Why is a staunchly centrist independent blogger from Nebraska flying halfway across the country to go to the launch of a brand new political organization? That...is a heck of a good question.
Maintaining my blog, Rise of the Center, challenges me to keep my finger on the pulse of what is going on in the political blogosphere. Looking at the chatter from the last few weeks, No Labels is shaping up to be the best example of a political Rorschach test that I’ve seen in years.
Many on the left look at No Labels and see a conservative wolf in centrist clothing, ignoring the democrats and centrist independents who are throwing their support behind it. They’re myopically focusing on conservative supporters like David Frum, as well as Mark McKinnon, a long time Republican operative who is among the founders. On the right, they are more focused on the staff, many of whom are veterans of moderate Democratic groups like the Democratic Leadership Council and Third Way. Having another founder in Democratic operative Kiki McLean proves, to them, a left wing conspiracy is afoot.
These people cannot possibly know if there is a hidden agenda behind No Labels, nor can they know who the financial backers are who haven't come out publicly, but this doesn't stop them from pretending. Many are claiming that No Labels is a political party, laying the foundation for a Bloomberg Presidential run in 2012. If this had any truth to it, I'd actually be all for it, but they conveniently are ignoring that No Labels is a 501c4 (commonly called super PACs). I directed a "c4" in 2008, and two minutes of research would show that such organizations have strict limits on how much they can spend on partisan activities, not to mention outright bans on much of what political parties do.
I actually applied for a job there a few months ago (that I wasn't qualified for and didn't get, but it was worth the shot), and during that process I was able to peek behind the curtain to some of what was going on as they were setting up shop. They certainly don't pay any better than any other political organization out there, in other words...terribly. They didn't have an advertising budget to speak of. Looking for cheap or free options was a part of nearly every conversation and the platform they bought to run their mini social media site for supporters is, to be kind, not top shelf. Their situation may have changed more recently, but on the face of it, if they're sitting on a mountain of Bloomberg money, they're hiding it well.
As for all the theories flying around, John Avlon, centrist independent pundit on CNN, former Giuliani speechwriter and columnist at The Daily Beast, might say these folks have a variant of what he calls Obama or Bush derangement syndrome, where ideology has blinded them to such a degree that they can’t just see something for what it is. No Labels doesn’t fit into their artificial ideological worldview, so they pull off mental gymnastics to invent wingnut conspiracy theories about how the group must be a puppet of dark forces from the other end of the political spectrum.
These ad hominem attacks are one sign that No Labels is my kinda group. I put up with the same attacks every day myself.
I’ve been praying for years for a well organized, well funded and professionally run political organization that centrist independents like myself could genuinely be a part of without being treated like second class citizens. I’m happy to see them attempting to create a big tent where moderates from both sides can work together with centrist independents. If I were to put together a MoveOn for moderates, as some aptly are calling No Labels, it would look largely like what I have seen from them thus far.
Having been disappointed by the exclusion of moderates in both major parties, and several political organizations I've been active with over the years, I’m as skeptical as one can be. I was active with the Coffee Party for a time, even helping them revamp their national website, but it became clear very quickly that they were just another group luring centrists in to help them push a partisan agenda. I have high hopes for No Labels, in no small part because I have faith that John Avlon would not lead his fellow independents astray. But if they veer off course and become a shill for either side, I’ll be the one shouting their hypocrisy loudest from the rooftops.
Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates. He is currently collaborating with other centrist independent and moderate bloggers on a news aggregation and social networking site, and is always looking for ways to help the independent groundswell as more and more people become disaffected with the two major parties.