No to No Labels

Jonah Goldberg at USAToday offers a controversial counterpoint to the growing “No Label” political movement, wherein people disavow political categorizations in the quest to try and actually solve real problems.

I am a big fan of introducing ideas and approaches to the political system to shake things up a bit (it being a tenet of independent conservatism that complacency in politics is lethal), and I’m not sure I entirely I share Goldberg’s suspicion that this particular group may be more interested in creating a centrist un-party to support Michael Bloomberg in 2012, though time will tell on that.

He and I do agree about the value of political labels:

This highlights one of the great things about political parties and political labels. If I tell you I’m a conservative Republican, you’ll have no idea what my views are on Buffy the Vampire Slayeror beef jerky, but you’ll have a good idea of what I think about taxes and foreign policy. No, partisan labels aren’t perfect; both parties have ample disagreements within their ranks on pretty much every issue. But they’re better than nothing. They’re clarifying, not confusing. In other words, labels aren’t “meaningless” as so many self-described independents claim, but meaningful. If anything, what’s meaningless is the claim that you don’t believe in labels when obviously anybody who speaks intelligently about anything must use them.

My problem with labels happens when you try to apply them so broadly that they lose meaning. The answer to that, though, is not to eliminate labels, but invent new, more descriptive ones.

Indeed, one of the core purposes of this forum is to frame one label – independent conservatism – in a way that makes it more than just a dumping ground of non-Republican conservatives, and to update another label – Bull Moose – so as to harken back to what was called “Progressive” a century ago (and since the hijacking of that term by liberals, requires a new descriptor today.)

I do this because I have learned that in the process of participative governance, people want to apply labels to everyone involved, and if you do not find one to apply to yourself, people will come up with their own. I suspect this is what will happen to the No Label folks eventually, and it will be sad. Once you allow yourself to be defined by someone else, you begin to lose your relevance and effectiveness.

All of which makes me wonder how long “No Labels” will last.

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

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