POLITICS
12/14/2010 01:51 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

'No Labels': Is Its Awesome Stupidity Secretly Brilliant?

From my travels around the web, I see that most people are dogging out this recently launched "No Labels" movement of rich patricians who'd like the rabble to quiet down about their problems and feel the wonderful, numbing effects of David Gergen's voice.

I can see their point! For years, the dominant pundit wisdom has been that all of the partisan rancor is bad for the country, worse than bank deregulation or long, pointless wars (some of the things, incidentally, that have resulted from a two-party "Kumbayah" cuddle-puddle). The only cure, so the theory goes, is the mass-production of bipartisanship sauce. Because while it might sound nice to provide affordable health care coverage to all Americans, it's probably going to lead to a lot of bothersome shouting. Whereas, if a law that only extends affordable health insurance to 20 Americans can win 100 votes in the Senate, then this policy must be "better."

That's basically the best way I can describe "Broderism" -- a term named after the David "Dean Of Fancy Pants" Broder, who will probably be canonized in some ritual at one of the next No Labels public events. Broder has been pretty insistent that we all need to give his concept of "centrism" a try. While a hopeful sort might imagine a "centrist" as one who strives to broker policy deals by serving as a between-the-poles go-between, actively seeking remedies for the good-faith concerns of either side, the Broder version of "centrism" is that you should water down a policy's effectiveness until such time that 70 senators, at the very least, will vote for it.

Laws that pass on very close votes, in Broder's mind, do not count, because they aren't a "strong launch" and cannot survive the "inevitable vagaries of the shakedown period." It's a puzzling take, considering the Bush tax cuts, which passed on Dick Cheney's tiebreaking vote, seem to have survived many, many shakedown periods, and will likely persist for two more years.

The thing is, David Broder has been writing this same column for years and years and years, and he's done little more than impress his friends. No Labels, however, is a game-changing idea. If you can't convince everyone to actually adopt your ideas, you can at least try to extract a little wealth from those few you can convince. And framing the whole matter as a move toward civility makes it possible to grab a few stray ducats from anyone who wants everyone to sit down and have nice feelings with each other (even if the No Labels "theme song" from Akon suggests that the concept of "civility" shall be stretched to include performing simulated onstage sex with teenage girls at rock concerts).

Of course, as Alex Pareene points out, this whole No Labels concept is, like the housing bubble, one huge misallocation of resources:

There are a million nonpartisan good-government reforms -- specific ideas, not vague platitudes -- that could use as much money and attention as this silly project. The No Labels "Election Reform" section, for example, is heavy on sturm und drang about redistricting, but it never mentions instant-runoff voting, or the National Popular Vote compact, or universal voter registration. Everyone complains about gerrymandering; why not try to convince people to expand the size of the House of Representatives? Why not fight to reform drug laws and free nonviolent offenders from prison?

I understand where Alex is coming from. But the brilliance of No Labels is that they have very boldly promised nothing for everyone and something for no one, and in that mission, they cannot possibly fail.

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