Group exaggerates evil of political labels

December 19, 2010


— As the new political group No Labels convened in Manhattan, a judge was issuing a decision that illustrated why the group’s premise is preposterous and its pretense is cloying. The premise, obscured by gaseous rhetoric, is that political heat is inherently disproportionate. The complacent pretense is that it is virtuous to transcend the vice of partisanship.

No Labels purports to represent a supposedly disaffected middle of the ideological spectrum. Some No Labels enthusiasts speak of eliminating “political retribution,” presumably meaning voters defeating candidates with whose positions they disagree. No Labels promises to police the political speech of the intemperate.

That would not include the scrupulously measured ruling of Henry E. Hudson, a federal judge in Virginia. He says:

The Constitution’s Commerce Clause empowers Congress “to regulate commerce ... among the several states.” If this clause permits Congress to punish the inactivity of not engaging in commerce — refusing to purchase health insurance — then Congress can regulate anything, making a mockery of the American project of limited government. Eventually, the Supreme Court’s opinion about Obamacare will be dispositive. Meanwhile, consider Hudson’s judgment — that liberty and the crux of the Constitution are at issue — when examining the pieties of No Labels, which says its purpose is:

To achieve a government of “the vital center” that “makes the necessary choices” and “common sense solutions” to put America “on a viable, sound path going forward,” with “free and open markets, tempered by sensible regulation,” a government that “empowers people” with “world-class education” and “affordable health care — provided that it does so in a fiscally prudent way,” and with “fact-based discussions.”

The perpetrators of this mush purport to speak for people who want to instruct everyone else about how to speak about politics. Granted, there always are people who speak extravagantly, and modern technologies — television, the Internet — have multiplied their megaphones. But blowhards, although unattractive, are easy to avoid. And speaking of the unattractive:

Although the people promising to make No Labels into a national scold are dissatisfied with the tone of politics, they are pleased as punch with themselves. If self-approval were butter, they could spread it across America, if it were bread. They might cover the country with sanctimony as they “overthrow the tyranny of hyper-partisanship.” But aside from No Labels’ policy bromides, and its banalities about playing nicely together, how might “nonpartisan” discussion proceed concerning complex and consequential matters such as those preoccupying Judge Hudson?

“Hyper-partisanship” is deplorable, but partisanship is politics. What would it mean to have a “nonpartisan” position on the issue with which Judge Hudson has dealt? People have different political sensibilities; they cluster and the clusters are called parties. They have distinctive understandings of the meaning and relative importance of liberty, equality and other matters. Politics is given weight, and motion is imparted to democracy, by intensely interested factions composed to people who are partisans of various causes.

Often in the year before the year before the year divisible by four, a few political people theatrically recoil from partisanship. Recently, this ritual has involved speculation about whether New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg might squander a few of his billions to improve America by failing to be elected president.

But Bloomberg, addressing the No Labels confabulation, spoke truth to powerlessness: “It’s not clear that the average person feels themselves disenfranchised or wants a lot of the things we are advocating.” Just so. Whatever their defects, America’s political parties are marvelously sensitive market mechanisms, measuring every tremor of the electorate’s moods.

Appearing with Bloomberg, who in the last decade has labeled himself a Democrat, a Republican and an independent, was Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, an ideological chameleon who recently labeled himself “a true-blue Reaganite Republican” and then an independent — one with no discernible difference with Democrats. Labels are not, however, ridiculous because ridiculous people treat them as disguises, or as flags of convenience for dinghy candidacies sailing without any ballast of convictions.

No Labels, its earnestness subverting its grammar, says: “We do not ask any political leader to ever give up their label — merely put it aside.” But adopting a political label should be an act of civic candor. When people label themselves conservatives or liberals we can reasonably surmise where they stand concerning important matters, such as Judge Hudson’s ruling. The label “conservative” conveys much useful information about people who adopt it. So does the label “liberal,” which is why most liberals have abandoned it, preferring “progressive,” until they discredit it, too.

George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

"So does the label “liberal,” which is why most liberals have abandoned it, preferring “progressive,” until they discredit it, too."

The term has been abandoned primarily because liberals allowed it to be turned into a grade-school yard taunt, which has also effectively made political debates primarily about labels and personalities-- a very shrewd tactic by Republicans, who are devoid of any ideas beyond conducting class warfare on behalf of wealthy corporatists-- not exactly a platform on which to win elections when a large percentage of the the base of your voters are also directly in the bullseye of that class warfare.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

Actually, it was the labeling of somewhat moderate views as "far-left" and the increasing stigmatization of that by the right.

Studies have shown that while Americans prefer other self-identifying terms than liberal or left wing, that the substance of their views is more liberal than one would think.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

And, of course, when the majority of the country doesn't even vote, it's inaccurate to call the results of the election "we the people". The major thing one can garner from elections is that most people don't take the time to participate, meaning that they don't think it makes a difference, or they don't care.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

We've had this talk before.

Obama has been criticized soundly from both sides.

He has been criticized for not going far enough in delivering on his campaign promises to the left as well as going too far in that direction.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

The health care legislation is a good example.

Many of the proposals in it were in fact first Republican proposals.

A truly "far-left" health care system would be socialized care.

Next over towards the right would be socialized insurance, like Canada has, Medicare for all.

Continuing in that direction would be at least a public option to compete with private insurance.

Next would be some sort of regulations on premiums.

And, finally, moved over many times from the far-left position towards the right, is what we have, a requirement to purchase health insurance from private companies, with no premium restrictions or public option.

Despite that fact, the right has successfully portrayed it as far-left and socialist, calling it a government takeover of health care, which, by the way, wins the "lie of the year" award from a fact checking organization.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

That may be to some extent.

However, it remains a good example of how the right portrays things as far left and socialist when they're nothing of the sort, which is what you asked for.

Nixon first proposed several of the basic ideas in the bill - was he a far left socialist?

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

And, to many liberals, the Democrats gave too much away.

Thus, criticism from both sides.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

I completely disagree.

Many disgruntled folks who voted for Obama did in fact stay home - you can interpret that as voting for the "wrong" reasons, but that doesn't make it true.

Young people who wanted to see a real change in the way Washington works were disappointed - I think their desire for a Washington that works better is a very good one, not the wrong reason to vote in the first place.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

I guess yours would be an argument against allowing younger people to vote - how old should one have to be?

I think independents are upset about the economy, not his "social agenda".

Everybody seems to throw around the idea of cutting spending, but when asked what to cut, they're strangely silent.

I mean politicians, not those on this forum.

TopJayhawk 7 years, 5 months ago

It's not just that. It is also this business of voting on major important issues without even getting a chance to read what you are voting on. Not only is that no way to run a railroad, but it is a direct lie when referring to his campaign promises.

emceelean 7 years, 5 months ago

I'm assuming that you speak of the recent budget proposal? Mitch McConnell wasted no time accusing this lame-duck congress of "jamming" the bill, but when one considers that he is a part of the appropriations committee (legislators responsible for drafting the budget), it becomes obvious that he is full of it.

If ANYONE has read the bill it's McConnell.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

So who gives the test and what should it be composed of?

I don't disagree that an intelligent and informed electorate would make better decisions, but trying to enforce that would be a nightmare.

Kind of like the idea that many people aren't prepared to be parents, and should have to demonstrate they're ready before doing so.

TopJayhawk 7 years, 5 months ago

You're gonna wear that label out Bozo.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

weeslicket 7 years, 5 months ago

george will as don quixote. no labels (political clusterers) as the intemperate windmill.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 5 months ago

Several Democratic candidates in the last election cycle decided not to mention in their campaign ads that they were Democrats. Is that what you mean about avoiding political parties?


jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

That second sentence is just a nice slow ball over home plate.

weeslicket 7 years, 5 months ago

uh. no. (hot aire from snap.pop.no.crackel)

cowboy 7 years, 5 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Corey Williams 7 years, 5 months ago

And nancyboy, you're the only one I know tough enough to do it every day.

Jimo 7 years, 5 months ago

Oooh.....don't get between George Will and his feeding dish of partisan invective!

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

Actually, a majority of Americans generally don't vote in elections.

Kirk Larson 7 years, 5 months ago

And actually an majority of the public and even a plurality of republicans favor allowing high end tax brackets to go back to pre-Bush levels.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 5 months ago

George Will has lost all integrity.

In the past, I often disagreed with him, but at least he was able to articulte his arguments in a cogent and coherent manner.

Now, he just jumps on the latest right wing bandwagon coming down the pike. George Will has become a tea-bagger.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 5 months ago

Nanny nanny poo poo. I am only indulging George Will.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 5 months ago

The comment pre-removed for using a vulgar sexual term to refer to someone on the sinister side of the aisle. BTW, nightie, you have more election predictions?

tomatogrower 7 years, 5 months ago

It's too bad they can't label themselves Americans. But then who would give them all that money to campaign for office. Actually I think they should be put into categories according to who gives them money, but I guess we'll never know who supports them financially now, thanks to the Supreme Court. Free speech is not anonymous speech. There is no free speech on this forum for example.

Cait McKnelly 7 years, 5 months ago

The very real problem with Tom (and others) on this board is that I (and, again, others) cannot take anything he has to say seriously. In response to an article about "name calling", he calls names. There may be a tremendous amount of merit in what he says. I don't know. The first time I get to "the Anointed One" I stop and don't read beyond it and completely disregard anything he said before it. It seems the art of informed, intelligent, political discourse is beyond him. He is unable to compromise or consider information that goes against his close held beliefs yet fully expects to change the hearts and minds of those with which he is arguing. You don't convince people to change their beliefs by belittling them. I have been guilty of name calling, myself, especially in terms of the Tea Party. It's just that so often their candidates seem to operate in the theater of the absurd and I can't keep from laughing. Sarah Palin, too, has been and still is on occasion a high source of amusement. Even so, if someone seriously wants to argue their position, they do so with respect for the person to which they're speaking. Debate 101 teaches that. So here's the deal, Tom. If you honestly want to change the minds of people stop talking in sound bites and derogatory names and start talking in facts. I'm curious to know if you can do it.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

I don't think Tom has any interest in changing anybody's mind.

He just wants to vent.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

Substitute far-right for far left.

Same situation.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

But, in my experience, deliberately misrepresenting people and insulting them is probably the least likely way to affect anybody's views.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

Glad you're having fun, I guess.

In my experience reading your posts, you almost exclusively mischaracterize "liberals", and what they believe.

Yes, you're right - it's a group.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago


So you would characterize allowing gays in the military as "middle-ground" - it's often characterized as "far left".

Libertarians are a funny group - in some ways they seem far right, and others far left - sort of where the two meet.

You don't like Obama, etc.? That's shocking.

beatrice 7 years, 5 months ago

Jafs is correct.

Consider the crazy person in soiled pants standing on the street corner yelling obscenities at people who pass by. The LJWorld site is Tom's street corner.

james bush 7 years, 5 months ago

The left-leaning mainstream press along with the November-election-loser democrats have a new mantra, a canard: The American people want politicians to cooperate.

That was not the Obama, Reid, Pelosi message until the defeat in the election.

weeslicket 7 years, 5 months ago

jimincountry posits: a canard:: "The American people want politicians to cooperate."

as for me: yes. that's exactly correct. i expect our leadership to cooperate and get real work done for the good of the nation. and, it's long, long overdue.

and that brings us back to george will: To achieve a government of “the vital center” that “makes the necessary choices” and “common sense solutions” to put America “on a viable, sound path going forward, ” with “free and open markets, tempered by sensible regulation,” a government that “empowers people ” with “world-class education” and “affordable health care — provided that it does so in a fiscally prudent way,” and with “fact-based discussions.”

clearly these are all terrible goals. especially fact based discussion, and tempered by sensible regulation, and provided that it does so in fiscally prudent ways. this is all just kooky windmillspeak.

and may the quixote be with you.

ivalueamerica 7 years, 5 months ago

i guess you forgot that the term was actually coined by tea party members themselves from signs they carried at some of their first rallies..but please, if you started letting facts get in your way of a good rant, you would have nothing left to say.

Jay Keffer 7 years, 5 months ago

Yawn - ivalueamerica is sooo lazy. The orginal use of the phase has been debated and dimissed. The use of it now is just so vulgar and base. Speaks to the obessesion with the sexual nature of the slur. Sick.

BigPrune 7 years, 5 months ago

I've noticed the far left and liberal minded have tried to label themselves "mainstream" in recent years, - this has been through the liberal minded press spreading their misinformation and propaganda through their editorialized articles. The left seems apt at using oxymorons to explain or mask their true idealogy. Of course, the only way to recognize this is by using my open mind.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

Just replace left and liberal with right and conservative.

That's how it looks to me.

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