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Opinion: Columnists

Gene Healy: 'No labels'? No thanks

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Fiscal cliffs, "nuclear options," trillion-dollar platinum coins -- in this late stage of our imperial decline, we seem to be drowning in apocalyptic metaphors and loopy policy gimmicks. Who among us can disagree with the sentiment articulated by hip-hop star Akon in his "No Labels Anthem": "We may not understand this whole process and how things go/I'm just an ordinary man tryna live free and God knows"?

No Labels, the ostensibly post-partisan group founded in 2010 to promote "a new politics of problem solving," launched a press offensive this week. The group's newly minted national leaders, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, penned a Washington Post op-ed Monday and appeared on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.

Our political leaders need to "step up" and, er, "be willing to sit down" with members of other parties, Manchin and Huntsman write: "hyper-partisanship" is bad news.

I agree: I can't stand Red Team/Blue Team tribalism. Which is why I'm trying to figure out just what it is about No Labels that irks me so.

In part, it's the self-congratulatory, schoolmarmish earnestness surrounding the campaign. No Labels actually gives out a label: the "Problem Solvers Seal" for candidates who have committed "to join a group of Problem Solvers." It's as cloying as a "Mean People Suck" bumper sticker and promises to be just as effective.

No Labels demands that "at all joint meetings or sessions of Congress, each member should be seated next to at least one member of the other party." They pushed this idea before last year's State of the Union and got more than 200 members to look for a cross-aisle BFF to sit with. If that led to an outpouring of legislative comity in 2012, I missed it.

Indeed, much of the campaign is warmed over Beltway pap. Pressed by ABC's George Stephanopoulos on the gun issue, Sen. Manchin could only sputter something about a federal "commission about mass violence" staffed by "experts from all different fields." How bold!

Still, over the last year, the No Labels brain trust fleshed out its pleas for togetherness with a process-oriented agenda. To be fair, there's a good idea or two in its 22-point platform.

"Automatic pay docking for Congress" if it fails to pass a budget is admirably punitive and might provide a much-needed incentive. A return to Jimmy Stewart-style filibusters, where senators have to "stand on the floor and speak as long as they can" promises at least to be entertaining, as does No Labels' proposal for Westminster-style "Question Time for the President," which might help knock presidents off their pedestals, deflating their air of majesty.

Some of the rest: "A Line-Item Veto with a Twist," "Fast-Track Legislative Authority for the President," is appealing only if you're deluded enough to think our major political problem is a lack of presidential power.

Worst of all -- and most telling -- is No Labels' call for "No Negative Campaigns Against Incumbents," which, it says, contributes to "a cycle of mistrust and retribution." Poor babies. Still, with incumbent re-election rates that rarely drop below 85 percent, they manage to get by.

"I wish they didn't have no labels," Akon sings. "There'd be more change with no labels." You may say he's a dreamer, but the notion here is dumb.

Our problems are legion: unsustainable middle-class entitlements, overextension abroad, the world's largest per-capita prison population -- and most of them stem from past occasions when "problem solvers" got together in chummy bipartisan fashion. We may need a little less collegiality to get out of this mess.

Washington Examiner Columnist Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of "The Cult of the Presidency."

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