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'No Labels' Speaker David Gergen in NYC: 'The Country Is on the Edge'

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NEW YORK – More than a thousand Democrats, Republicans and independents converged on New York City on Monday to launch a national political organization to bring together Americans and put an end to damaging partisanship and divisive labels.

Aptly, it's called "No Labels. Not Left. Not Right. Forward."

From as far as Oregon and Colorado, Arkansas and Michigan, No Labels enthusiasts descended on New York City and filled a large hall at Columbia University to hear No Labels' founding leaders and guest speakers summon Americans to form a grassroots movement to unify the nation and support moderate politicians of all parties.

David Gergen, the political strategist and former top aide to several Democratic and Republican presidents, boiled down the crisis of polarization in the nation, saying that partisanship and special interests continually block what must be done in government, like energy and education reform, issues that have been at the forefront of the nation's agendas for 30 to 40 years.

"All these problems are coming at us at once,'' he said about the current political climate. "We deal with them now,'' he said, or risk going down as a nation. "The country is on the edge."

On the same panel -- "Hyperpartisanship in America'' -- Joe Scarborough, former GOP congressman and now anchor of "Morning Joe" on MSNBC, said that unless the Democrats and Republicans repair the chasm that divides them, independent third-party candidates will start winning. "It is inevitable," he said, "if both parties continue doing what they've been doing."

Retiring Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, one of the major backers of the No Labels movement, didn't quite agree that partisanship will lead to a third party, but said he foresaw a "period of churning," with power going back and forth from one major party to the other.

Wrapping up the morning session at the conference, Bayh urged the audience and Americans across the nation to "join the raging center."

No Labels, which plans to grow with online individual donations, envisions a nationwide movement mobilized by citizen chapters in all 435 congressional districts. Supporters are urged to hold town halls and "meetups" at private homes. Driven in part by the success of the conservative tea party movement and wide political divisions in Washington and across the nation, a core of centrist activists, working with an initial $1 million budget, are geared up to shape chapters in all 50 states and build a movement of a million participants who will work to exert a moderating influence on elected officials and candidates.

"The driving rationale for No Labels is that we know there are millions of Americans who are sick of the hyper-partisanship in Washington,'' Mark McKinnon, an Austin-based Republican political adviser who is one of the group's founders, told me.

"We are not the tea party, and we are not MoveOn,'' said McKinnon, who worked in the campaigns of George W. Bush and John McCain. "We are just a passionate band of citizens dedicated to a more civil dialogue and hope to be a microphone to amplify the voices of millions of Americans from the vast middle of America who feel like they aren't being heard."

On Monday, they unveiled their movement at a daylong convention-style National Founder's Meeting here at the Alfred Lerner Hall at Columbia. With such a prominent site, in the largest media market in the nation, No Labels organizers anticipated heavy media attention to help them get their message out there.

To that end, they enlisted a glittering list of political celebrities and marquee names, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, an independent; Sen. Bayh; Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Scarborough; and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat.

Those were not the only flashy names. Altogether some two dozen high-profile figures from the news media, the cable talk shows and electoral politics appeared on stage, answered questions and participated in panel discussions on such issues as electoral reform in America.

In a celebratory atmosphere, with some of the hoopla of national political conventions, the morning-to-afternoon program included a rousing musical number performed by the orange-shirted No Labels staff of some two dozen young people rapping and bouncing on stage to the audience's rhythmic clapping. The Senegalese-American rapper star AKON was scheduled to perform the "No Labels Anthem.''

It is probably no coincidence that Bloomberg, the billionaire media mogul, was among the best-known participants. He had to have endeared himself to the No Labels group with his blunt speech in Brooklyn on Wednesday criticizing the federal government's handling of the economy and saying that elected officials in Washington put partisan bickering above economic growth. His speech intensified speculation here that he might run for president as an independent in 2012, speculation he deflated on "Meet the Press" on Sunday when he categorically denied he would run for president.

No Labels, which is a 504 (c) 4 organization and requires donors to report contributions to the IRS, will endorse and perhaps help finance candidates in party primaries but not in national elections.

"This is a movement and not a party," McKinnon said when asked if the group would endorse a moderate like Bloomberg. "And this is not a stalking horse for a Michael Bloomberg independent candidacy."

Far from being in a position to propel or empower a potential presidential candidate, No Labels is a political start-up. The idea surfaced a year ago, just about the time that the Republican tea party candidate Scott Brown shocked the political world by winning Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts.

Interesting, too, looking at the political backgrounds of the organizers of No Labels, there is an inescapable connection to the Clintons. Several worked in Bill Clinton's presidential campaigns and in his administration. Some also worked in Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

No Labels' founder and prime mover, Nancy Jacobson, is a longtime fundraiser, creator of the Women's Leadership Forum and well-known Washington hostess. Jacobson, a political science major at Syracuse who earned her political stripes in Gary Hart's failed presidential campaign in 1984, has worked for Bayh for 15 years, was an adviser in the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton and finance chair of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Leadership Council under President Clinton.

Jacobson joined Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign as a senior adviser in 2007. Not insignificantly, she is the wife of Mark Penn, the Democratic pollster and prominent political consultant who managed Hillary Clinton's campaign until he resigned under fire. The couple is known for their dinners for powerful Democrats, journalists and other Washington figures at their Georgetown home.

Besides Jacobson and McKinnon, who like all founding leaders work as volunteers, the leaders of No Labels include John Avlon, the author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America"; Kiki McLean, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign; Lisa Borders, the former president of the Atlanta City Council; and Bill Galston, a domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the School of Public Policy of the University of Maryland.

Despite such heavy hitters, McKinnon said, "There is no hierarchy" in No Labels. "Citizens are organizing themselves in all 50 states. But they are doing so of their own accord with very little direction from us."

For a fledging political group operating on a shoe string, it certainly trumpets a far-reaching vision.

"No Labels will organize, energize and mobilize the masses of Americans who feel disenfranchised by today's hyper-partisan political gridlock,'' says its mission statement. "It's hard to find politicians anymore who are genuinely willing to work across party lines to solve problems. This organization aims to change that.''

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Not Left. Not Right. Bloomberg in 2012

Make no mistake about it, No Labels, isn't about compromise, nor avoiding partisan bickering, nor even about moving forward, it's all about getting Michael Bloomberg ballot access to run as an independent candidate for the US presidency in 2012 in all 50 states.

This is the same type of sucker-advocacy astroturfing Michael Bloomberg tried with Unity '08 during the run up to the 2008 general election. First, hire a bunch of Washington insiders, lobbyists and PR firms to create a political attraction, something simple, something everybody can understand and be attracted to, like moths to a flame. Then use words like "forward", "unity", "compromise", "cooperative problem-solving". In the case of Unity '08, the word was "delegate".

"Come, be a delegate to an online political convention and create your own political platform, and endorse a presidential and vice-presidential candidate."

With No Labels, the words may be different but the objective is the same. Create enough cannon fodder in each state to allow Michael Bloomburg's name to be placed on the ballot in each state as an independent candidate for the 2012 presidential race.

One wonders just what kind of a president Michael Bloomberg would really be if he doesn't have enough confidence in himself and his beliefs to stand up on his own two feet and tell the American people what he believes in and what he is going to do about it?

ex animo

December 15 2010 at 11:50 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

For some time now I have been writing that I think we need an umbrella group of moderates who serve as a connecting bridge between members of The Tea Party on the Right and The Progressive Democrats of America on the Left. I had hoped One Nation Working Together would fill this need, but budgetary concerns seem to be limiting their efforts. Somehow something or some group has got to be the glue that can listen long enough to discover and refurbish the tie that binds the diversity that has always been America, into an United We Stand mind-set, or else like all the King's Horses and all the King's men, we won't be able to put America back together again. I wish all Americans the very best Happy New Year in this endeavor.

December 14 2010 at 9:12 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

There is an unconvincing smoke-and-mirrors act here, with a number of left-of-center retreads running from the reputations they have earned. Evidently, no record at all is preferable to their own record of "progress". I think they are likely to lean forward and fall on their faces.

December 14 2010 at 8:31 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

See how the left is running from all labels identifying them with their own policies. It is amusing that they are doing so using pirated and unattributed artwork.

December 14 2010 at 3:04 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

For years I have had this same philosophy mindset that labels only seek to define our hate and discrimination.
Removing the labels and coming together as Human beings first and foremost is the best possible way.

I don't need to know which side you are on, only if your are willing to be serious about listening. When labels are in the way, we tend to pre-judge and take a stance because we have been conditioned to be ready to fight.

Why fight each other? If we cant stand united, divided...this nation will fall!

I can see the headlines in failblog in other countries about the USA with a big fat FAIL over the top.

Put aside these hateful and discriminatory labels and recognize one thing, we are all humans.

December 14 2010 at 8:42 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

We already have term limits, it's called an election. Every two years for the US House of Representatives, every four years for the US President, and every six years for the US Senate.

December 13 2010 at 7:36 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

This is just another attempt by Liberals to thwart the Tea Party and any other Conservative movement. Notice that all the names mentioned are Liberal Democrats except for Scarborough. Bloomberg is a RINO. If he ran for office in any other area,he'd be liberal Democrat.. SO please people,don't be duped,this is just BS.

December 13 2010 at 5:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Looks like a Tea Party for Democrats and their dupes. Is this going to clean out some of the far left in the Democratic party? If not it will just drain some moderates into a no platform happy zone. Love them or hate them, at least the Tea Party and Libertarians have a smaller government, lower taxes stance.

December 13 2010 at 4:23 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The middle of the road is where you get hit by a truck. If Clinton and Bloomberg are on the list it ain't nonpartisan. The tea party has libertarians, republicans, democrats, and constitutionalists. They have been tarnished by the media as dangerous and violent. All those little old ladies waving flags they are so dangerous LOL. If people would just check it out for themselves instead of listening to other people they might find out the truth about the tea party. Go see what its about and then make up your mind. You might be surprised when you see for yourself they are just ordinary Americans sick of getting screwed by politicians republican and democrat alike. Politicians just want to line their pockets with your money and spend it like drunken sailors. If the spending doesn't stop we're going to look like Greece.

December 13 2010 at 3:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Bloomberg and the Clintons now those are some real NON partisan figures for you! I havn't figured if this the front group for Hillary or Micheal????? Maybe at the end of the run in 2012 Hillary will be the Prez with MB as her #2 a RINO for all seasons!

December 13 2010 at 2:53 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sabot's comment

Good point, I think Hillary and MB are a strong possibility in 2012. If any real Republicans showed up at Columbia University, they would be booed off campus.

December 13 2010 at 3:42 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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