and pushed by who is screaming loudest at the moment. There has been so much distortion of truth nobody knows what to believe. While the extremes on both sides are going to stick with their views, many people aren’t sure what to believe and are not nearly as black and white in their opinions. The frightening thing is that people fed misinformation fueled with emotion ultimately start to believe that misinformation. Any means to bring both civil dialogue and rational thought and analysis to this country should be applauded.

  11. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 02/10/2011 - 03:44 pm.

    Jesse, SOME European countries are in financial trouble, specifically the ones that opened themselves to the banksters and financial speculation: Ireland, Iceland, Latvia, Greece, Britain. Right-wing commentators were crowing about Ireland as the Celtic Tiger up to the moment it collapsed. Iceland decided to make up for its lack of natural resources by building a financial house of cards, as did Latvia, which is now trying to balance its budget with a 25% VAT. Greece let the banksters in, and London was the bankster capital of the world.

    Meanwhile, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany are doing better than we are, as are Canada and Australia.

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