'No Labels' is democracy in action

At every level, it is a genuine movement composed of Democrats, Republicans and independents who are tired of gridlock and want government to work again

Burt Cohen argues that No Labels speaks for only the Republican party and describes it as a “shadowy group” made up of a “lobbyist-driven, rich-people-coddling set of proposals” ("’No Labels’ no good for Democrats," Aug. 24-Sept. 6 NHBR).

Mr. Cohen's comments could not be further from the truth.

At every level, No Labels is a genuine movement composed of Democrats, Republicans and independents. Nowhere is this more clearly evidenced than at the grassroots level, as more than half a million Americans make up its membership. All of us are united around this simple premise: We are tired of gridlock and we want our government to work again.

Our broad composition does not mean we want lawmakers to simply "surrender on issues" and to abandon their principles, as Mr. Cohen and some might be keen to believe.

As a lifelong Democrat who has advised President Clinton and has worked for Democratic presidential campaigns, I know that principles matter deeply. My Republican and independent friends in No Labels would surely say the same. But we also know that the differences we may hold in principle should never prevent us from finding solutions to our nation's many challenges.

This is what we are calling on our elected officials to recognize. We want them to reach across the aisle and to work together for the good of the country. Doing so would not require a resignation of principles; it would only require a change in lawmakers' attitudes.

Our efforts have never been more needed in our politics. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 10 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is doings its job. To make matters worse, the race for president has been consistently marred by petty fighting and partisan mud-slinging. All of this contributes to a broken system that rewards political point-scoring over solving our nation's problems.

No Labels seeks to fix this system. Reform ideas such as ending special-interest pledges and calling for monthly bipartisan meetings do not seek to benefit one particular party or the other, as Mr. Cohen suggests. We aim to break through the gridlock and to bring accountability to all lawmakers who are part of a government that is ineffective and out of touch with the American public.

Mr. Cohen may be highly critical of our proposals, but the American people certainly are not. Reform initiatives in both our Make Congress Work! and Make the Presidency Work! action plans have garnered broad support. For example, 88 percent of the American public approve of No Budget, No Pay — a reform proposed by No Labels that would withhold pay for members of Congress if they fail to pass a budget on time. In fact, every one of our congressional reform proposals enjoys public support of at least 74 percent.

The members of No Labels and the overwhelming majority of the American people understand that we cannot solve our problems unless both parties in Washington relearn the art of working together despite their differences. But the parties refuse to do so, and instead intensify their attacks on each other. No Labels is determined to change this, not through elite lobbying but through organized public pressure.

Mr. Cohen contends that No Labels “exploits the public’s frustration with gridlocked government.” Call it what you will, but a community of more than half a million citizens calling for a more effective government does not look like exploitation to me: It looks like democracy in action.

Bill Galston, a co-founder of No Labels and a former policy adviser to President Clinton, is Ezra Zilkha Chair in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program, where he serves as a senior fellow.

Categories: Opinion