Tag Archives: No Labels

Democracy And Dirty Tricks

When Democrats gripe that American government is no longer small-d democratic, they have a point. Not only has extreme gerrymandering given more power to rural voters than to those who reside in cities, but the allocation of two Senate seats to each state, regardless of population, has grossly distorted the ideal of “one person, one vote.” The last time the GOP won the Senate, it was with twenty million fewer votes than had been cast for the Democratic “minority.”

Democratic Senators currently represent some forty million more voters than Republican Senators, despite an almost-even split in the upper house. Thanks to predicted demographic shifts, it’s poised to get even worse: one scholar estimates that by 2040, 70% of Americans will live in the fifteen largest states, and will be represented by thirty Senators, while the remaining 30% will have 70 Senators voting on their behalf.

If these structural advantages weren’t enough, the deep pocket donors who support the GOP continue to fund political dirty tricks. I’ve been reading a number of reports about the latest effort to re-elect Donald Trump: a phony “third party” called No Labels.

As Robert Hubbell recently wrote,

The “No Labels” organization is a GOP dark-money PAC designed to elect Donald Trump by running a doomed third-party candidate to draw votes away from Joe Biden in 2024.

Hubbell quotes the Intercept for a story suggesting that No Labels intends to run Manchin; whether that is accurate or not, what we do know is that No Labels is not a real political party. It is funded by the Koch brothers, Harlan Crow, and Peter Theil (among others).

Worse, “No Labels” is operating as a 501(c)(4) charitable organization so that it does not have to disclose its donors like every other political party—even though No Labels is registering as a political party across the nation for the 2024 election.

Arizona Democrats, among others, are challenging the organization’s misrepresentation of itself as a third party, alleging that, as a 501(c)(4) organization — which legally cannot primarily be engaged in political activity —  it cannot comply with federal election regulations governing political parties, including disclosure of contributors.

“No Labels is not following the rules for political party recognition, while attempting to be placed on the ballot alongside actual, functioning political parties who do,” a spokesperson for the Arizona Democratic Party said in March.

Hubbell quite properly characterizes articles suggesting that No Labels is a new, “centrist” political party as “journalistic malpractice.”

As anyone who has followed election politics even casually knows, thanks to America’s political structures, third party candidates are always spoilers. That’s true even when the third party is a legitimate party and the candidate honorable and sincere. The presence of such ballot options simply takes votes from one of the major party candidates. (Most consequential example: No Ralph Nader on the ticket, no George W. Bush in the White House.)

In this case, there is ample evidence that the effort to mount a bogus “third-party” option is anything but honest and sincere. There is also absolutely no doubt who they hope that bogus entrant will benefit–any doubt about the motives should be dispelled by the identity of the funders.

Harlan Crow already owns a Supreme Court Justice; now he and the surviving Koch brother and Peter Theil and their ilk want to ensure the election of Trump, an intellectually vacuous and mentally-ill narcissist they can easily manipulate.

I worry that this particular “dirty trick” may not receive the publicity it deserves–the media and the voters who pay attention are constantly distracted by the equally dangerous antics of the MAGA nutcases and Neo-Nazis currently impeding rational governance  and fiscal meltdown in Congress–and relatively few voters pay attention.

It is absolutely true that both parties have engaged in political trickery–mostly at the local level–just as both parties have gerrymandered when in a position to do so. In the last couple of decades, however, it is the GOP that has benefitted–thanks in large part to the huge amounts of money these millionaires and billionaires have been willing to spend in order to foreclose the twin threats of increased regulation and increased taxation.

If the Democrats ever secure a real, working majority in Congress, they need to address the structures that are most anti-democratic–at least, the ones that are amenable to changes in rules (the filibuster) and statutory repair (gerrymandering, vote suppression). They can also address the corruption at the Supreme Court. There is nothing lawmakers can realistically do about distorted Senate representation, and the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would have to be passed by several Red States, which makes that effort to neuter the Electoral College unlikely.

But nothing good will happen without massive turnout that ignores third party candidates–real or fictitious.

The Problem With Moderation

A long time ago–twenty or so years, as my worsening memory calculates it–I tried to organize a local political group around the principles of civil discourse and moderation. I was concerned at the time about the nasty confrontations and unwillingness to negotiate that were increasingly characterizing political debate, and in my naiveté, I thought a group of nice, earnest folks might be able to nudge local combatants back toward an ill-defined “center.”

We called it the “American Values Alliance,” and you can guess how well that went. As one member concluded, there’s a reason you never see gangs of marching moderates.

In the years since that abortive effort, as the practice of “on the ground” politics has dramatically changed, I’ve come to recognize the massive impediments to–and lack of wisdom of– similar attempts.

In the past, “moderate” essentially meant “in the middle.” A moderate was someone who understood that half a loaf was better than no bread at all, and was willing to sit down with proponents of contrary policies to see if some middle ground existed. That approach works when the opposing positions are center-left and center-right–or at least when proponents of different policies come from rational, albeit different, perspectives.

When one side of a conflict wants to deprive the other side of fundamental rights, there is no “middle.”

What does half a loaf look like when the argument is about the right of trans children to access lifesaving medical care? What is the “middle ground” in a debate over who gets to decide whether a woman reproduces?

How do we “negotiate” with lawmakers who call LGBTQ citizens “abominations” and insist that nonChristians aren’t “real Americans”?

What is the “middle ground” between banning books and respecting the expertise of schoolteachers and librarians–not to mention the rights of parents who disagree?

When a political party threatens to upend the global financial order by refusing to authorize the payment of bills already incurred–amounts the government owes (thanks in many cases to votes cast by those now threatening to default)–giving in to some of that party’s demands is negotiating with terrorists and encouraging future blackmail.

I’m sure you can all come up with similar examples.

I tend to think of moderation today as the definition being employed by ReCenter, the organization I wrote about a couple of weeks ago–not as a center point between policy positions, but as a characteristic of reasonable people. A moderate person, defined in that way, is a rational citizen, someone open to discourse and amenable to evidence–not a rabid ideologue or bigot.

My sister recently hit the nail on the head when she opined that the arguments currently taking place between the parties aren’t about policy–they’re about morality.

My sister and I both used to be among those thousands of Republican women who volunteered in our respective precincts to get out the vote, and considered ourselves to be…yes…moderates. We currently number among the thousands who have fled the racist, homophobic, misogynistic cult that is today’s GOP.

I don’t know how one becomes a “moderate” racist or anti-Semite. I don’t know how the  base of the GOP squares its current positions with the moral aspirations of the U.S. Constitution or the historic American emphasis on civic equality and democratic decision-making.

What prompted this particular diatribe was an important recent statement by Third Way’s executive vice president. Progressives routinely accuse Third Way of being unrealistically moderate, but the statement–quite correctly, in my opinion– lambasted another presumably “moderate” group, No Labels:

The group No Labels is holding its nominating convention in Dallas to select a 3rd Party candidate that most assuredly would hurt Biden and elect Trump or whoever wins the GOP nomination. They have already raised $70m. They are already on the ballot in a bunch of states. And in a map they recently published showing their absurd path to 270 electoral college votes, they’ve targeted 23 states for victory—19 won by Biden and 4 won by Trump. That gives you an idea of what they’re up to and who they really want to elect. And as a reminder, No Labels endorsed Trump in 2016.

(Subsequently, evidence emerged that Republican “dark money” is funding No Labels.)

In a sane world, moderation and willingness to compromise are virtues.  We don’t currently occupy a sane world. As a letter to the Washington Post accurately put it:

One side believes in American democracy, while the other has attacked it. One is governing from the mainstream, while the other champions extremism. One seeks to work collaboratively on the issues; the other has given way to conspiracy theorists and cranks.

A vote for No Labels –or for any third-party candidate–isn’t evidence of moderation. It’s a Faustian bargain.