Occupy Wall Street (OWS) raises the issue of emerging oligarchy based on wealth inequality taking control of democracies worldwide through a small global elite composed of the very rich, powerful corporate executives in financial multinationals and other global conglomerates, and their allies in international financial organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Bank of International Settlements.
To get out from under the domination of these elites, the 99% have to counter the influence of extreme wealth in manipulating perceptions and constructions of social, economic, cultural, and political reality, and electoral processes. Enter new web-based platforms as a possible democratizing force that could provide the ability to defeat manipulation and self-organize without recourse to massive financial resources. But do the new platforms offer a way out of oligarchy and back to democracy or do they just reinforce the emerging oligarchy?
This is the third in a series of posts on some of these new web-based platforms and how they relate to this central question of oligarchy vs. democracy. The first, “A System-Changing Solution for the OWS Movement?”, which I co-authored with Nancy Bordier, compared and contrasted two alternatives available to OWS, the Interactive Voter Choice System and Americans Elect (AE). The second focused on AE.This one will deal with No Labels (NL).
No Labels is an organization whose stated purpose is to build “a movement” that will save the United States from the “hyper-partisanship” it believes has crippled the two-party system.
http://nolabels.org/approach It wants Congress to adopt and implement a particular code of conduct that will moderate “extreme partisanship” and it also has a number of specified goals for 2011 – 2012. These are:
“To build, organize and activate the No Labels movement so that it becomes a powerful voice and counterweight to the ideological extremes.
To do that we will:
Organize all 435 congressional districts with Republican, Democrat and Independent leaders.
Organize No Labels “Generation” chapters on at least 150 college campuses where Republicans, Independents and Democrats can meet together.
Organize a National Day of Action in 2012 where volunteers from around America will travel to states where Independents can vote in the primary, going door-to-door in support of candidates who reflect the No Labels attitude.
Host a National Conversation—bringing together our leaders for a live webcast where citizens from across the country can ask questions of our nation’s leaders and actively participate.
Host No Labels Community Gatherings in at least Citizen Leaders’ homes to recruit more leadership in key states.
Monitor and track the activities of all members of congress to ensure they are not playing hyper-partisan games.
Recruit new Citizen Leaders to be part of No Labels effort.”
No Labels also has a list of actions people can take to build the movement.
The public faces of No Labels are Kiki McLean, and Mark McKinnon, both long-time political operatives and strategists well-known in Washington, DC and in the media. McLean has been associated with the Democratic Party, and McKinnon with the Republican Party. Both have been promoting No Labels as a movement taking a non- or bi-partisan approach focused on problem solving.
No Labels, in addition to its stated goals of wanting to reduce partisanship and encourage a problem solving orientation marked by civility among our elected political leaders, and in contradiction to its claim that it is committed to no ideology, is also committed to particular partisan stances on political issues, and problems that its leaders want our representatives to solve. On its web site, No Labels provides “fact” briefings on: “Debt Deal Options”; “The Super Committee”; and the recent credit downgrade of the US by Standard and Poor. Its selection of “fact briefings” and its selection of “facts” used in these briefings reflects a particular orientation on substance, rather than just political process issues.
Looking at No Labels’s web site as a whole, suggests that at least part of the motivation for its co-founders’ desire to increase “bipartisanship” is a desire to advance particular partisan stances on specific policy issues or problems, beyond just “excessive political polarization,” solved. They include: the Federal Deficit; Election Reform; Energy Policy; and Trade and Globalization.
While Americans Elect is primarily focused on the process of supplying ballot lines and selecting a presidential candidate to give people a choice beyond the nominees of the two major parties, while claiming its utter non-partisanship, and non-ideological character, No Labels, focuses on building a nationwide movement of people who will work against “hyper-partisanship” and for bipartisan deals in politics. But as I’ve pointed out above, contrary to its claim that No Labels:
“ . . . is not a political party and does not have an issues platform. We represent a new voice for our citizens. As the movement expands there may be issues that the movement embraces and advocates but we will not prescribe what they will be in our formation and launch“ . . . “
No Labels is frankly committed to specific positions, apart from reducing partisanship. These positions are surely ideological, and No Labels is quite partisan about them, in the sense that the “movement” will support only candidates for office who share the positions expressed on their web site.
The position of No Labels as reflected in their Federal Deficit issue briefing assumes that the Government’s deficits are a problem, and that the accumulation of the national debt creates a problem of solvency for the Government. There is an apparent consensus in both parties, and in Washington, that there really is a Federal Government solvency problem. However, among many economists, there is strong disagreement about whether there is any solvency problem at all.
I’m not going to debate this point here, since I’ve done so many times before, but instead to point out that No Labels’s embracing of the idea that the Federal deficit and the rising national debt is a problem requiring a long-term deficit reduction legislative solution, is an issue position that No Labels doesn’t debate, but simply assumes is true. Its discussions related to the problem are about how it can be solved. The question of whether such a problem exists, is just considered outside the range of non- or bi-partisan discussion. In fact, it’s even fair to say that the No Labels position follows the deficit hawk line of the Peterson Foundation, Peter G. Peterson, and David Walker, one of the No Labels co-founders, in presenting the issue. Now, that’s ideological, whether No Labels is willing to admit it or not.
Similarly, the No Labels discussion of the Trade and Globalization issue isn’t neutral; it’s clearly favorable to increasing international trade and furthering the process of globalization. Again, our purpose here is not to dispute what No Labels says about this issue; but just to point out that it is not neutral. It takes a position. It argues for that position. And the position it argues for is ideological; specifically that free trade and globalization as they have been practiced so far, are good for America. Tom Friedman and other neo-liberals may believe this, but a majority of Americans (see here, and here) disagree with this ideological position today; and that disagreement is growing, not shrinking!
Similar remarks can be made about its treatment of election reform, and energy policy. No Labels has definite positions on these issues, and its Management states what these positions are, from the top-down, rather than letting the position of the No Labels movement self-organize from the bottom-up. So, is No Labels really a “movement,” or is it a top-down oligarchical organization falsely claiming, but hoping to “astro-turf,“ wide-ranging support for a Center-Right political agenda that is now facing both right and left anti-Wall Street movements?
If my analysis of No Labels is correct, then the answer to the question I just posed seems pretty plain. No Labels agrees with Americans Elect, that a centrist balance wheel supporting austerity economics is the solution to our immobilist politics and its inability to solve problems. It doesn’t see politics in terms of a 99% versus 1% divide or as a problem of emerging oligarchy. It sees it instead through the right-center-left prism and so its solution is to strengthen the center, giving it the balance of power, and allowing it to broker bi- or non-partisan solutions on which centrists of both parties can agree.
So, if the problem the United States is facing is to counter the emergence of oligarchy and to restore a government that is “. . . of the people, by the people, and for the people . . .” then it’s pretty clear that like AE, No Labels won’t help us do that. It won’t help us to repeal Michels’ “Iron Law of Oligarchy” and give the 99% a continuing influence in creating policies that serve them, rather than enriching the 1%. Instead, it will simply provide a way for the discontented to vent their feelings through another political organization that is guided and managed from the top-down by people representing the oligarchy.
Like AE, NL shares the Washington beltway and global consensus that the cure for our economic problems is austerity in public expenditures and restoring private solvency through savings. So, if it’s successful in building its movement we’ll have yet another force in American politics working toward a second great depression. Of course, NL doesn’t see it this way; but neither did Herbert Hoover, who paved our road to hell with good intentions.
If NL’s centrist balance wheel had been in place this past fall, it would have imposed a “centrist solution” to our economic problems in the form of a long-term deficit reduction plan such as the Bowles-Simpson proposal, which would have raised more tax revenue from the wealthy, but also cut entitlement and other Government programs for the middle class and the poor. This is exactly what I concluded about AE. Again, this is a 1% solution, not a 99% solution. It doesn’t represent what the 99% want. It is what the well-off people who run NL and AE, and many of the 1% want.
So, the “non-partisan” solution to two-party polarization that both AE and NL are trying to bring about won’t fix the political system by restoring popular control. But it will place that system even more firmly in control of the oligarchy by imposing austerity economics and impoverishing the 99% even further, while providing the balance of power in national politics to a third political force that is dominated by centrist establishment figures. In short, like AE, NL, isn’t offering a way out for people, it’s offering them a way to dig a deeper hole than they find themselves in now.
Considering the close agreement between the elites who run AE and those who run NL, we have to wonder whether the two organizations might merge in the future. AE is focusing on getting on the ballot in 50 States and on holding an online nominating convention. NL is trying to create a 50 state movement that will support centrist “non-partisan” ideology, and also provide “troops” on the ground to promote activism in support of the positions of centrism including fiscal austerity, neo-liberal “free market” economic policy, a national strong defense, and “shared sacrifice.” The two together would provide the infrastructure needed for a new political party. In a future post in this series, I’ll take up this issue of merger in more detail.