Congressmen Ami Bera, David Cicilline, Rodney Davis and Adam Kinzinger talk problem solving.
At No Labels we understand that there are real philosophical differences between Democrats, Republicans and independents. And we don’t expect our leaders or No Labels members to check their principles at the door.
But philosophy and principle many times have little to do with the dysfunction in Washington, D.C.
Too often it’s not the quality of a leader’s ideas that matter, but the label – Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative – that he or she wears.
In Washington, DC, the most powerful interest groups work to push our leaders and our political parties apart. No Labels is different. We are the only grassroots organization in Washington, and indeed in America, that is mobilizing citizens to push our leaders to work together.
We aim to force important issues onto the public agenda and to give our leaders the space and support they need to work across the aisle to address those issues.
You don’t need to shed your identity to join the No Labels movement. You can be a proud liberal, a proud conservative or anything in between. You just need to be open to the idea that people with different beliefs really can set aside the labels and come together to solve problems. It has happened before, and it can happen again.
In America we often describe an election as a “battle of ideas.”
But ideas alone aren’t enough to build a nation or grow an economy. You need leaders to bring those ideas to fruition, and throughout our history, America has been blessed with truly exceptional leaders – people with the confidence, character and vision to lead our nation through times good and bad.
And today millions of Americans are all asking themselves the same question:
Where have all the leaders gone?
We have many deficits in America right now: a fiscal deficit, a jobs deficit, an opportunity deficit – but none is bigger or more threatening to our future than our leadership deficit. And the 2012 elections did not magically solve the problem.
That’s not a political judgment on the winners or losers of the election. It’s a recognition of the fact that many of our government’s problems have become election-proof. Democratic and Republican leaders come and go, but the partisanship, gridlock and dysfunction remain. It’s the only constant in Washington these days.
As a consequence America is facing a confidence crisis.
We have way too much of one kind of confidence and way too little of another and, unfortunately, the one we have too little of is the one we need to get our country moving again.
The confidence that too many leaders in Washington have is the confidence that they and only they are right about what’s wrong with our country and what must be done to fix it. It’s the confidence that people with different views aren’t just wrong, but stupid, evil or treasonous.
This confidence has given us “leaders” who want all or nothing, consequences be damned. And these “leaders” gave us the debt ceiling debacle of 2011, the fiscal cliff fiasco of 2012 and the promise of more manufactured crises to come.
As this pernicious kind of confidence has risen, the other, absolutely essential American confidence has evaporated:
The confidence that tomorrow will be just a little better than yesterday.
It may sound trite but this confidence is the secret sauce of America’s centuries’ long success story.
With confidence a people and a country can take risks to build a brighter future. Without it businesses can’t invest, workers can’t work and consumers can’t spend. And America gets stuck in a ditch.
There are times when the American people and our economy have prospered with less than inspired leadership from Washington. This is not one of those times. Washington’s dysfunction is making America dysfunctional. It’s disfiguring our economy and dooming this generation to a standard of living worse than previous generations.
There is only one way out of this: real leadership. America hasn’t always had great leadership but we have usually had it when we needed it, and never more so than when our nation was founded.
Measured against the seemingly impossible challenges our founders faced and overcame, fixing our tax code, shoring up Medicare’s finances or rebuilding our infrastructure are hardly insurmountable problems.
In the early years of our Republic the American experiment could have failed many times. There were fiery arguments over how much power to give states in Congress, where to situate our capital and whether state Revolutionary War debts should be assumed by the federal government. These issues were even more contentious and controversial than our hot-button issues today, and our political leaders could’ve dug in their heels and refused to compromise. That’s what many in their “base” wanted. The pull of partisanship was strong then as it is now, but our founders managed to forge ahead because they had a common purpose:
They wanted to build a truly United States of America, where every citizen would be entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In 2012 our political leaders seem to have no common purpose other than vanquishing their political opponents.
America needs its leaders to embrace that common purpose shared by our founders. But it will not be achieved with just new people or new parties running the show.
We need our leaders to abandon the old politics of point scoring and embrace a new politics of problem solving. This is the cause that No Labels has been fighting for since we launched in 2011. It’s a cause that is gaining new adherents every single day in every state and congressional district in America.
But how do we get to this new politics of problem solving? As No Labels sees it, there are two key things that need to be done.
One, we need our leaders to recommit themselves to the core responsibilities of leadership and to redefine their relationship with the American people.
And two, we need our leaders to commit to reforming the government itself; to fixing the outdated rules and procedures that were created in a different time to deal with very different challenges than those that we face in the 21st century.
Despite our current difficulties America is still as innovative and well-educated as any nation on Earth – with companies that want to invest and hire new workers. We still have the fundamental strengths that made us the strongest economy in the world. What we don’t have is any faith that our political leaders can stop fighting and start fixing America’s problems.
Make America Work! is a call to action for our leaders to fix themselves and to fix the government that they aspire to lead. That’s the only way we can restore the right kind of confidence in America – the kind that allows us to create and take risks because we know our leaders are helping to create a better tomorrow.
Most importantly, the ideas in Make America Work! can be embraced and implemented now.
No Labels is supportive of ambitious reform efforts like building a better election system by creating open primaries or ending the gerrymandering that effectively allows politicians to draw their own districts. But as promising as these reform efforts are, they are tough, state-by-state slogs that will take years, or even decades, to succeed. We don’t have that kind of time. Not with the problems we’re facing.
We need action now, and that’s what Make America Work! is all about.
The clock is ticking, and it’s time to get to work.
Not a New Deal or a Contract with America. A New Promise to the American People
The New Deal and the Contract with America were both efforts to redefine the government’s relationship with the American people. Today we need to redefine the relationship between America’s leaders and the American citizens who send them to Washington. During this time of great national challenge, Americans have a right to expect all our leaders to follow some common principles, regardless of party or position.
1. Tell us the full truth: Neither party is being completely upfront with the American people about the choices and challenges we face in the months and years ahead. A telling example is America’s fiscal mess. Our government spends way more money than it takes in, but most of what we hear from Democrats and Republicans would do little to solve the problem.
To hear some on the right tell it, you’d think our deficit is driven primarily by welfare cheats, government waste and shiftless bureaucrats. Many Democrats seem to think rich tax dodgers are the ones busting our books.
But these culprits – however egregious they may be – are relatively small potatoes. The real cause of our deficit aren’t those “other people” gaming the system. It’s all of us. It’s the repeated tax cuts that we can no longer afford and the entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security that are growing far faster than our ability to pay for them.
It’s time for Democrats and Republicans in Washington to be straight with us about our deficit and about what it will take to solve the various other challenges we face as a nation, from our broken immigration system to our underperforming schools and our Frankensteinian tax code.
2. Govern for the Future: In 1956, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, working with a Democratic Congress, signed a bill that commenced the construction of America’s 47,000-mile interstate highway system. The project was finished in 1992, 32 years after Eisenhower left office.
Americans owe so much of what we have today to farsighted decisions that our leaders made yesterday. From the creation of the Interstate Highway System and the space program to the invention of the Internet and GPS, our leaders have laid the groundwork for innovation and prosperity with decisions made with an eye towards the future. These decisions weren’t always right for them politically, but they were right for America.
In today’s Washington, no one seems willing to make these kinds of decisions anymore, because too many of our leaders are engaged in a never-ending campaign, where the demands of governing for the future give way to the demands of the next media cycle or the next election.
That has to change. The job of our leaders is not to serve as a daily barometer of public opinion. It is to make the best decisions for the future of our country.
3. Put the Country First: In 1990, George H.W. Bush agreed to a moderate tax hike as part of a comprehensive deal to balance the federal budget. It was a pragmatic decision made for the good of the country – but it also enraged his base and possibly cost him the 1992 election.
Today, Washington needs a lot more leaders willing to put their country ahead of their career. Let’s face it: We’re not going to reform the tax code, curb our deficit or solve any other number of pressing challenges without infuriating some very powerful interest groups. We will need leaders willing to make tough and sometimes unpopular choices. It may cost them an election, but it’s a price our leaders have to be willing to pay if they want to save the country.
4. Be Responsible: When the Bay of Pigs invasion turned into a complete disaster in 1961, President John F. Kennedy did something that would be almost unthinkable for a politician in Washington today. He said it was his fault, saying that "Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan. ... What matters is only one fact: I am the responsible officer of the government.”
Today, both Democrats and Republicans like to routinely accuse the other of playing the “blame game.” But increasingly that’s the only game that anyone in Washington plays. It’s time for our leaders to take responsibility for their actions. When they mess up, they should fess up and deal with the consequences.
5. Work Together: Throughout American history, the best and most durable solutions were found when our leaders worked across the aisle. We needed buy-in from both parties to pass civil rights laws in the 60s, reform our tax code in the 80s and balance our budget in the 90s – and we need it again today to solve our current problems.
Power in Washington is evenly divided, which means neither party will soon have the ability to unilaterally ram through its agenda. Democrats, Republicans and independents will have to find common ground. There is no other way.