Allegiance of College Editors, Interview — March 15, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Mark McKinnon of No Labels

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Columbia Political Review: The headline of the No Labels website reads: “We are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, united in the belief that we don’t have to give up our labels, merely put them aside to do what’s best for America”—can you explain what this means in practice and specifically how do you define what’s best for America? Doesn’t the answer to the question itself depend on ideological affiliation?

Mark McKinnon (No Labels): What’s best for America is progress; paralysis is not good for the country. We represent Republicans, Democrats, Independents and we represent people who believe that hyper-partisanship has reached a point in our politics where it’s paralyzing the system. We represent people who believe that we need a voice that rewards good behavior rather than punishes good behavior which is very much the way the system works now. We support civil dialogue because we believe that when you actually talk to the other side and sit down with the other side, it’s a lot harder to demonize the other side. When this happens, you actually get together and find solutions.

Alliance of College Editors: But again, this has a lot to do with the last question asked. What do you do with those who prefer inaction to the kind of action that they view as dangerous and harmful to the country?

NL: Well that’s fine. There are plenty of people representing those people, but the people who want progress haven’t had a representative, and that’s what we are doing.

ACE: What does No Labels identify as the root cause of the dogmatic partisanship that it seeks to combat?

NL: I think it’s a variety of factors, but there’s no question that anyone who is a representative in Congress will tell you that things are much worse today than they were 20 or 30 years ago. There are a lot of different opinions about what the root causes are but I would suggest that most people would say that it includes gerrymandered redistricting. We just had a poll that suggests districts themselves have been drawn in such a way to create more partisan districts than in the past. Additionally, the evolution of cable television, talk radio, and Internet media is contributing.

ACE: What are the concrete gains that No Labels has made since its inception and what concrete gains do No Labels hope to achieve?

NL: We are excited about the progress we’ve made. We’ve only been in existence for a couple of months, and we’ve already had a launch where we had 1000 people from 50 different states who are now representing all congressional districts, and monitoring the behavior of their elected representatives. One of our co-founders generated the idea for the bipartisan seating at the [2011] State of the Union, which No Labels strongly endorsed and supported. Today in Washington, we had a press conference at the Capitol calling for everything to be on the table with everybody at the table as we address the budget issues. Additionally, MSNBC has agreed to sponsor a discussion dialogue between the Tea Party and MoveOn.

We have 1000 “generation” students across the country and we want to expand [this program] to at least 150 college campuses. One of the things we look to do next year is find six states with different primary races—three on the Democratic side and three on the Republican side—where we go in and bring 1000 people from outside the state into these states to support the No Labels approach. We’re an approach and an attitude. We’re not ideology. We just feel we are going to get better government if our leaders are working together and doing things in a bipartisan fashion. [MoveOn and the Tea Party] go into these offices and tell these legislators that “we will punish you if you cooperate with each other.” We want to be that counter weight that says “listen, there’s space to work with each other.”

Fordham Political Review: In that vein, can you talk about concrete steps that you are pursuing or hoping to see in terms of affecting elected officials? At the end of the day, they legislate and it’s up to them to be civil and work in a manner that is conducive to progress in your eyes. What do you want to see from our Congressmen, Senators, President and people in government?

NL: We want to see them demonstrate a willingness to work together, meet together, sponsor bills together. Among the concrete measures, we are monitoring the behavior of all the members, and we are throwing either what we call a “yellow flag” to punish bad behavior, or offering “high fives” to reward good behavior. For example, when Representative Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) a week ago called members of the Republican Party “Nazis”, we threw a yellow flag, got our community behind it and notified the press. Later that afternoon, he apologized. I’m not suggesting that there is a direct cause and effect, but these are things that we feel are good and proper roles for No Labels. We monitor behavior and shout out examples of good and bad behavior when they happen.

One of the things we called for today was the Saxby Chambliss-Mark Warner gang of six that is working across the aisle in negotiations with all of our debt issues. We are supporting that and the members that work across the aisle. I was with the chief of staff of one of these Senators, and he showed me the emails that said, “Whatever you do, don’t be bipartisan.” So we’ll be opportunistic and, as these issues come up, we’ll be calling on No Labels members from around the country to support members in their specific districts on issues like this one. We have No Labels chapters all around the country that will be dealing with elected representatives on these issues.

ACE: Besides simply supporting good behavior, can you talk about some of the ways No Labels could affect elected representatives as they legislate in Washington, DC?

NL: We’ve been meeting regularly with chiefs of staff from the Senate and House to try to determine ways in which we can restore bipartisan lunches, retreats, and forums in which we can get more of the members together.

Penn Political Review: I’m going to read you a snippet from a comment that Rush Limbaugh made in December of 2010.

“What was No Labels’ label before they changed their names? Progressives, exactly right. When liberalism was rejected, liberals called themselves progressives, and now that progressives are being rejected, former liberals, former progressives, are now calling themselves the No Label group.”

How would you respond to people who claim that No Labels is a proxy for liberal ideology and movement?

NL: Well, I’m delighted that we got Rush Limbaugh’s attention. I [Mark McKinnon] am a Republican and a proud Republican, as are many of our members. But we are not about ideology, we are about working together. Rush Limbaugh doesn’t have any interest in people working together so I’m not surprised that he would attack us.

Berkeley Political Review: Has the Tucson Shooting affected your movement? Do you think that it takes unfortunate tragedies like this to make Americans realize the importance of bipartisanship, even if the Tucson shooting wasn’t a partisan attack?

NL: It raised the [bipartisanship] issue like a ripple effect and the president talked about this. The shooting wasn’t sparked by our problems with civil discourse, but created an outcome to initiate more dialogue about it.

ACE: Where do you see No Labels in 10 years?

NL: In 10 years we hope to be an effective voice for millions of Americans who think that civil discourse leads to greater problem solving in our country.

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2 Comments

  1. Save Medicare – Tax Derivatives – Extend Bush Tax Cuts

    From: James Kainz [mailto:jamesfkainz@yahoo.com]
    Sent: Friday, August 19, 2011 7:10 PM
    To: bertha.guerrero.@mail.house.gov; Mishkin, Kelsey
    Cc: raul.grijalva@mail.house.gov
    Subject: Atom bomb in the Budget battle

    Making Bush tax rates permanent will require bipartisan support.

    Republicans will insist on adherence to the Norguist no tax rate increase pledge. Democrats will require increased revenues to replace the loss which will come with no change in existing tax law. There is a $600 trillion market which will accommodate both conditions.

    Derivatives.

    The $600 trillion market for Derivatives is 40 times the value of the US stock market – yet most Americns have never heard of it. A tiny 0.5% transfer fee when these billion dollar contracts trade would raise $4 trillion over 10 years – enough to cover the Bush tax rates (which are scheduled to bring in an additional $3.8 trillion at current levels). Something both sides can agree to and still declare victory.

    No change from current income tax brackets. No cuts to Medicare or Social Security.

    Whoever announces this solution first will reap a publicity windfall which will improve their standing in the polls and bring in substantial campaign contributions. It is a race to be the leader who puts this idea into the public domain and champion a position both sides can support.

    See http://www.howtopayoffthenationaldebt.wordpress.com for details.

    I have met in person with a member of Representative Grijalva’s staff in the Tucson office and supplied them with 3 copies of the pamphlet.

    From: Mishkin, Kelsey
    Subject: RE: Atom bomb in the Budget battle
    To: “‘James Kainz’”
    Date: Monday, August 22, 2011, 11:27 AM

    Thanks James, take a look at the alternative budget we offered this year:

    The People’s Budget includes:
    Wall Street Gaming Tax A tax on derivatives, credit default swaps and other exotic financial products, including both sides of futures and forwards, option premiums and foreign exchange spot transactions. This is a tax levied directly against the types of opaque, complex trades that Wall Street manipulators used to inflate their profits and were the direct cause of the financial crisis.
    You can also read EPI’s technical analysis for more information.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Regards,

    Kelsey H. Mishkin | Legislative Assistant
    Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva
    Arizona District 7
    202.225.2435 | Fax.202.225.1541

    Subject: RE: Atom bomb in the Budget battle
    To: “KelseyMishkin”
    Cc: researchdept@epi.org, news@epi.org
    Date: Wednesday, August 24, 2011, 6:19 AM

    Mr. Mishkin,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response to my message and the link to the EPI Working Paper #290.

    My reaction to that thorough analysis is decidedly mixed:

    I am delighted that it includes a tax on Derivatives.
    I am disappointed that the projected revenue is only $63.5 billion per year.

    The tax I proposed in the pamphlet I gave to Representative Grijalva’s district office staff in Tucson last March raised 1/2 trillion dollars per year.

    I believe that difference is a game changer. I fear that The People’s Budget is dead on arrival in the Republican lead House. A stand alone legislative act focusing exclusively on Derivatives could pass if married to an extension of Bush tax cuts for “the job creators”.

    I volunteer to work with you or a staff member of Representative Grijalva or The Progressive Caucus if you would like my assistance in re-crafting the details of this proposed legislation. My full time effort is devoted to advancing this cause.

    I believe there is an opportunity to make this the defining issue of 2012. I appreciate the global view of The People’s Budget as a counter to Paul Ryan’s budget. I believe a more focused bill concentrating exclusively on the Derivatives transfer fee actually has a greater chance of passage because it can be used as a bargaining chip to obtain Republican support if balanced with their issue of priority – tax cuts for the top income brackets. The only way to obtain a CBO scoring on the stand alone Derivatives transfer fee is to propose a separate bill.

    My congratulations on your including legislation for a Derivatives tax into the public forum for consideration.

    I would be delighted to assist your efforts in any way I can.

    I have talked directly to Representatives Karen Bass, Laura Richardson and Maxine Waters of California about this and provided them with copies of my pamphlet “How to Pay Off the National Debt”. I will keep you posted on their participation.

    Sincerely,

    James F Kainz

  2. I think nolabels.org so far is crap.

    They are filled with demagoguery against ‘parties’ and ‘Washington’, the same old cliches that have been used by demagogues as long as our country has been formed – beware the person who has a lot to say about ‘don’t politicians suck’ and not nearly enough about their own agenda other than vague goals.

    I just listened to a half hour, as much as I could stand, of a conference call with the leaders and all I heard were those demagoguing comments – independent, independent, independent, hate the parties, and over and over unemployment is too high. In the entire period there was exactly one suggestion: repatriate corporate funds.

    Now, that’s a pet project of corporate leaders who want a huge tax cut for their money – is that all this organization is, a front for mobilizing public opinion for that corporate agenda? I don’t know, but it was vapid.

    They are full of the fallacy of false equivalency – corporate Republicans and the ‘left’ they treat the same.

    They are either clueless or disingenuous – the political faction representing the public interest is the Progressive Caucus. The rest are either corporate sponsored and serving, or far-right ideologies pretty much. The one independent in the Senate is Bernie Sanders – that’s what we need, not a phony ‘middle’.

    Bill Clinton offered a ‘middle’, a ‘third way’ like this group does – and he was a corporate sellout, offering bad deregulation that hurt the country – even while he did good in other areas balancing the budget.

    This organization sound like one to beware.

    And their methods – making illegal robo calls to me with no way to opt out, not answering e-mail demanding to know where they obtained my phone number – are not an ethical way to do things.

    When policy gets bad – as our country now has too much corporate domination – there’s going to be some backlash, and some will try to use that backlash for their own agenda. That’s the tea party – and that may be this group. I can’t tell after a half hour of back-patting about being independent and wanting to cut unemployment.

    A caller directly asked the leader what steps he would do to cut unemployment – his response was to say he wanted to clarify the problem. That’s demagoguing. We don’t need more repitition that the rate is high, hiding some agenda.

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