No Labels: Hollow As Ever, Whining About 'Cynics'

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, right, speaks on a panel at the No Labels conference in New York, Monday, Dec. 13, 2010. Also on
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, right, speaks on a panel at the No Labels conference in New York, Monday, Dec. 13, 2010. Also on the panel is California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, left, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, second from left, and moderator Dylan Ratigan. Elected officials from across the country have started a new group, called No Labels, aimed at reducing political partisanship. The first meeting of the group attracted 1,000 attendees Monday in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Yahoo! News' Meredith Shiner's recent piece on the goofy little group No Labels -- currently leading all comers in the race to be my Summer 2014 Spirit Animal -- has clearly gotten under the organization's skin like it was Lyme Disease.

It's not hard to see why, since Shiner spilled the contents of an internal document meant for attendees of the group's late-spring executive board meeting. The document identifies some of No Labels' top-dollar contributors, and finds its "stop fighting start fixing" membership hoping that a deeper and more intractable round of gridlock and infighting might raise its profile. Transforming our political culture's baser moments into money-making opportunities is pretty old-hat (search for the phrase "fundraises off of" sometime if you doubt this), but Shiner has caught No Labels with its collective pants down, leaving its unseemly hope for more of the division that they are purportedly so heartsick about just dangling in the wind.

Given the opportunity, No Labels fails to substantively rebut any of Shiner's reporting. Instead, for her trouble, the organization brands her a cynic -- or more accurately, a victim of cynicism -- which is precisely the sort of thing that Harold Hill would say to someone who is suspicious of trombone-based solutions to everything. (Shiner is a guts-and-glory Chicago White Sox fan, so the "cynicism" charge is pretty laughable.)

Nevertheless, it's kind of hard not to be cynical about No Labels as an institution. This is a group that routinely passes on taking a material stand on anything -- up to and including issues of great importance to its most prominent members and founders -- in favor of pushing for silly junk like "bipartisan seating." A December 2013 Boston Globe report on the organization found that it had been "unable to advance, in any meaningful way, a single item from its relatively modest list of goals." As near as I can tell, its last great idea was to have an occasional radio show. (If you've heard it, let me know.)

Flash-forward to Shiner's report last week, and here's how the group is spending its money this year:

So basically No Labels is hard at work doing press for No Labels, doing outreach for No Labels, doing branding for No Labels, running No Labels, paying No Labels' administrative costs, doing something called "digital growth," and also something called "Pop." The outward-facing, change-making activity would be the sliver of spending labeled "Congressional relations" and another ideas festival that the world needs like it needs another inexplicable hole in Siberia.

Going forward, the organization tells Shiner, it is "more focused on the 2016 presidential race than the 2014 midterm elections." Considering that this is a group that thinks everyone in Congress needs to work harder at being BFFs with each other, this is a pretty strange thing on which to be fixated.

But Shiner's coup de grace is her description of the dust-up that occurred after No Labels anointed Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is currently challenging incumbent Sen. Mark Udall for his Senate seat, a No Labels "Problem Solver." This in turn put the Senate Democratic caucus in high dudgeon. (That any Senate Democrat even cared about this, by the way, is not a good look for them.)

Per Shiner, No Labels responded to this contretemps by assuring everyone that its "problem solver" designation was completely meaningless:

While a group spokesperson told a local Denver Fox affiliate that the "seal" is an "implied endorsement," No Labels co-founder Mark McKinnon, a former George W. Bush and John McCain strategist, said that anyone -- even Udall -- would be eligible for such a seal were they join the group [sic].

The "Problem Solver Seals" granted by No Labels to lawmakers require nothing of those members from a policy perspective, aside from agreeing to be part of No Labels, and to attend meetings with other No Labels members to discuss broad principles of bipartisanship. To be a member of No Labels, a politician needs to pledge to not take any pledge but the oath of office and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Some guy named Bill Galston goes on to explain that the only requirement to remain a "Problem Solver" is to attend some meetings. So it's kind of like Foursquare, in that if you go to your local bar often enough, you become "mayor" of your local bar.

And that's No Labels in a nutshell: an army of "problem solvers" who haven't solved any problems, but you're the cynic.

No Labels? No results? No problem. [Yahoo! News]

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