No Labels: The Centrist View

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country we bring you the unmissable quotes from political conversations on WNYC. On today's Brian Lehrer Show, Solomon Kleinsmith, a centrist independent blogger, provides insight from the perspective of the moderate political middle.

In a speech in Brooklyn yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg credited his own non-ideological independent policies for the relative economic health of New York City, but had sharp criticism for partisan politics. “Especially in these tough times," he told the audience, "we need our leaders to inspire the whole country, not criticize half of it.”

Is there, in fact, a new movement of independent politics in America?  A conference will be held on the campus of Columbia University on Monday to launch a new group calling itself No Labels. The group bills itself as “a citizen’s movement of Republicans, Democrats and independents, whose mission is to address the politics of problem solving”, and organizers include Bloomberg allies and both Republican and Democratic political consultants and pundits.

Independent blogger Soloman Kleinsmith is traveling to New York form Nebraska to attend the launch. He says that Bloomberg's sentiments are gaining traction in an electorate increasingly fed up with the polarized partisan tug-of-war.

When I’m talking to people, just in regular life, most people are pretty annoyed with your average political, you know, PAC person on the left and the right, and they’re pretty happy when you can have a conversation with somebody without them hating you because you don’t agree with them.

However, Kleinsmith is quick to note that not all bipartisan deals are moderate compromises, as evidenced by the recently-brokered tax deal. He calls it a horse trade rather than a compromise because neither party ultimately budged on the issue deemed most important by their respective parties. Decreasing Social Security by two percent he called “so very typical” of both sides, saying both sides have a history of “raiding” Social Security. 

Kleinsmith calls President Obama a “third-way” policy maker, referencing a Democratic-moderate think tank that is working with No Labels, but he maintains that Obama is still to the left of the majority of the country.

Even though we don’t have an ideology, per se, in the center, the vast majority of people who identify as moderates and centrists, they’re moderate-to-conservative on fiscal issues and they’re moderate-to-liberal on social issues, so there is a lot of alignment in the center. It just doesn’t come from a pre-packaged ideology. It’s just how people come to it naturally by looking at the issues.

When talking about the political center, Kleimsith says it's important to distinguish between independents and moderates. They're not the same thing. and they do not always vote alike, he says. In the election this year, independents voted mostly for Republicans, while the majority of moderates supported Democrats. 

Often when you talk about independents, often you’re talking about Libertarians and Green Party members, people that are even more extreme than the parties. So those Libertarians, especially, are pretty fired up because they’re pretty active in the Tea Party and so, between more Republicans becoming independents and Libertarians identifying as independents in polls, where they’re only asking ‘are you independent or major party?’, put that together and that explains why independents went for Republicans.

In 2008, however, the majority of independents voted for Obama. Kleinsmith says that many Libertarians are actually “liberaltarians”, focused on social issues, and attributes the drop of in support among this group to the President’s inability to fight for social issues that these voters found important.