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No Labels and No Principles

It's fitting that No Labels, the new group launched by liberal Republicans and not very conservative Democrats, kicked off with Mayor Bloomberg, a liberal who ran as a Republican, because the Democratic line was already taken. Almost as fitting was the appearance of other transparty types like Charlie Crist and Mike Castle, who were Republicans until they lost a party primary, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who was a conservative Democrat until a disgraced governor picked her to be New York's Senator, and Governor Manchin, who beat the landslide by desperately grabbing his gun and acting like a right wing caricature long enough to win reelection.

Peel away the generic wrapping and the plagiarized artwork, and No Labels turns out to be another Coffee Party wannabe, another pathetic attempt by leading Democrats to create an alternative to the Tea Party movement, this time based on generic anti-party sentiment. They dressed up their tranny transparty movement with a few liberal Republicans, most of whom have already lost an election. Some who were never Republicans. But the content is still missing. What is the transparty movement actually addressing, besides the discomfort that politicians have with being forced to identify their positions ahead of time, instead of just campaigning on a lot of money?

Like bipartisanship, a frustration with party identification, is one of those things that Democrats discover after they're beaten and unpopular. Democrats are happy enough to identify as such, when the polls are going their way. But when the Democratic party is as popular as a cow pie at a fancy dress ball, then suddenly they announce that it's time we all got over this hangup we have with party identification and join hands and dance in a circle. "No more will we call ourselves, Democrats or Republicans," they sing, "but from this day forward, we are all Bloodsuckers."

But do our problems really come from a two party system. Or do they come from a system of government that is built on trading political favors and rewarding supporters with taxpayer money?

Our system isn't broken because candidates are expected to align with one of two fairly ideologically loose parties. It's broken because both parties are fighting over the massive budgets at the state and federal level. We don't have elections to fix problems. We have elections to create new ones. No one really votes for candidates out of hope, but because they believe that the other party did such a horrible job last time around, that their man will help clean it up. But as ugly as that is, it still gives the public some kind of lever to pull.

A transparty landscape would not usher in good government, but absolute corruption. If the current party system maintains at least some kind of infrastructure that voters can hold accountable, the transparty system would embody the worst of the present corruption, without anyone to hold accountable for any of it. At the congressional level, it would boil down to hundreds of politicians blaming the rest of congress for everything. At the presidential level, it would make it all too easy for someone like Obama to run on a completely empty 'Hope and Change' platform, without even being able to challenge him on his ideological alignment. The era of the celebrity candidate would be final and irrevocable.

When voters kick out Democrats or Republicans, the result is a larger shakeup that transforms how one party or the other approaches their message and agenda. On the other hand, if you're just kicking out unlabeled incumbents, then that transformation never happens. Because there is no larger program that fails. It's just the voters firing whoever happens to be in office. Ideas no longer fail. Politicians just lose their jobs. And when ideas don't fail, then they never go away.

A transparty system is really a one party system. And while the two party system we have doesn't do a good job of representing two separate sets of ideas, a transparty system would represent only one idea. Spending money.

A party system forces candidates to hew roughly to some overriding vision beyond their own careers and the favors that they owe to their supporters. It demands that they commit to something beyond politics as an end. That commitment may be weak and fitful, but it is better than nothing. It is better than politicians who believe in nothing but being elected, who run on money and nothing else. And party primaries force them to test those beliefs against a smaller circle of voters who share those beliefs.

It's telling that the most enthusiastic endorsers of No Labels are politicians who believe in absolutely nothing, who will switch on a dime, toss out their old positions and trade them in for new ones, and use money and political connections to paper over the difference. Bloomberg, Gillibrand, Manchin, Castle and Crist are walking advertisements for the two-party system. Hollow men and women with no principles and no shame. Whose only fear is being forced to articulate beliefs that they don't have.

The two-party system is far from perfect, but like democracy, the only alternatives to it are worse.

Transpartyism is a complete surrender to political cynicism. And its biggest proponents are also the biggest cynics. Pols who whine that voters expect them to mean what they say and believe in something besides getting elected. It also makes it all too easy to turn every election into a calculated circus, like the California recall election or New York State's gubernatorial debate, which the media turned into a deliberate farce by focusing on the "Rent is Too Damn High" circus freak and his facial hair. And such circuses are manufactured to reward the candidate with the best name recognition, while making everyone else look like lunatics. The number of times that Democrats tried to place fake "Tea Party" candidates on the ballot in the 2010 election is the flip side of this brand of electoral mischief.

It's telling that No Labels didn't attract someone like Senator Marco Rubio who battled their own party over principle, not politics. Because 'principle' candidates benefit from labels. Labels allow them to challenge whether the party's candidate is being true to its principles or not. Candidates of principle don't lose out because of the party label. Candidates of cynicism do. Politicians like Charlie Crist and Lisa Murkowski, who abandoned the party system and fought it out in general elections, show us what a transparty environment would really be like.

Ideally a candidate should be judged only on their merits alone, but we don't operate in an ideal system. In this system, money can buy elections, districts are gerrymandered by race and getting elected means controlling where the cash flow goes. Abandoning the two-party system would not improve this state of affairs, it would remove one of the few checks on the absolute corruption of an already corrupt system. Because no labels also means no principles. And the system has few enough of those already. Take away the last tests of a candidate, and you leave nothing standing between the people and the cynicism and greed of their rulers.


  1. Sorry, that's just ridiculous. The "two party system" is already a "transparty system". That's the whole problem. The debate between the Republicans and the Democrats is fake. The solutions to the problems and the hopes for the future of the United State is nowhere contained in either the Democrats or the Republican as represented in the "two party system". There is no such system necessary for US government. It is an artificial parasite on the US government and the body of politics in the US.

    The solution? Make it a crime to ask party affiliation for purposes of voter registration. It is none of the governemnt's business what a voter's political party is anyway and once the government voter registration records are purged of political party affiliation, the "two party system" will die a quiet death.

  2. It might be worth to mention Israel's 'Kadima' party, which is also composed of a bunch of faces and names that earn votes, without any actual principles (except, of course, getting elected), as proof of the failure of such a concept.
    True, there's no two party system here, but the leading Kadima members came from the two largest parties. While to me it only showed how 'flexible' they were, and unworthy of trust, apparently to the average voter that sends a completely different message.

    I'm curious, Daniel, what's your prediction for the future of both groups - No Labels, and Kadima.

  3. Yes that's essentially what you end up with. Kadima. A party of politicians that exists only to rule.

    Predictionwise, No Labels will go nowhere. Kadima will hang around only long enough for its rats to desert to another similar party. Possibly Labor will be revived. Or some new Third Way party that will be Kadima with a new brand.

  4. Anonymous14/12/10

    Transparty - about as helpful as a 'unisex' marriage.

  5. Daniel,

    I would be happy to see Kadima go, just out of principle. While I don't take a liking to any particular party (once I voted for the greens just so they could cause some mayhem), their shallow 'brand approach' to politics seems the most blatant.

  6. Anonymous15/12/10

    I doubt the two party system will ever be abolished but I did notice the No Brand approach to political parties over the years. It was all those TV campaign ads. They used to indicate the candidate's party.

    Now it's the whole "Paid For By Friends of ____" fill in the blank.

    These Friends Of organizations use every sleazy way to get around campaign finance laws. At least in NY it's a serious problem.



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