Fitten: The Thorny Side of Labels

Khayree Fitten

Oh, be some other name. What does a name mean? The thing we call a rose would smell just as sweet if we called it by any other name.

The classic tale of conflict between the Montagues and Capulets and two star-crossed lovers is seared into the memory of nearly every high school graduate in America. The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is just that, a tragedy, and it provides a telling analogy to partisan politics.

Our current system is an epic battle between a Republican Party co-opted by the Tea Party and a Democratic Party featuring a declared democratic socialist surging in early primary states. The challenge must then be that labels are often insufficient in their ability to accurately reflect ideologies and beliefs.

Being a partisan today is not only about coming to issues with your own set of opinions, but your own set of facts. Republicans regularly contest the overwhelming evidence on global climate change while Democrats dispute the necessity of running balanced budgets.

Many of the candidates for the Republican nomination have repeatedly claimed that President Obama doesn’t love America, and we aren’t completely removed from the days of conspiracy theories that former President Bush orchestrated the attacks of 9/11.

By marginalizing the opposition, we have allowed politicians to also marginalize issues of great consequence. During his visit to Iowa State last month, columnist Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times expressed his fear that early childhood education would be politicized because of its centrality to the record and platform of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In my own group of friends, I’m often been ridiculed for identifying myself as a progressive Republican, yet history would attribute that same label to Susan Collins, Teddy Roosevelt and Nelson Rockefeller. Likewise, Democrats like Bill Clinton, Evan Bayh and David Boren were conservative members of their party.

The merit of their success is properly attributed to the strength of their solutions, not the validity of their labels. And this sentiment has not been lost in the No Labels movement.

For No Labels, the prevailing hurdle preventing our nation’s progress isn’t disagreement over particular policies. It’s an attitude – specifically, the hyper-partisan viewpoint that leads far too many of our leaders (and citizens) to completely dismiss, ignore or question the motives of people from the other party.”

No Labels is co-chaired by Joe Lieberman and Jon Huntsman, leaders who have a reputation for their independent streaks in politics.

Lieberman was the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee and went on to endorse John McCain in the 2008 election. Lieberman is also a former senator from Connecticut and chaired the Senate Committee of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Huntsman is the former Republican two-term governor of Utah, arguably the most conservative state in the nation, and served as President Obama’s ambassador to China. He was a candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and later endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

These leaders, and others, have proven records of bipartisanship and consensus-driven results. Their leadership in this movement needs no defense other than their accomplished records in public service.

No Labels believes we should be concerned with the outcomes of our public policy, not the credit, blame and everything in between.

To this end, No Labels will host a “Problem Solvers” Convention next week in New Hampshire with candidates from both parties. A full spectrum of guests, from Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb to Chris Christie and even Donald Trump will attend.

We should welcome such opportunities to get candidates on the record and hold them accountable to their commitments. The entire premise of the early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire is our ability to conduct trials by fire in order to elevate a candidate’s abilities and evaluate their platform. 

For the first time in a generation, the Iowa Caucuses will take place while school is in session. While previous caucuses have taken place during semester break when almost no one is on campus, the more than 30,000 students here and more than 100,000 across the state have the opportunity to play a great role in this election.

Our efforts on campus should mimic the work being done by No Labels. Organizing on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform has proven to be important for many in our community. For others, an aggressive foreign policy is the primary issue when casting their ballot.

Regardless of your priorities, working with your friends and neighbors to solve these issues was exactly how Benjamin Franklin imagined we would keep our republic. And doing so in a bipartisan way will achieve the best results.

Not so very long ago, healthy debate, mutual respect and cooperation were cool. And things got done.”