In 2010, a group of centrists launched a national campaign in response to the gridlock and divisiveness that characterized much of the Obama administration. They called themselves No Labels. (Remember Akon? He wrote the group's theme song.) If you read No Labels' mission statement then, you wouldn't have been able to make out what they stood for other than wagging their fingers at the practice of politics. "Sign the No Labels Declaration and join your neighbors who are asking their leaders to put the labels aside and do what's best for America," said the pledge that launched the movement.
Listed below the letter were the names of political leaders who promised to set aside differences and work towards bipartisan solutions: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Times columnist David Brooks, Senator Joe Lieberman and MSNBC anchors Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezenski, to name a few. What do these people have in common? They all fit under the label "moderate," a useful term understood by most informed people. Other labels apply. Bloomberg could be called a "rich technocrat." Joe Lieberman is a "wishy-washy independent." "Smug moralist" is a label befitting Brooks.
No Labels still exists today, currently led by Lieberman and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, and has since adopted a "National Strategic Agenda" with vague goals like creating jobs, securing Social Security and Medicare, balancing the federal budget and reaching energy security. Still, everybody forgot about the group because nobody buys its premise. Labels are useful. They save us from expired pineapple, organize our files and, yes, help us choose political candidates.
Now, our friend Joel Connelly of Seattlepi.com has a column decrying the labelling that has happened in Seattle's local election. And we're taking some heat.
In his column, Connelly preemptively criticized The Stranger for calling City Council candidate Sara Nelson the "business candidate" before we've ever applied the label to her. We might call Nelson "non-committal" before "business candidate," although the two might as well be the same.
But don't blame us for the label. It's Nelson who has made business the center of her platform. "I think our local small businesses need a seat at the table in politics," she wrote in an editorial on this website. To wit, she's earned the endorsement of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, a group that has opposed secure scheduling and funding the city's endorsement of the minimum wage—two positions that should make anyone question a Chamber-endorsed candidate's "progressive" bonafides. Nelson has also previously opposed legislation that would've stopped Mayor Ed Murray's homeless sweeps—another position in line with the Chamber's interest. She also opposes rent control, a stance endorsed by the real estate lobby. If Nelson has ever been able to distinguish herself from the basic business position in the city's most pressing local issues, we haven't seen her do it.
Consider another word that Connelly wants to see banished from popular political lexicon: establishment. To the columnist's credit, we've actually called Jenny Durkan "the establishment" mayoral candidate. And for good reason. An Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney, Durkan is a major player in the Democratic party. She comes from a politically-connected family. Most of Mayor Ed Murray's former donors flocked to her when he dropped out of the race. Hell, Durkan rose to prominence on the coattails of a former governor. If we consider the definition of "establishment" in a political context—basically, whoever is in power—how does Durkan possibly eschew the label? Calling Durkan a member of the "establishment" isn't even an insult. It's just the truth, and she'd be the first to admit it. Some Seattleites would be happy with a mayor pushing the status quo. Others might want to look elsewhere, and knowing who represents the "establishment" could help them narrow down their options.
Connelly's position against calling things what they are comes from the same faulty logic espoused by No Labels back in 2010: That the problem with politics is name-calling and negativity, not empty promises and platitudes. If we somehow drop the labelling, Connelly implies, we'll have a much better shot at getting things done. But even he can't avoid using labels to describe political positions. It's applying those labels to people that he has trouble with. Connelly writes, "The City Hall of 2017 needs competent progressives, even if they are tainted by compromise and impatient with identity politics. Why? To make Seattle a national model and lodestar for progressive government. Not just meaningless resolutions."
Who is a "competent progressive?" And which candidates are too patient with "identity politics?" Connelly doesn't say.