The self-proclaimed centrist outfit No Labels is preparing to run a third-party candidate in 2024. They are buoyed by polling that shows a “pox on both your houses” sentiment among the voters. As Karl Rove summarizes the data from Economist/YouGov and NBC, 33% of voters want Trump to run, 26% want Biden. More than half of voters prefer both stay out of the race, and both candidates have negative rating higher than positive ones.
Leaving aside the accuracy of polling, such numbers superficially suggest that a third-party candidate would be attractive to these electoral Mercutios who want to “throw the grumpy old men out,” as the headline of Rove’s column put it. But Democrat showrunners are attacking No Labels, since they fear that a third party would suck votes from Biden, just as Ross Perot probably did to George H.W. Bush in 1992. Or a third-party spoiler could keep Biden from amassing enough electoral college votes, throwing the election into the Republican Majority House of Representatives.
These calculations, however, are not what make No Labels’ plans questionable. It is rather the ideas and assumptions that this group has embraced since its creation––a technocratic progressive vision contrary to the Founder’s Constitutional architecture and founding principles and ideals.
This bipartisan group of centrists was founded in December 2010. The 2008 election campaign, and the subsequent rise of the Tea Party organization created a narrative of partisan rancor and vicious rhetoric that has become a political cliche. As Wall Street Journal progressive columnist William A. Galston and Republican Bush speech-writer David Frum wrote in the group’s founding manifesto, the “hyper-polarization of our politics thwarts an adult conversation about our common future.” Thus the need “to expand the space within which citizens and elected officials can conduct that conversation without fear of social or political retribution.” If not, our political system will fail, for it “does not work if politicians treat the process as a war in which the overriding goal is to thwart the adversary.”
To address this problem, No Labels planned to “carefully monitor the conduct of their elected representatives,” “highlight those officials who reach across the aisle to help solve the country’s problems,” “criticize those who do not,” monitor what they considered untoward political rhetoric that “exacerbates those problems,” and “establish lines that no one should cross.” Moreover, they threatened, “Politicians, media personalities and opinion leaders who recklessly demonize their opponents should be on notice that they can no longer do so with impunity,” but will be labeled “reckless demonizers.” The ultimate goal will be to foster a “politics of problem-solving.”
As John Podhoretz pointed out about these political Karens, “In the name of broadening the political discussion, a group called No Labels will come into being with the purpose of … labeling.” And indeed, when Donald Trump came along, No Labels folk were some of the most vehement and unhinged Never-Trumpers, indulging question-begging labels like “fascist” and “racist.” Indeed, co-founder David Frum, now a staff writer for the uber-“woke” Atlantic, wrote an anti-Trump screed called Trumpocalyse.
The organization’s willingness to sacrifice political free speech on the altar of “decorum” and “norms” gives away the group’s political and cognitive elite prejudices that Donald Trump exposed when he blew past the bipartisan political guild’s gate-keepers and their lackeys in the corporate media. But such distaste for certain kinds of speech and voters is as old as constitutional government itself.
Allowing the masses to participate in political rule and speech means accepting a diversity not just of belief or opinion, but in how various factions communicate them. Attempting to establish and enforce subjective codes of “decorum” or “norms,” then, necessarily impinges on our First Amendment rights. The recent “woke” assaults on free speech, including the collusion of federal agencies with social media platforms, mask this partisan gate-keeping by raising the specter of “hate speech,” or the preposterous claims of the risk of bodily harm brought on by speech they don’t agree with. “Speech is violence,” as the sophistry has it. The result is what the Founders feared most from the national government––a tyranny that endangers our political and personal freedoms.
Moreover, this obsession with subjective notions of “decorum” or “civility” runs counter to the fundamental assumptions about human nature that guided the framing of the Constitution. As James Madison wrote in Federalist 10, most citizens are motivated not by rational arguments, empirical evidence, and cool, decorous debates over the issues, but by their “interests and passions,” from property to faith.
Out of these arise the diverse, conflicting “factions” and “parties,” each seeking to protect and advance its interests, and all “inflamed,” Madison writes, “with mutual animosity, and rendered . . . much more disposed to vex and oppress each other, than to co-operate for their common good.” Nor can this conflict, Madison adds, be eliminated, since faction is “sown in the nature of man.” History has proven Madison’s prescience: from the country’s beginning, our political discourse has been bare-knuckled, insulting, crude, mendacious, and sometimes vicious.
As for the “politics of problem-solving,” this view reflects not the Constitution’s tragic realism about a human nature riven by passions like the lust for power, drives that necessarily will conflict with those of others, and frequently are irreconcilable––such as the conflict between free and slave states, a contest resolved only by a bloody war that killed 700,000 Americans.
Hence the need for a Constitution, as Madison put it in Federalist 51, in which “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” The goal is not “problem-solving,” but checking and balancing factions against one another so that power cannot be consolidated and expanded into a coalition big enough to impose tyranny on the rest of the nation.
“Problem-solving,” then, bespeaks the influence of progressive technocracy, rule by credentialed elites. In times of crisis like war, “working across the aisle” and “bipartisanship” make sense. But in legislating peace-time policies, such cooperation can empower malign bills, like last December’s $1.85 trillion omnibus spending bill that threw more fuel onto the feckless spending and debt bonfire. This fiscal atrocity was a bipartisan, “reach across the aisle” disaster, with
18 Republican Senators and nine House Republican members voting for the bill.
Protecting our unalienable rights and freedoms is the purpose of federal power, whereas “solving problems,” with few exceptions, should be the purview of states, communities, and civil society.
Finally, the understandable “pox on both your houses” sentiment frequently involves a specious moral equivalence. We can sympathize with the dying Mercutio’s curse on both the Montagues and Capulets, but Romeo and Tybalt are not morally equivalent. Romeo was impulsive and naïve, but Tybalt was a vicious bully and a thug.
So too with No Labels’ moral equivalence between the two parties, or especially between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, which is the rationale for fielding a third-party candidate. But the metric for judging between parties and candidates is not decorum or “problem-solving,” but freedom: Which candidate and party is the champion and defender of ordered liberty, and the Constitution’s institutional bulwarks against tyranny? Which respects the freedom of individuals, families, the states, and civil society to direct and manage their lives without the heavy hand of a technocratic Leviathan and its bureaucratic minions interfering and imposing their ideological preferences?
In the end, there’s only one choice––between freedom and tyranny. Everything else is the duplicitous distractions of political guildsmen and lupine opportunists.