(AV17655) Putting Labels Aside: Not left, Not Right, Just Forward

all righty hello everybody my name’s
Adam Kenworthy I’m president of the ISU Democrats on behalf of the hosting
groups here is you Democrats the ISU Republicans the poly science political
science group and GSB we want to welcome you and thank you for coming to hear our
speaker John Avalon quick note on John he’s a founding leader of No Labels the
organization that is bringing him here and that we’ve been participating with
which is an organization trying to bridge the gap between right and left
and work on issues that affect everybody for more of a centrist perspective No
Labels is an organization of citizens who are asking the young and the old to
come together in the form of unity John Avalon was the longest and youngest
serving speechwriter mayor mayor giuliani City Hall he was responsible
for writing the eulogies for all the firefighters and police officers after
the loss in 9/11 he’s a contributor to The Daily Beast a CNN contributor and
the author of the book wing nuts how the lunatic fringe and my notice cut off
what’s the restroom hijacking America copies available right there so please
join me in welcoming John Avalon hello there I don’t think we need the
mic but thank you all for having me I want to especially thank the College
Democrats and Republicans for joining together to bring me here talk a little
bit about no labels as well as just the current state of American politics and
it’s usually more fun to have a dialog rather than just a monologue so I’ll
talk for a little bit a little bit about no labels and and sort of my assessment
of what’s going on in American politics today and well I think we’re overdue for
a change and then we’ll have just a good good old-fashioned casual conversation
because that’s probably a lot more fun you know I think the problem in American
politics today is that we are being force-fed a series of false choices
between the far left and the far right it is drummed into our consciousness
everyday this idea that our country is deeply divided between red states and
blue states Democrats and Republicans liberals and conservatives and it’s true
that the parties are more polarized than ever before you can demonstrate that a
thousand different ways what’s not true is that that actually represents the
vast majority of the American people it doesn’t I mean you take a look at the
red state blue state map get changed every different election cycle and then
you take a look and the poli-sci folks in the audience see how you people
really vote the reality is the American is purple if you go by shades of
gradations of how people vote some areas are more conservative some places are
more liberal but the reality is that Americans still assert a fundamental bit
of wisdom that we seemed with lost in recent years it’s a founding bit of
wisdom which is there’s more than unites us than divides us but our political
debate today is totally predicated on division you’ve got people who are
deeply invested in hyper partisanship they are invested in it personally
professionally politically and it’s being compatible rise of partisan media
which is deep in these divisions and it’s presenting I think a vision of
America that a lot of folks don’t recognize it’s made more and more
Americans feel politically homeless when they surveyed the political debate and
the danger is is that it might turn some folks off from acts
engaging and that’s dangerous in a democracy because the parties are more
polarized than ever before but that doesn’t mean we are so I think it is
time for us to sort of stand up and straighten our civic backbone and demand
something different Torreya sort of bit have forgotten
common sense wisdom in our politics which is that the activists on either
side may be deeply divided but the vast majority of the American people are not
and that’s why a group of us got together and formed no labels just under
a year ago Democrats Republicans independents veterans of political
presidential campaigns local politics all united with a simple idea that hyper
partisanship is hurting our country it’s hurting our country right now because
it’s stopping us from being able to solve the serious problems we face you
know democracy doesn’t work if it’s all or nothing and that’s been the attitude
of the two parties and the two parties of engaging in these sort of
purification rituals what’s called Rhino hunting and the Republican Party and
Dino hunting in the Democratic Party now you may know these terms but what a
Rhino is in the language of folks on the far right it’s a Republican and name
only so it’s a Republican who’s not quite
conservative on every issue so they get targeted in a closed partisan primary
and drummed out excommunicated in fact and the Democrats are starting to catch
on to this because politics follows the lines of physics every action creates an
equal and opposite reaction so we’re seeing Dino hunting Democrats in name
only folks you know now the term that sometimes getting tossed around on MSNBC
is is conservatives but the basic ethos is the same it’s that the parties need
to be more polarized the more effective candidates or the more ideological
candidates and and I understand why the parties want this a polarized political
system really works very well for the special interest that makes up the base
of the two parties but the problem is is that there is really a market failure
going on you got more and more Americans who are
not represented by these choices that’s why and this is a fact
totally tends to blow people’s minds there more independence in America than
there are Democrats and Republicans independents are the largest and
fastest-growing segment of the electorate
not Democrats not Republicans and the rise of independence is directly
predicated on the polarization of the two parties the more polarized the two
parties are the more people declare their independence because they’re
demanding something different and from a generational perspective this is
especially true independents are the youngest segment of the electorate
forty-five percent of voters born after 1977 are self-identified independents
and I think there’s a common-sense element to this right I think many of us
have grown up with a multiplicity of choice in every aspect of our lives
we’re used to individuation we pick and choose the different aspects of our
lives that make sense to us and that’s how we define ourselves both to
ourselves in to the world around us and yet politics is the last place where we
are expected to be satisfied with a choice between brand a and brand B the
parties like it this way they still are planned politics by Industrial Age rules
the political consultants don’t want to update their PlayBook they are stuck and
play to the base mold because that’s how they understand the political system to
work and if you think about running for office they try to force you into these
ideological straitjackets they try to get your positions to conform with the
special interests of their parties whether it’s the religious right on the
right or the public sector unions on the left we hear it again and again people
who come to know labels especially local elected leaders and they say they may
work maybe they’ve been successfully elected maybe they tried to run but they
found out that their party kept trying to get them to conform to their party’s
ideological positions and they weren’t positions of principled per se they were
positions of political convenience they were essentially intimidated into
conformity where that was the expectation and that’s the problem in
politics today you know the activists and the party
elites are deeply divided and they try to reward these folks there’s a bizarre
phenomena which always fascinates me they’ll say folks who are really vote
with the party a hundred percent of the time the most ideological extremists
votes possible on the left and the right and they’ll say these people are
courageous they’ll hold them up as Paragons of courage well reality check
time folks I mean that’s really where we’re at we’re sort of it we need a
reset in our politics because last time I checked 100 percent of the time with
your marty was not a mark of political
courage it is a mark of conformity it’s the opposite of courage it’s cowardly to
surrender your conscience and common sense to walk and lockstep with a party
or a political ideology and yet that is the kool-aid that is being sold every
night on the partisan news it’s being sold at every Party convention you go to
when folks actually have the courage and political office to reach across the
aisle they just end up taking buckshot out of both sides and that’s part of the
problem that No Labels is trying to address we’re trying to change the
incentive structure even just a little bit one of the early instances we’re
talking early about earlier dinner Lindsey Graham fairly conservative
senator from South Carolina wrote an op-ed with John Kerry pretty liberal
senator from Massachusetts they wrote it on climate change and they said look we
don’t agree on much but we’ve been working on this issue now there’s plenty
that we disagree with on the issue of climate change but we believe there’s
some common ground so let’s define it and then build on it because that’s how
democracy works best we’re not gonna get a bill that’s going to please the left
never gonna pass and any bills not gonna please James Inhofe and the folks on the
far right but somethings better than nothing let’s try to find a way to
reason together to move our country not left to right but forward on this issue
of climate change for the sin of merely writing an op-ed with a Democrat John
Lindsey Graham goes home to South Carolina where my parents lived lived
for more than twenty years and he got called a traitor a traitor to the
Constitution now that’s a sign of real problem in our democracy it’s a sign of
a problem on a couple levels first it’s a fundamental intolerance of different
ideas where cooperation is considered collaboration in the world war two sense
something sick is and bring our politics but then you use the constitutional
excuse that’s the one that always blows my mind I mean take a big step back
first of all the Constitution doesn’t mention the political parties so the
idea that you can use a partisan lens on analyzing what’s constitutional or not
is ridiculous the second bit is that if you go back and look at the debate
surrounding the Constitution go back and poli-sci folks in the class you’ve had
more of a chance to do this than most folks recently go back and read Fed ten
remember the debate surrounding the ratification of the Constitution why
James Madison and and Alexander Hamilton and John Jay were arguing for the
ratification of the Constitution it was because they were trying to get us to
constrain the forces of faction at that time the Constitution is all about
checks and balances it’s a very centrist idea that’s why I believe the vast
majority of Americans can elect divided government in assassins because it
builds in those checks and balances but somehow we’ve forgotten that bit of
wisdom instead our politics all seem to be about inflaming faction these days
sometimes ironically in the name of the Constitution one of my favorite aside
irony’s is Glenn Beck Glenn Beck actually is relatively straight up
maybe unintentionally ironic but he’s got a magazine where which call it
called faction because it’s he calls it the blend of fact and fiction so which
is pretty straight up for Glenn Beck I think but I love that he called it
faction because that’s of course what you know the folks in the talk radio
game they are all about in flamin factions and that’s part of what we’re
counteracting as well is a media culture the rise of partisan media which is all
about in flaming factions exaggerating differences trying to demonize people on
the other side of the aisle and it’s this daily drumbeat and it affects the
political leaders and there’s a real simple formula for this I mean I work in
media let me tell you what it is but the fragmentation of media you get more and
more people fighting over for a narrow and narrow slice the way to get good
ratings is have had to have what is called a narrow but intense niche
audience it’s called cocooning until recently
it’s worked pretty well and the whole formula I’m going to throw the curtain
back on the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world for a second is conflict tension fie
and resentment that’s the formula and by the way there are folks on the far left
tried a lot less successfully it should be said as well but conflict tension
fear and resentment trying to get their audience so agitated that they become
addicted to this anger they began analyzing American politics through an
us against then lens which is the classic sign of a demagogue demagogues
throughout history they always use the us-against-them formula and we have seen
an uptick in these kind of appeals recently and look demagogues always do
well in economic downturns right in the 1930s we had Huey Long on the left and
sure father Charles Coughlin on the right but there is this telltale us
against them and it’s begun to infuse our debates and I think ways that are we
need to be civically aware about at the very least because it started to be with
people digest if they drink this kool-aid day in day out they start
thinking about their fellow citizens as as aliens right whether liberals do it
to conservatives or conservatives do it to liberals but they start to think of
them as as deficient as maybe a little bit subversive to the Republic may be
slightly less American in some way and and that has been in the terms of debate
in our politics in recent years and that is something that we need to push back
on and that also is what No Labels is trying to do we’re trying to form an
alternative community because the extremes are very well-organized and
it’s a small comparatively small number of folks on either side but they have
been able to disproportionately dominate our political debates you know even ten
years ago here’s an example of just the shifting balance of power ten years ago
political parties gave talking points to talk radio well now talk radio gives
talking points to political leaders their political leaders without
responsibility so there is no civic obligation to reach out form new
coalition’s to move a piece of legislation forward and the political
leaders are scared to death of these folks they have more power the partisan
hyper partisan media folks than the people in office and then and then part
of the cycle goes on you get political leaders who start trying to play
politics by talk radio rules in which there’s no such thing as too
extreme the more extreme you are the more attention you get the more you can
nationally fundraise so I mean Sharron Angle made a boatload on her last
campaign didn’t help her win she lost that Senate race but she made a lot of
money off national fundraiser look at the way it affected Michelle Bachman
raised millions and millions of dollars you know I think what some ways this all
became clear to us and no labels as we were building this project and going
around the country and just talking to folks seeing if there was a need which
we felt there was was on September 14th of last year when you had a Republican
and Democrat close partisan primary the Delaware one’s probably a little bit
better known it was Christine O’Donnell versus Mike Castle now Mike Castle is a
centrist Republican congressman Mike Castle is former governor he had cut
taxes three times balanced the budget eight years he would have won that seat
for the Republican Party no question he was a very well known broadly beloved
figure with an ability to appeal across party laws and even conservative
Republicans and Liberal Democrats who disagree to them in Congress all said
this is God as a man of integrity I said it now Christine O’Donnell had run a
number of different races she had won gotten five in state donations the
second quarter of 2010 five in an entire quarter now you don’t have to worked in
a political campaign to know that not a great sign of hometown support but but
she got a quarter million dollars in the closing weeks of that primary campaign
quarter million dollars from a national activist group they started running
whisper campaigns against Mike Castle say he’s gay right
his wife was surprised to hear this but nonetheless that there’s part of the
whisper campaign Mike Castle also done something he’d stood up to the birther
stuff the one of the early birth or viral clips you see Mike Castle
Republicans saying I don’t know what you’re talking about but if you’re
talking about the president states he’s born in the United States and he gets
booed my castle lost that close partisan primary Christine O’Donnell went to lose
the seat right not tough to do that math the same time Adrian Fenty in Washington
DC because it’s very important that that folks understand that No Labels is very
much about building bridges and we want to create incentives we all kneel
straight the problem and and you know neither party has monopoly on good
people are good ideas neither party has monopoly on virtue advice don’t buy
listen to anybody tells you otherwise Adrian Fenty was a one-term mayor of
Washington DC young guy he had taken on the teachers union back to education
reform appointed a chancellor named Michelle Rhee who’d really been pretty
aggressive they create a lot of charter schools they fried hot fought hard to
hire young teachers they an issue which is an issue in number states right now
tried to take on last in first out so that instead of every time they were
cutbacks the youngest teachers were fired and the oldest were protected they
tried to reverse it have merit pay an idea the Obama administration backs
incidentally very controversial with the teachers union who are one of the
leading funders and fundraisers of the Democratic Party
close Democratic primary the teachers union put a million dollars in against
Adrian Fenton and on September 14th the election was over now if you happen to
live in Washington DC and be a Republican or an independent like myself
you never had a chance to vote but the election was declared over Vincent Gray
was the new mayor and in that closed partisan primary a million dollars
national activist cash killed a guy who had a 64 percent approval rating among
his constituents this is a problem in our politics this is how that national
rhetoric the hyper partisanship trickles down to real races it starts affecting
governance the Incentive strict structure is completely screwed up
politicians know that the safest state place they can be especially in Congress
and you know is because many states have this rigged system of redistricting
where you get 10% turnout so they don’t have a safe seat there’s no general
election well ten percent turnout five point one percent makes a majority that
is a paradise for activists and ID laws they spent all their time trying to
appease the most activist group of their base they’re not trying to reach out to
the other ninety five percent of their constituencies I saw it when Rudy
Giuliani was running for president national political consultant came in I
had the pleasure of working for Rudy Giuliani in New York for five
years saw how a Republican mayor reform Republican mayor turned around a city
that many people thought was on government was five to one Democrat and
and but Rudy’s thinking about running for president national political
consultant comes in and this is how these conversations work real back of
the napkin he said Rudy let’s say the country’s a third a third and a third
third Democrat third Republican third independent you’re running for the
Republican nomination for around a year well Rudy divided that third and a half
because fifteen percent the centrist in your party ain’t going to vote in the
primaries so you need to devote all your time to peel into that fifteen percent
now this is what passed for smart political advice in Washington and I’m
sure it was savvy but it didn’t occur to that guy because he’d done the pitch so
many times that they had just counseled a prospective presidential candidate to
systematically ignore eighty-five percent of the American people
strategically and then we wonder why it’s difficult to unite the nation after
the fact it’s baked into the cake right now
this hyper partisanship is really metastasized in our body body politic
and that’s why it is up to us to challenge and change it you know we can
change the culture we can change the rules they come from you know men not
God political consultants or change their strategy if the rules change if
politicians feel they’ll be rewarded for reaching across the aisle instead of
punished they’ll start changing their tune as well but right now all they see
is the downside now despite that there are folks trying to fight the good fight
I mean they see the polls ninety-three percent of Americans say that they want
the harsh partisan infighting to end in Washington they want folks to figure out
a way to work together well it seems like the other 7% is everybody in office
every staff for every political consultant everyone on television but
right now the debate on deficit in the debt right we’re having that debate in
Washington in real time it’s a tough debate
it’s a slow-moving crisis it is real it’s being felt in states and we’re
having all sorts of high pitched debates in different states
right now there are two senators Republican Democrat saxby chambliss of
Georgia and Mark Warner of Virginia who’ve been leading off-site retreats
trying to get bipartisan support for a plan that reduces deficit in the debt
because they realized that cutting spending all your time trying to debate
cuts out of 12% of the budget isn’t real we’re not being honest with the American
people you’re not going to deal with the
deficit the debt focusing on cuts in the 12% of the budget and in fact those cuts
are probably more painful and more economically negative than dealing with
some of the long-term cost curve but as I’m in the political will they’ve got to
go off campus they’re leading retreats in Virginia and it’s all done con in
secret it’s a gang of six right now right and and but in fact I was talking
to some of the political leaders who helped begin this debate Republican and
Democrat Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson the other day they said between 30 and
45 senators have attended these at different times they want to do the
right thing but they’re afraid they’re gonna get killed if they reach out
across the aisle they’ll be attacked by the activists in their side who accuse
them of selling out their team because the team ISM is that pervasive that they
can’t even have a constructive conversation about the long term
geostrategic imperatives that our nation faces so there’s reason to be optimistic
because these folks some of them want to do the right thing our politics really
have been hijacked by a comparatively few number of folks on other side but
they have disproportionate influence so we need to create an alternative we
really do need to be the change we want to see we need to stand up and say we’re
going to reward those political figures who have the courage to reach across the
aisle in our own kitchen table or bar room debates we’re gonna try to
depolarize the debate there’s a common sense wisdom beneath all this it is
deep-seated in our generation alone if I say two groups my talk to you say well
personally I’m an independent why I’m fiscally conservative I’m socially
liberal obviously a lot of heads nodding and indeed if you look at the trend of
independent voters it bears out closer Republicans on economic issues closer to
Democrats on social issues of a generational no-brainer right we
get it but there’s no place for us in politics today despite the fact that
we’re the rising majority political figures who want to represent that
perspective if they hold those principles in their heart are pulled to
the extremes if they want to survive in politics so we need to really create
that alternative and that’s part of what no labels is about we’re trying to bring
folks together in the last big tent politics
we know it’s a tall order we’re trying to change the culture we’re not trying
to do it all we’re trying to start in specific state states like Iowa where
independents outnumber democrats or republicans where you guys have an
enormous ability every single one of you guys has a disproportionate opportunity
to affect the national political debate over the last three years every
political candidate comes through here and every political reporter and you
guys can change a conversation by standing up and asking a question that
forces them out of the predictable bitter hyper partisanship that they will
gravitate to because that’s how they know politics is played challenge them
to think a little bit bigger bring a sense of perspective to politics you
know we’re gonna be focused and no labels we’re gonna be trying to police
the hyper partisanship and reward folks who reach across the aisle may be
focusing on fiscal responsibility that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been
getting involved in trying to support Warner and Chambliss and we’re gonna be
getting involved in election reform in each of the states where that’s
appropriate trying to open the process level the playing field this is one of
the years where redistricting is done all across the nation it’s an
opportunity to try to do rig the system which is one of the reasons why we’re
partially but artificially polarized in American politics
but we really know that this is this is a Citizens movement and we need to be a
counterweight to the organized activists on either side just to bring a sense of
balance back to our politics the secret is is that there really are more of us
and there are them voters in the vital center there’s a moderate majority in
this country we just have to show up we have to speak up we have to straighten
our civic backbone and engage the debate and you hear and I will have a unique
opportunity to do that every day so take advantage of it
sign up with no labels we’d love to have you we want to build up our local
chapter to really make our presence felt in these debates you’ve got a great
political culture to work with earlier today I was in your State House which is
beautiful and I met with the the Senate the Senate Pro Tem President Joe
Danielson firefighter when he’s not being a state senator and you can see
this is a guy who just instinctively understood that principled disagreements
with your colleagues and the Republican side of the aisle but instead of
focusing on those let’s try to figure out where we agree and work from there
and Pat Ward who I guess is a state senator from outside des moines was
lovely and said look we’re gonna disagree on some things but the vast
majority of things we don’t so you create a political culture that doesn’t
demonize people who disagree with you you pull the curtain back a bit and
realize that the American people are in fact united on the vast majority of
issues broadly speaking it’s the activists on either side who were deeply
divided and that’s the way you stop the cycle of incitement that we’re in that’s
the way we stop it we focus on what unites it’s not what divides us we stand
up to extremes on both sides whenever they rear their head and that’s how you
change the culture and that’s what we’re trying to do with no labels and what I’d
really like to do as I said before is actually have a conversation we could
talk about politics we can talk policy there’s no shortage of things to talk
about American politics but thank you for taking some of the time each time of
year out tonight to come hear me talk and hopefully it’ll be doubly rewarded
with a good conversation about where we are as a nation how we move forward
thank you I will stay in the light as I drink my
coffee first one’s always a little scary but that gets easier hey why’d you tell
the audience a little bit about what you’ve been working on in fact effective in in the November
2012 election which is only 21 months away so we have quite a bit to do
between now and then we have two central things that we’re trying to do one is to
govern from the center 70 percent and then the other thing is political
process reform because we really think it’s a process that’s broken
and whereas if we pick up an issue either of the outer parties can just
adopt that issue if it’s if it gathers steam whereas the outer parties can’t
possibly change their process and so those are the two things that were that
we’re working on so this is this is an example by the way just a local example
of what’s happening which I think a lot of people are coming to the same
conclusions independently there’s got to be a better way and and they’re they’re
really trying to innovate new solutions and and that’s a real specific example
of the larger wave that No Labels is about over the next 12 months in
particular we want to be focused on engaging in issues that fall under those
three categories I mentioned we’re gonna be combating hyper partisanship
rewarding the folks who reach across the aisle we’re gonna be trying to focus on
issues of fiscal responsibility because those it’s an issue of generational
responsibility at the end of the day dealing with the deficit the debt and
it’s something that unites centrist Democrats and centrist Republicans and
folks and you know independents as well and to try to say very simply and
there’s a slogan we’re getting out there everybody’s got to be at the table
everything’s got to be on the table that’s the only way this works and then
election reform in the States where it’s appropriate election reforms hugely
important in the states with open primaries they tend to elect more
centrist candidates you know you have these close parties and primaries and a
rigged system of redistricting it forces the politicians to the extremes and then
that gets compounded by the political culture the media culture and wash and
everything else and they’re actually at a competitive disadvantage if they try
to reach out across the aisle so election reform is is an important part
of this it’s it’s it’s sounds wonky to some folks but this is the playing field
and it you know if you change the rules you change the incentive structure so
those are the areas we’re going to be focusing on in the near term we’re
trying to get to sign up on the website because we
know we want to go in there with real support we want emails to get sent to
the Senators praising them when they reach across the aisle and when they
really play to the lowest common denominator politics calling them out
and realizing that at the end of the day it’s the folks in the vast bottle center
who have the ability to be the honest brokers in politics right they’re saying
very predictable about hyper partisanship they always defend their
side quote unquote their team no matter what even when the indefensible comes
and so as well though they may be crazy but there are crazies that’s absolutely
the attitude in politics so we need to change that and and so we need to flex
our muscle in the middle of that we know it’s process but we’re going to be
focusing on on those on those three things yes sir minorities on the far left in the far
right well you raise a very interesting point so what you’re speaking to I think
is the fact that you’ve got more and more Americans declaring their
independence because they’re frustrated and disgusted with the polarization to
two parties that gives the parties a smaller and smaller base which makes
them more and more polarized right couple things to some extent I think the
party’s got to get over themselves I mean that they are not the purpose of
our politics which they have too often forgotten but they’ve rigged system
rules in different states that that basically keep a control on
the process there’s a there’s a double-edged irony here in New York
State there used to be a vibrant Republican
tradition going back to Teddy Roosevelt really going back to William Seward when
the Republican Party was an abolitionist party in it at its founding and and as
the all throughout the Northeast over the last ten years as the Northeast
Republican species ginam has left the party and declared their independence
those parties have gotten more and more to the extreme and they’ve had a harder
and harder time electing folks Scott Brown and Olympia Snowe being great
examples and Susan Collins but those folks are all you know being called
Rhino’s now and being threatened with primaries for being insufficiently
conservative in New York State what we got out of that dynamic was Carl
Paladino you all remember Carl Paladino he was
special Carl Carl Paladino basically took took um you ever seen the movie
Network you all should just go home and rent Network right did one of the great
movies of all time paddy Chayefsky screenwriters are complete genius but if
you want to understand what’s been going on in politics and media to last like
two three years it’s the character Howard Beale basically Glenn Beck is
Howard Beale I’m half convinced that at the end of this he’s gonna tell us he’s
punked us all and it was a giant thought experiment it’s actually been
performance art the entire time to see whether America would fall for Howard
Beale I think there’s like a 10 percent chance of that
Palladino actually adopted Howard Beals yell I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna
take it anymore that was his campaign slogan
I appreciate the barbaric yawp I appreciate the life’s frustrating and
sometimes you just want to yell that but but I’ve always like you know in that
debate what I loved was Johnson morality or sort of sanity last year
which was the single most heartening thing in our politics that I’d covered
because I covered all the rallies in Washington last year the flipping of
that which was that you’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore I
think that was the good flip but in all seriousness I think that in New York’s
case one way to answer that problem is to have open primaries it’s actually in
their long term self-interest because open primaries will allow them not to
feed the extreme and get candidates like Carl Paladino because the de facto is
that we drift towards one-party states doesn’t reflect registration but because
of the various rules you end up having one-party states and that believe me is
not good for anybody never been good governance in one-party state whether
it’s a city or state or nation so I think open primaries would actually
encourage independence to get more involved in in these parties feel more
invested and it would also have an ameliorating effect you wouldn’t have a
Christina Donnell in Delaware you know Adrian Fenty probably still be mayor of
DC but but I do think that independents are actually saying something they are
basically trying to get the two parties to wake up but there is a market failure
in our politics that’s the more profound point the two-party system should work
pretty well it should it should basically historically when when folks
start leaving it would represent an opportunity for realignment right 40% of
the electorate is a pretty huge opportunity for realignment I mean if
one party could figure out what was driving that they’d really be able to
realign the whole map and bring in line a whole new generation but because the
two parties the the independent growth is being driven in reaction to
polarization of the two parties and because it tends to be again we’re
talking bell curve so there’s a mainstream in there outliers even the
independent movement and you know social fiscally conservative but socially
liberal the Republican Party is too controlled by its social conservative
elements religious right the Democratic Party is too influenced by special
interests who are really addicted to federal spending like the public sector
unions so it makes it functionally impossible for the two parties to take
advantage of the market failure of the independence and realign them because
the the independents are actually reaction is something very rational
they’re saying we’re really uncomfortable about the disproportionate
power special interests in both these parties have and it’s it’s it’s real
that dynamic absolutely exists so at some point either one of the
parties will wake up where there will be some sort of a rupture but again the
parties are not the purpose of our politics we have forgotten that that is
part of the problem right now it seems to me if I could indulge in a secondary
question I indulge sounds way to yeah that’s totally fine so adding on to that
once you create open primaries bar because they’re not allowed to so that’s
very tricky the extremes are far more motivated in the center well hey political system that is really focused
on special interest what is the special interest of the center gonna be because
you need big money from somewhere well hold on couple couple different things
first of all I mean remember every state has different election laws because
that’s the nature of the federal system we have um independence to vote in
primaries because in many states they’re not able to vote in primaries there is a
broader dynamic which is a problem right which is when I went on The Daily Show a
few years ago Jon Stewart expressed as the people in the center don’t really
give us a bunch of shit as the crazies you know and and it you know it’s that’s
the problem you know the people who go in and lick stamps the people who are
obsessed with politics are going to be the most involved they’re going to this
is these are the activists and that’s part of the problem but I think that the
problem is is that just because you’re less partisan doesn’t mean you’re less
patriotic and I think part of the problem with hyper partisanship today is
that they have blurred partisanship and patriotism they think being good
partisan makes you a good patriot and and you know just complaining about that
dynamic isn’t sufficient I do think it’s incumbent upon us to get involved and
and and that’s why I say you know part of what we’re trying to do with no
labels and part of what I try to do in my writing the columns for The Daily
Beast non-air at CNN is to show that the vital Center is a place of passion and
principle because we do need to show that we care as much
I don’t know reason our citizenship should somehow be downgraded because we
drink the kool-aid less and spend less time in the echo chamber or the Amen
Corner but it’s incumbent upon us to
participate to get involved I mean you know demonic
she will follow where the numbers are now my problem is is that too often I
think the parties have rigged the system to try to keep hold their hold on power
even amid declining numbers in ways that are ultimately unhealthy for the
Democratic Republic that we live in but we need to show up to you know we need
to speak up to now one of my favorite examples that I wrote about in my first
book independent nation go find a speech called declaration of conscience by
Margaret chase Smith she was the first woman popular elected the United States
Senator Republican from Maine she was also the first republican to stand up to
Joe McCarthy a Republican in her own party obviously on the floor of the
Senate gave a speech called the declaration of conscience and she
addressed this problem which is that is that we need to straighten our civic
backbone and speak up and declare our conscience because in the absence of
that the extremes can hijack the debate they will to your point about special
interests I don’t think the center needs a special interest I think we need to
create a choice between the national interest versus the special interest I
think the problem is is that we haven’t created an alternative architecture and
I think that’s where we are right now there are people coming to the same
conclusion all across this country that there’s got to be a better way and many
of them are businessmen there are entrepreneurs who look they say look the
free-market system is pretty good and and I’m deeply invested in in
free-market capitalism but that doesn’t mean I’m a social conservative the to
actually have rationally were a little together in fact I can make the case
that if you really care about individual freedom it’s much more consistent to be
in favor you know the Conservatives I know if they want to be really
consistent philosophically and ideologically should be in favor of gay
marriage right and pro-choice right we all know that that’s a political
impossibility but if you’re being really consistent if if you if you care about
individual freedom consistently and it’s more than a bumper sticker that would
lead you to those conclusions but it’s not principled its partisanship right so
Mike Huckabee goes after Natalie Portman but doesn’t say boo about Bristol Palin
right because if we all we all know this and yet for some reason even talking
about it is is still a rebellious act right now I mean that’s the exciting
point we’ve gotten to the point we’re actually standing up and speaking common
sense from the center is a belly is act so that’s part of what
gives me the edge in the energy that their work we’ve we’ve gone so far off
center that we’re cutting edge again just by asserting something like there’s
more the unites us than divides us Americans if you actually mean it aren’t
just throwing it out as some bullshit bumper sticker to you know win a general
election so so I think actually it’s up to us right now to build alternative
architectures and and to try to focus folks on on that it’s not it’s an
alternative special interest driven politics and and and I think that we’ll
find people want this kind of change but they’re not getting a lobbyist with it
that that’s not the deal we’re actually not trying to be really narrow about the
politics we’re trying to bring about a broader change and we will and and like
most independents say one of the mantras I vote for the person not the party you
know that’s a radical idea unfortunately in our politics today and if we’ve
organized about it more the folks in the center to punish those candidates who
pander to the outer reaches of politics who really cynically try to divide to
conquer will actually change the incentive structure and believe me they
will listen they just right now feel that the incentive structure set the
other way and they don’t really give a damn yes sir well we’re very much trying to
illustrate an alternative to be a third voice in the political debate but you’re
being like running candidates is that what you’re saying look we are at we yes
I mean in terms of not running I don’t our goal is not to create a third party
I want to disabuse everyone of that you know that look if the market failure in
our politics continues at some point someone’s gonna realize that there’s a
huge opportunity here and most independent candidates like that
gentleman over there I refer you to that my friend in the argyle sweater but but
but you know one thing I think you may see no labels do in the next election
cycle is supporting centrist candidates in both in both parties in their
primaries right the folks were trying to be RINO hunted and Dino hunted out of
existence we want to support those folks because there’s something very
distorting in our democracy that happens like you know I mean Lisa Murkowski
whatever you think of her but when she lost that primary to Joe Miller that
wasn’t the people of Alaska talking that was 17% of the electorate in the close
partisan primary in the state were independents outnumber democrats or
republicans so you know we want to support those candidates especially if
they’re taking heat from activists and extremes in their own party for not
being ideological enough for being in effect to independent-minded
for reaching across the aisle we want to support those folks and and and I think
you’ll see us do that in a national day action that we’re talking about and will
support Democrats and Republicans it’s very important we’re you know we’re
gonna be even-handed about this but that will likely be in a primary not a
general election because we got proud Democrats and proud Republicans in the
label’s we’re not telling people they need to stop being a Democrat I need to
stop being a Republican we’re trying to bring about a deeper change sure sure I
mean you know we are working on actually a metric which will be on our website
which will actually show folks who’s reaching across the aisle who’s trying
to solve problems right now National Journal has an annual metric which shows
you know who’s the most ideologically conservative or liberal members of
Congress and de facto then who’s the most folks in the center yeah I actually
had a conversation with Ron Brownstein who wrote a book the American American
Civil War where he talks a lot about hyper
partisanship and Ron told me that in the most recent National Journal rankings
they have the lowest degree of crossover in modern American history you know they
always had a couple of you know liberal Republicans who were more you know there
were conservative Democrats who were a little more conservative in their voting
record than a couple liberal publicans and vice versa
you know and and that that diversity ideological diversity the party is one
of the things that had centered the political system but now you’ve got you
know the Blue Dog Democrats got slaughtered in the last election there
are almost no centrist Republican left in the house they’re a couple couple in
New York not the ones who are taking out ads on Craigslist but but but so there
are a couple but they’re fewer than in a recent time in our republic and that’s a
mark of how polarized the parties are and that is a direct mark of the
problems so there are metrics we can use and you know you know I’m again it’s one
of the reasons I’m trying to give a very strong shout out and I will in my CNN
column later this week to senator Saxby in water you know they’re they are
trying to lead a bipartisan group outside the official structure of the
Senate to come up with a long-term plan to deal with our deficit in our debt and
right now this you know the smart money in Washington says Oh bullshit it’s very
it’s it’s it’s deeply ingrained cynicism under the guise of you know this is how
Washington works but there’s a deep disconnect with what the American people
actually want so we want to say you know instead of being cynical about their
efforts to actually do something about a long-term problem across partisan lines
I want to give them a shout-out say yes yes please more of that and the reality
is is they got you know one meeting thirty and another apparently 47
senators to go to an off-site talking about long-term bipartisan plans to deal
with the deficit the debt now it’s ridiculous they can’t apparently have
that call conversation in Congress but it’s a start and we want to encourage
and and their ways to measure those folks for reaching across the aisle and
that’s one of the things that we’ll be doing at No Labels and invoke we know
the folks were the professional polarisers right and and again right now
it’s almost a business decision a lot of them will make a business decision that
they can raise more money by being more extreme and they won’t raise it from
their constituents they’ve stopped trying to do that well
ray from national activist groups and in
that ethos then you don’t need to worry about forming coalition’s you figure
gonna raise enough money by throwing bombs nationally and then by somehow
playing the victim card which is my favorite aspect of this whole you know
game they play you throw bombs play the victim card and then raise boatloads of
national activist cash that’s been the game plan the last couple cycles so we
need to we need to counteract it I don’t know if you do a follow up if you want well the money question is an important
one there their groups like opensecrets.org that you can’t race
who’s given money to what candidates and they’re people that do a lot of work on
this you know no labels is very clear we’re not trying to be a think-tank we
know there are a lot of good ideas out there we’re not trying to recreate the
wheel what we’re trying to do is create some muscle in the middle that’s why we
need you all to sign up and encourage someone who’s a friend on the opposite
side of the political aisle we need to show that there’s a there’s a demand and
an army out there that’s at least equal to whether it’s tea party or move on and
and that and that you know in terms of tracking the money that’s an important
metric because look all the money is a truism in politics for a reason but but
I don’t know that we’re gonna try to in-house that I’d refer folks to great
sites like you know opensecrets.org are another good one if you’re interested in
being the honest broker in politics PolitiFact run out of the pointers to
st. Petersburg Times in Florida where they you know they’ll they’ll tell the
truth you know politician will come out with a long ball and they’ll say yep
actually that was right or nope they’re a liar and and they’re honest and
independent about it and that’s why they get criticized off and they just called
out Rachel Maddow and she was very upset but you know what she was wrong about
something and the problem is in our politics we don’t have enough examples
of principled independents like that so you know for the money question I direct
you to opensecrets.org yes sir well it is a citizens united is a
profound decision I think it’s been somewhat misunderstood but but the one
thing I will say is that citizens united has guaranteed the 2008 election will
look like a paragon of virtue and civility I mean you know if you think
it’s bad now just wait and the coming attractions ain’t gonna be good but
sometimes it takes tough times to wake people up to say you know what there’s
got to be a better way and and remember you know citizens united allows
corporations to spend money and aggregate money and it also frees unions
to do the same thing that doesn’t mean any of the rest of us are restricted
from doing it what I would like to see and here’s one thing I think that can be
done on a purely policing hyper-partisanship level is to begin to
change the incentive structure so if candidates end up playing to the gutter
and running negative ads constantly through you know through third parties
special interests that there’s actually a price to pay but they need to that
needs that’s an educational effort and that may be that’s them the Internet can
help do is sort of say you know through those ads that are you know those
negative ads that are you know flooding your television screen which will
probably true for Whitley’s one more cycle until the campaigns wake up that
it’s a huge waste of money to advertise on television that the camp candidates
feel like no no don’t run that negative ad it’s gonna hurt me it’s gonna kill me
with independents it’s gonna hurt me with voters in the center and it does by
the way demonstrable like voters in the center do not like negative ads but the
game that campaigns play is is that it’s just enough hands off and it’s just at
the right time maybe I’ll get away with it so that’s part of the accountability
project that needs to be put in place you know I was saying you know look
who’s paying for these ads and who benefits and change the incentive
structure just a little bit you know the only antidote to you know bad speech is
more speech and I think that’s that’s the position we’re gonna be in for the
next few years of late at least until folks get a little bit frustrated about
the role of money in our politics because they will and they should take a
couple more yep this polarization the two parties are
more ideologically stratified than ever before it’s a historic problem it goes
back to the realignment that began around 1964 brief history lesson but it
explains kind of where we’re at remember Republican Party was the party
of Lincoln it was the Progressive Party of its day
the Democratic Party was at its base in the states of the Confederacy for a
hundred years roughly the states in the south voted solidly Democrat and the
North was sort of a jump fall in different areas Republican Democrat and
you had strange coalition’s you had progressive reformers in the Northeast
in the wake of Woodrow Wilson after Teddy Roosevelt effectively got kicked
out of the Republican Party in 1912 long history but an important one and then in
1964 Johnson signs the civil rights act says to Bill Moyers I just gave the
south to the Republicans for your generation in mind and and the
conservative Democrats started migrating the Republican Party so instead of
having and within both parties liberal and conservative wings that kind of
balanced out our politics a bit you have the parties become more ideologically
and geographically polarized right so in that dynamic it changes the incentive
structures you add to that because we’ve always had also you know extreme voices
as I said before you know we’ve had demagogues at different times in our
politics but the rise of partisan media again which we seen before different
times has a broader reach than ever before that combined with the
polarization of the two parties you have the rise of partisan media you have
people self segregating themselves with internet news getting news that confirms
and conforms their own political prejudices right we’re self segregating
ourselves into different political realities you out all those dynamics
together um and and you get polarization and stratification and you add rigged
system of redistricting and close partisan primaries and it all creates a
very difficult environment where the extremes are more empowered than ever
before where the fringe is blurring with the
base you know in the 1960s William F Buckley stood up to the John Birch
Society the birches are backed by the way but but John William F Buckley was
obviously one of the founders of the modern conservative movement the John
Birch Society founder Robert Welch had written a book in which he accused
Dwight the Eisenhower of being a dedicated conscious agent of the
communist conspiracy a Soviet spy and and a lot of the Bircher themes bubble
up and back and other folks today Buckley took him on and said no you
cannot play in the conservative movement if you say that Dwight Eisenhower’s of
conservatives bye you’re gonna discredit us in your career an idiot in fact but
in the current environment the fringe is blurring with the base enough that you
don’t have enough folks and the party’s policing their own extremes they’re
afraid to stand up to them they’re afraid if they stand up to them they’ll
have happened to them what happened to my castle in Delaware so that there’s an
intimidation factor so all these factors rise of partisan media the polarization
of the two parties realignment the rule the Internet’s played have and the
intense activism of the extremes have contributed this environment and and I
look I’m fundamentally optimistic I really am first of all as Abraham
Lincoln said you know I’m an optimist because I don’t see the point in being
anything else I’m also an optimist because if you look
at the numbers they’re absolutely on our side if you look at the Millennial
Generation just do a deep dive on your own generation you see folks that are
deep really irritated and alienated by hyper partisan approaches to politics
they are very interested in civic engagement and solving problems however
and there’s a fundamental acceptance of a diversity of opinion it’s not you know
all or nothing in that same way and that’s true on issue after issue so to
some extent I’m confident because I know we’re skating to where the puck is going
but it’s also because if you look at with a broader view of history these
false choice between the far left and far right don’t reflect who we are as a
nation and and I think it’s hard for people to get their heads around that
because we’ve really been horsefeathers kool-aid for a long time
and that if you work in Washington it gets worse everything is through a
filter of team ISM but I think there’s a disconnect between what most Americans
believe and how they live their lives and indeed if you go back to Teddy
Roosevelt’s time where a lot of the current political you know fault lines
began to fester they didn’t analyze politics and left versus right simply or
liberal versus conservative certainly they had set at a different analysis
that I think is probably true and it divided our politics and to
reactionaries radicals and reformers radicals wanted radical change at a time
when socialism was sweeping across Europe opening the door to communism and
then it’s you know which the backlash to communism was in the form of Nazism and
reactionaries wanted no change yeah this is a very absolutist no change we’re
gonna resist unionization whatever the debate might be reformers at the time
were folks like Teddy Roosevelt who wanted evolution not revolution they
were the progressives of that time they were Republicans some were Democrats but
it seems to me that that is a more realistic vision of politics in our
nation that actually reflects I think the way more folks think and that if you
really do look at the numbers not just a political tradition you will come to the
conclusion that there is more than divides as doors more than unites us
than divides us even on the most deeply held hot button social issue like
abortion there around 19 percent of Americans support a constitutional ban
on abortion around 19 percent say they support no restrictions run 60 percent
in the middle support broadly safe legal and rare that’s a choice to have an
abortion is between a woman her family her doctor and her God they support
written a similar number were fine with with banning third trimester abortions
and you know the procedure known as partial birth abortion so even on the
most deeply held divisive personal issue upon which good people can disagree the
American people are not deeply divided the activists in both parties are and if
we pull back that curtain I think we get some hope you know I mean my book came
out a year ago Keith Olbermann’s off MSNBC Glenn Beck’s ratings are down 50%
and Sarah Palin’s tanking in Iowa I mean there’s there’s a larger view of
and I think that’s just what we need to encourage folks to view our politics
with a sense of perspective to realize that we’re being force-fed a lot of
false choices and it doesn’t reflect the best traditions of our nation and it
doesn’t reflect who we are as a nation right now or who we’re becoming so
that’s that’s the broad message no labels and that’s why it’s I think a
very hopeful movement we’re trying to build on that process in that progress
now I’ll take one more yes sir I’m sorry repeat the very beginning that
person if I understand it correctly sure I
think political abuse becomes part of the problem with polarized parties end
of it you know we have activist groups who have disproportionate influence on
our political debates and they feel that’s part of the problem is that they
don’t feel responsible for the totality the Republic it’s part of the story
about Rudy running for president or someone running in a closed partisan
primary they’re focused on five percent of their constituents thing and and they
are they’re afraid of them in effect and so that they’re not trying to reach out
if you have balanced government if you have people in Congress thinking
constructively about how to reach out and form new coalition’s that’s when you
move politics not left to right but forward there’s something fundamentally
representative about that that’s the whole idea frankly behind checks and
balances in our constitutional system when you have one-party States and the
parties are more polarized and dominated by their most activist voices their most
extreme voices that lends itself to abuse and the danger is is that it
becomes very dispiriting for folks you know and it becomes in a time when the
digital world is out there and very engaging they begin to feel like
engaging in politics as a sucker’s bet so they retreat from being civically
engaged and civically involved because they think the system is rigged or it’s
dominated by mean-spirited folks who scream and live who suck up all the
oxygen in debates and that really does start to seep something out of our civic
structure that’s the real danger here that’s the real thing we need to
confront is that possibility and that probability that good people will stop
getting involved in politics and that people who get involved in politics will
feel that the smart money is to play to their extremes and to surrender their
independent views when that’s what we need in politics more than ever before
so that’s why I think we do need to plant this flag and to say there is a
different way and to say that those folks who walk that more difficult path
will be rewarded and it has come to this time of building an alternate path but
the good news is is not only the secret that there are more of us in the center
than there are in the extremes but that actually I think we’re carrying forward
a deeper American tradition that you know if you go back and read George
Washington’s farewell address where he warned about the dangers
hi what he didn’t call it hyper partisanship but that’s what he talked
about the dangers of factions in flamin ill-founded jealousies between fellow
Americans he was warning us about these temptations and I think we are at that
kind of a time so that’s where there’s a sense of urgency here fundamentally I’m
optimistic but we do need to be the change we want to see that’s all the
civic responsibilities that each of us have in this room especially you here in
Iowa but thank you very much I appreciate it and I’m happy to talk to
you all later

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