A plethora of politicians and journalists converged on Columbia Monday to commemorate the launch No Labels, an organization that promotes bipartisan solutions to the nation’s fiscal woes and ongoing recession.
With a roster of speakers that included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Senator Joe Manchin (D-W Va.), retiring Senator Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), and the co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program Joe Scarborough, some elected officials called for taking a harder look at open primaries and open elections.
Even hip hop star Akon was scheduled to participate and perform his new single called the “No Labels Anthem.” A snowstorm in the Midwest, however, prevented him from appearing.
Many of the New Labels supporters are hold centrist views, and politicians who spoke on Monday said they have distinguished themselves by rejecting much of their party’s bedrock ideology over their careers. In a series of four panel discussions, they expressed a mixture of pessimism about problems currently facing the country, and optimism that their message was resonating with the public.
“This might be the only chance we have left,” said Manchin during a panel discussion with Bayh, Scarborough, “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski, and CNN political analyst David Gergen.
During his 10 years in the Senate, Bayh sided with Republicans or moderated Democratic proposals on numerous issues.
“There is a material chance that one of the parties will get it,” he said during the forum. “An exogenous event is most likely to make people realize their duty. We would not have a United States if our Founding Fathers were unwilling to compromise. It’s not a four-letter word if you have a principled compromise. Join the raging center. ”
Just a day after Bloomberg an independent, definitively shot down rumors that he was considering a run for the Oval Office in 2012, he led a rallying cry for open primaries, an initiative he’s tried and failed to get off the ground in New York.
“I tried when I first came into office, I supported, with a lot of money, an attempt to change New York City’s primaries to an open election. We were resoundly beaten.
Given the results, it was hard to find anyone who was in favor of it other than me,” Bloomberg said.
Still, Bloomberg stressed that American voting has come a long way, even if he’d like to see it continue to be pushed forward.
“It’s not clear that the average voter wants what I think all of us are advocating,” Bloomberg said. “It’s not clear that the average person feels themselves disenfranchised. … Things are an awful lot better today when virtually everyone in theory is franchised.”
A diverse crowd gathered to celebrate the organization’s launch. While No Labels promotes the idea of youth involvement in public affairs and the legislative process, the audience was a mix of attendees that had come from across the country to express their solidarity with the movement’s primary goals: backing moderate candidates willing to compromise with their colleagues across the aisle.
The event also gave audience members the opportunity to discuss their own frustrations with what they said was a divisive party system, though attendees said the event encouraged them to be firmer in seeking bipartisan alternatives.
“We know we have to work across the aisle,” said Lesia Liss, a Democratic state legislator from Michigan who traveled to New York expressly for this event, said in an interview. “I cannot wait to bring No Labels back home to Michigan.”
Columbia students in attendance said they were enthusiastic about the prospect of changing the discourse in American politics by what they said was encouraging a more civil tone in Washington and agreements that break partisan barriers. Diana Rastegayeva, BC ’11, an economic history and education major from Massachusetts, served as a New Labels volunteer Monday.
“It’s a word-of-mouth movement,” said Rastegayeva, who was inspired to join New Labels after her experiences in the prestigious women’s leadership-focused White House Project. “There was so much energy after the 2008 election. It hasn’t really gotten anywhere. Hyper-partisanship has been an obstacle. I’d like to get it [the spirit behind No Labels] from an idea to something that can be implemented.”
An earlier version of this article referred to Senator Joe Manchin (D-W Va.) as senator-elect. Spectator regrets the error.