Former Sen. Joe Lieberman, co-chairman of the nonpartisan "problem-solving" advocacy group No Labels, has a novel theory of what we're seeing this campaign. "Take a look at the two most interesting, surprising candidacies of the presidential year," he said Thursday at an event celebrating the release of No Labels' "policy playbook" for the 2016 election. "They want people to do something different. The best politics may be unconventional politics." Lieberman, unconventionally, was explaining why he believes the moment is ripe for entitlement reform.
Though this may come as a bit of a surprise, the No Labels organization continues to exist, despite the fact that it doesn't appear to have had any influence on anyone at any time on any level. A couple of years ago, Yahoo News reported that the outfit "spends a disproportionate part of its budget maintaining and promoting its own organization, trying to keep its profile high while ensuring a steady flow of fundraising dollars" from undisclosed donors.
The revelations did not, however, do any real lasting damage to No Labels, and as Slate's Jim Newell explained the other day, the group and its leader even have a new election-year blueprint it wants the political world to take seriously.
Ah, yes, there's the Joe Lieberman we all know. The aggressively centrist former senator sees Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders generating some excitement on the right and left, respectively, and Lieberman naturally assumes their success reflects an opportunity for a policy agenda neither Trump nor Sanders want any part of.
"The best politics may be unconventional politics"? Maybe so. But consider the gap between the message and the messenger: a senator-turned-lobbyist appeared in a D.C. ballroom at a luxury hotel to pitch a centrist platform that no doubt delighted other D.C. centrists. It's hard to even imagine a more "conventional" scenario. To think this relates in any way to the excitement surrounding Sanders and Trump is to miss the point of recent political developments in a rather spectacular way.
Or as the Slate piece put it, "For today's discontented voters, the sort of ballroom-luncheon centrism practiced for so long by the likes of Lieberman is more the target than the solution."
In fairness, on some issues, No Labels probably means well, and on a theoretical level, I can vaguely appreciate the appeal of non-partisan, technocratic policymaking.
But much of the No Labels blueprint for 2016 -- called the National Strategic Agenda for reasons I don't understand -- include vague ideas that sound nice if one doesn't look too closely and some credible ideas that Lieberman falsely assumed could receive Republican support.
Newell's article noted that No Labels commissions polling that proves how popular its ideas are, and included this gem: "No Labels' theory is that polling support will make risk-averse politicians feel safe enough to stake out what otherwise might be considered treacherous political territory. 'I think the public would really honor and reward a leader who took the risks,' Lieberman said."
Yes, of course. And this explains why members of Congress took note of public attitudes and raised the minimum wage while approving universal background checks.
Oh wait, that didn't actually happen.
In 2004, Lieberman launched a humiliating presidential campaign. In 2006, he lost a Senate primary in a state he'd represented for decades. In 2008, he was certain John McCain would be elected president. In 2015, he led an organization created to derail the international nuclear agreement with Iran.
Why anyone would take Lieberman's political instincts seriously is a bit of a mystery.