No Labels is a well-meaning enterprise in that it seeks to coalesce Republicans, Democrats, and Independents for the purpose of pragmatic problem solving but its true aim is not so much results oriented politics as it is the moderation of both political parties. The group’s “national leaders” are moderate Republican Jon Huntsman and conservative Democrat Joe Manchin. Huntsman’s inclusion is understandable because he’s firmly within mainstream political thought yet isolated from both conservative and liberal orthodoxy. But a glance at Manchin’s policy positions quickly sinks the whole fantasy of an uprising of wondrous moderate politicians. Manchin is pro-life, beloved by the NRA, antagonistic towards the EPA, and opposed the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. For these reasons and others, it’s unlikely many liberals would support Manchin unless they could be convinced to abandon their beliefs, no matter how justified or rational those beliefs might be, in exchange for the ideals of problem solving and bipartisanship. Unfortunately for No Labels and groups like it, the truth does not magically appear in the middle of the political spectrum of a given country during a given time period. The precise beliefs espoused by “moderates” are subject to constant change. That Manchin does not live on the wing of his party means nothing in terms of him being right or wrong on a given issue.
To mention but one historical example, the so-called Radical Republicans of the Civil War era went further than most abolitionists in calling for full and equal rights for African Americans. Such a view was marginalized, even sometimes used to slander political opponents. And yet, of course, these supposed radicals were right and their presence in our government was essential. Had they moderated their views, say by allowing slavery in one territory but not another, they would not only have committed a great evil but they would have submitted to the Southern slave power that was hellbent on preserving a sinful institution. There is nothing in the philosophy of moderates that would encourage the existence of these Radical Republicans. While there is no contemporary issue quite as divisive and so obviously wrong as slavery, we can nonetheless assume that some forward-thinking politicians currently in our government are being branded as “wing nuts” or “extremists” when in fact they will be viewed favorably by history.
It’s also unfair to pretend that the wings of both parties are equally irrational. Any casual observer of American politics can see clearly the evolution (or de-evolution) of the Republican Party from the days of Eisenhower to the reign of the Tea Party. Democrats have, if anything, moved rightward after the adoption of the liberal-minded policies of the 1960s (race and gender equality, anti-imperialism, liberalization of drug laws, etc.) was considered a losing strategy for Mondale, Carter, et al. Thus, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to convince liberals to further moderate their views in the interest of appeasing a wayward party whose policies are vehemently opposed by the left.
If there is to be progress in politics, it must come through the realization that certain policies and orthodoxies are simply wrong. Politicians endorsing these bad policies must then be voted out of office. It is a simple task in theory but it becomes much more difficult when we pretend that justice emerges from conformity and consensus and not from virtue and rationality.
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