For eons, mankind lived in ignorance, pondering the eternal question: "Can rich idiots be convinced to fund an organization that continually promises to fix governmental dysfunction with empty platitudes?"
And then one day, the group "No Labels" was formed, and the answer became apparent: "More often than you'd like to think!" But soon, the organization's hype-filled beginnings gave way to a sad period in which it openly hoped for the congressional logjam to worsen so that the group might be able to reclaim its lost relevance.
Now, it's 2016, and the organization that failed to Change The Game in the 2012 presidential election cycle is desperate for a new gimmick. And like so many other political organizations and chowder societies past, the gimmick its leaders have come up with ..."Hey, let's make the candidates sign a pledge!"
Yeah. As ideas go, this is hardly original. And since signing a campaign pledge is just a high-concept way of labeling yourself as a candidate, it's an idea that's antithetical to the very name of the organization. But this is what No Labels has been reduced to -- desperately seeking approval from the presidential candidates, under the pretense that it's actually the presidential candidates who are desperate to have No Labels' approval.
According to a No Labels press release, which I've read so you don't have to, No Labels' will be in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Jan. 11, to ceremonially anoint those 2016 presidential candidates who've agreed to make the "No Labels Problem Solver Promise." Like your high school prom, this will take place in the ballroom of a Radisson hotel, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman will be on hand in their capacity as No Labels' official Girls You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation With At A Party co-chairs.
Here's a fun fact: The last time Jon Huntsman -- who really was a presidential candidate at one point, I swear I'm not making that up -- was asked to sign a pledge, he stood at the base of the Statue of Liberty, bragging about how he never signed pledges as if he'd just invented the concept of political courage. "I don't sign pledges ... I don't need to sign a pledge," drawled Huntsman, making it clear that all of his competitors for the GOP nomination who had done so were a bunch of weak-willed goobers.
Now, Huntsman will vigorously cheer anyone who comes out of the woodwork to sign on with No Labels. "Wow, what a great decision," Huntsman will say to whoever shows up for this. "Clap clap clap," he will add.
So, what is this "Problem Solver Promise" that No Labels wants the 2016ers to endorse? According to the organization, this pledge "entails a commitment from the candidates to begin work within the first 30 days in office on a bipartisan effort to achieve at least one of four goals in No Labels’ National Strategic Agenda." And what are those four goals? Glad you asked! According to No Labels' press release:
In making the Problem Solver Promise, candidates are expressing their support for No Labels’ National Strategic Agenda and committing to begin work with the congressional leaders of both parties within 30 days of inauguration on at least one of the four Agenda goals:
- Create 25 million new jobs over the next 10 years
- Secure Social Security and Medicare for the next 75 years
- Balance the federal budget by 2030
- Make America energy secure by 2024
This isn't so much a "pledge to solve problems" as it is a "promise to boldly come out in favor of nice-sounding things during the campaign." Who wouldn't want the job-creation rate to tick up to around 210,000 new jobs a month? Who wouldn't say, "Yeah, I could get behind that?" As long as we're asking if our presidential candidates have got the guts to be in favor of more jobs, why not ask the candidates to work with Congress on an initiative to make hash browns more delicious or cats more fluffy?
Where's the vision? As long as we're making empty promises to which no one can really be held accountable, let's show some ambition.
Naturally, this "Problem Solver Promise" starts to unravel at the first tug of a thread. What does it mean to "secure Social Security"? Many of the legislators who have made it their mission to gut Social Security disguise that intention behind rhetoric that insists they are trying to "secure" its future. To have presidential candidates promise to work with Congress on "securing" this program has no specific meaning at all.
The same can be said for making America "energy secure by 2024." What candidate promises to make America more dependent on insecure sources of energy? The bulk of the energy policy debate is over which path we take to get to independence -- and what legislators have to say about that is usually informed by what energy concern is sponsoring their re-election campaign, a knotty political reality that No Labels does not care to address.
But that's the thing, if you peel down into this pledge, the whole central lie of this organization -- the assurance that it's the lack of good feelings and civility that's holding America back from becoming a demi-paradise, and as soon as political rivals stop the rancor and start singing campfire songs together, the hardness of political reality dissolves -- is exposed.
More than anything else, No Labels wants people to earnestly believe that resolving the biggest and most contentious policy debates on Capitol Hill comes down to everyone making the necessary adjustment in their attitude. Once that's achieved, everyone wins forever! The falseness of this promise is a distraction to any serious effort to combat Congress' actual afflictions, like how its members' addiction to money requires them to spend the bulk of their term making fundraising calls. It's that much harder to argue for something difficult -- like aggressive campaign finance reform -- when there's an organization out there promising that all of your bought-and-sold legislators would get lots of stuff done if there were just more steak dinners and bipartisan seating.
To No Labels, achieving greatness is easy and the people who can't see that -- the non-"problem solvers" -- are losers. For that reason, I dearly hope that No Labels' spiritual cousin Donald Trump shows up in Manchester on Monday ready to sign the Problem Solver Promise. Oh, man, it would be way too much fun watching No Labels try to spin that one.
Jason Linkins edits "Eat The Press" for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast, "So, That Happened." Subscribe here. Listen to the latest episode below.