Conservatism & No Labels

Former Giuliani speechwriter and CNN contributor John Avlon gave the Review a shout-out today in his Daily Beast column, “My War with Rush Limbaugh,” about the emerging media war over No Labels, an organization with which I have become affiliated. No Labels, a bipartisan organization devoted to draining the most poisonous elements of hyper-partisanship from American politics, launched on Monday at Columbia University. I was happy to be there on Monday: it was inspiring to meet a few of the thousands of Americans who had traveled on their own dime to New York to show their support for a new, more civil, attitude in American politics. 

I became a No Labels supporter several months ago after meeting with a high school friend involved in the movement. Why? Because I believe that strict partisanship has stripped our politics of the kind of free intellectual exchange that keeps democracies healthy and vital. In an editorial several months ago, I wrote, “The time is ripe in American politics for a conservatism that is capable of respecting its opposition, even as it joins the battle against it.” The intellectual free-spiritedness that characterized the early ramshackle operations of such movement conservative bastions as National Review has been hijacked, in a sense, by the demagoguery of Rush Limbaugh and others, who have carried the movement in a poisonously anti-intellectual direction. The same is true on the Left, where hack spokesmen like Keith Olbermann are able to dominate discourse and, consequently, the atmosphere in which public officials must seek to craft policy. This frenzied, bifurcated media environment helps to explain why both of the last two presidents, who came to office with a genuine desire to act in a bipartisan fashion, instead found themselves presiding over an extremely partisan (and politically unproductive) era. 

Avlon’s column discusses the extreme partisan reaction to No Labels, which has been (of course) heavily negative. Rush bashed us on his show, and Olbermann named No Labels to his list of “worst persons in the world.” It’s nice to see that Rush and Olbermann can be brought together to agree on something. That should come as no surprise: they both gain their livelihood from the fear and loathing they whip up on their shows every day, and it is precisely this kind of activity that No Labels stands resolutely against. 

What does No Labels stand for? There’s no party platform, no slate of candidates (although No Labels plans to provide financial support for moderates in both parties in primary elections across the country in future election cycles), and no governing ideology. That’s the whole point. Instead, No Labels stands for a certain attitude of open-mindedness, open discourse, and forward progress on the nation’s most pressing issues: debt reduction and a balanced budget, entitlement reform, education reform, etc. The folks I met at the No Labels conference (among them, Ted Buerger ’74) were all concerned for the future of America, and all convinced that a pragmatic, problem-solving approach to these big issues was the only way America will remain competitive in an ever-more competitive world. I agree with them.

Avlon notes that our lack of a platform makes us difficult to pin down:

There is no partisan template to understand a movement that attracts both the bassist of Nirvana and the editor of the conservative Dartmouth Review. Liberals try to call us conservative and conservatives try to call us liberal, but the labels don’t fit. And that’s the point.

I’ll always identify myself as a proud conservative. But fixing our ballooning deficit, improving our nation’s schools, and putting America back on track to provide global leadership will require that conservatives band together with liberals, libertarians, and independents. I’m sure that No Labels will continue to grab attention and partisan sliming in the coming months. Bring it on.

Charles S. Dameron