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David L. Nevins

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The No Labels Approach to Government

Posted: 03/19/2012 11:40 am

I am an American citizen, who, like so many others, has become frustrated with the unbridled lack of civility, crippling partisanship and dysfunctional gridlock that are preventing our country from solving the serious problems we face on a daily basis.

Our Founding Fathers created a masterful document that has stood the test of time. The Constitution of the United States prescribes the principles and rules that have defined the organization of our government and which continue to a serve as the supreme law of the land.

Despite its magnificence, the Constitution does not fully address the particulars of the manner in which we, the people, are to utilize its marvelous blueprint for self-governance. Our Founding Fathers' own words reflect the vision they shared for this country of many differences. They called ours, a government: "Of the people, by the people and for the people."

These men provided the mechanics of government -- they defined the roles of the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Their core component, the Bill of Rights, mandates the liberties that we all cherish as Americans.

But the Constitution itself, does not consider the specifics of how our leaders must interact with each other and with the populace. These visionary men knew quite well that how our elected officials engaged, discussed and debated and how those same officials communicated with the citizenry, would be a defining factor in the success or failure of the new republic's "democracy."

While reading the many penned exchanges among our Founding Fathers it becomes clear that they realized that at the very heart of democratic governance lie the rules of engagement for constructive political dialogue and debate.

Thomas Jefferson recognized that democracy was born from discourse and discussion, and that such resulting discussion would be replete with differing perspectives and opinions. This visionary group of men believed that ideological differences would ultimately lead to inquiry, and inquiry to truth. In their writings to each other they discussed how civil discourse and critical thought were essential for their grand experiment in democracy to withstand the test of time.

This is what our Founding Fathers both wanted and feared as they pondered what the future would hold for the United States. They wanted a democracy defined by a Constitution, with a Bill of Rights for the citizenry, led by individuals who understood the importance of critical thinking and civil discourse. They discussed what that meant -- they considered defining it, but this major component of democratic governance was never fully addressed. Perhaps, they simply ran out of time knowing that a unified governing entity had to be formed expeditiously.

About a year ago, while pursuing a burgeoning interest in two concepts: civil political discourse and critical thinking, I discovered an organization called "No Labels." Since then I've been volunteering my time and expertise to this non-partisan organized 'movement' of 600,000 Democrats, Republicans, and independents dedicated to the simple proposition that common sense solutions to our national challenges exist and our government should be able to address and resolve those challenges successfully. If you tend to agree with me and are not already familiar with the group I would urge you to check them out here.

No Labels has developed a 12-step "Make Congress Work!" plan that is the first grassroots campaign I've seen to effect real change in our government. At a time when our nation faces profound challenges as well as unique opportunities, the faith and confidence of the American people in their leadership has never been so low.

The political situation in this country couldn't be more serious because if Congress is broken, so is the United States of America. Every law addressing any substantial issue has to go through Congress first. That means if we want a better tax code, a balanced budget, a preferable immigration system or more effective educational and energy policies, we first need to fix the system that's fractured.

No Labels believes the biggest problem with Congress has less to do with the people in it and more to do with the outdated rules, procedures and traditions governing the institution that are making it impossible for anything to get done. Congress has become a place where bright, decent, well-intentioned and talented people get dragged down by a broken and dysfunctional system.

But if the rules and procedures that govern the way Congress operates can change -- as No Labels vigorously suggests is both possible and necessary -- we, the people, can hold our leaders accountable and incentivize them to work efficiently and effectively. Indeed, we can "Make Congress Work!" and restore our lost faith and confidence in our government.

Most of the 12-steps proposed in No Labels' "Make Congress Work!" plan don't require new laws or any new spending, and they don't favor any party or particular cause. They are simple, straightforward proposals to break gridlock, promote constructive dialogue and reduce polarization in Congress. They can be adopted almost all at once when the next Congress convenes in January 2013.

The work of No Labels has just begun, and the task is not an easy one. However, I believe that with the help of enough ordinary citizens, like myself, from across this great land, this movement can become the vehicle through which our Founding Fathers' shared vision as to the nature, the climate and the ethics of debate is employed by our elected leadership.

I believe that No Labels will become an increasingly powerful, nonpartisan, political movement that will ultimately change the equation of what the American people expect of, and are willing to accept from, their elected officials. I believe that No Labels, with enough grassroots support from the rest of us, can hold Congress members accountable and solutions oriented.

Sooner or later the debate needs to shift away from the question of whether government should be bigger or smaller, to the debate that will transcend both political parties. Influential and renowned management theorist Peter Drucker believes that the government of this century will have to transcend both groups:

The mega-state that this century built is bankrupt, morally as well as financially. It has not delivered. But its successor cannot be "small government." There are far too many tasks, domestically and internationally. We need effective government -- and that is what the voters in all developed countries are actually clamoring for.
And that is the No Labels approach. No bias for bigger government, and no bias for smaller government. No Labels only goal is effective government. Many of my friends and associates say the system can never change and that I am merely wasting my time. I say that our Founding Fathers were considered to be idealists by some, and that the enduring Constitution they designed still endures 200 plus years later. We can, and must, build upon their brilliant and exemplary framework to finish what they collectively intended but never managed to complete. We must define and implement a process of governance in our country built upon civil discourse and critical thinking.