In early October, I received a flyer in the mail: “America Doesn’t Want A Rematch of the 2020 Election … Join No Labels.” It displayed an old Uncle Sam “I Want You” recruitment image, adding, “For a century and a half, Republicans and Democrats have dominated American democracy. The common-sense majority agrees: Only two choices is no choice at all.”   

Really? This statement defies common sense. If two options don’t constitute a choice, do three? If so, why? Where’s the common-sense logic in that?   

The flyer continued: “No Labels is fighting to reclaim our voice at the polls, but political bosses in Maine are blocking our path.” Maine’s bosses weren’t named, though Uncle Sam’s finger surely points at Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, who rightly sent No Labels a cease-and-desist letter after voters complained they were misled into thinking they were signing a petition when they were changing their party registration to No Labels.    


Whereas many fear No Labels will be a spoiler that hands Trump the presidency, I find there are other reasons to fear No Labels that have escaped scrutiny. 

Consider its bipartisan “centrist manifesto.” Contrary to popular belief, bipartisanship doesn’t necessitate reaching a centrist or middle-ground position on any issue. It just means that a position has been endorsed by Democrats and Republicans.


The House Jan. 6 Select Subcommittee to investigate the attack on the Capitol had nine members, only two of whom were Republicans. Yet it was rightly considered bipartisan. Centrism, by contrast, avoids “political extremes by taking an ideologically intermediate position.” A centrist position can be taken by those within a party. It need not entail bipartisanship. 

Some issues defy centrist positions. Twenty-one states have now enacted full, six-week, 12-week, or 15- to 24-week abortion bans. Since human gestation is about 40 weeks, does putting the abortion limit at 20 weeks offer middle ground? The problem is, the question when life begins is a question of values which science can’t answer. 

No Labels expressed common sense in asserting: “Abortion is too important and complicated an issue to say it’s common sense to pass a law – nationally or in the states – that draws a clear line at a certain stage of pregnancy.” 

But then it claimed Americans won’t find a “sustainable compromise … until we have more political leaders – especially a president – who don’t seek to inflame and exploit our divisions on this issue.” Third Way called this position on abortion a “feeble dodge.” NBC News called it a “hedge.” I call delusional the presumption that a bipartisan solution awaits us if we elect a No Labels-approved president.  


The “middle-ground fallacy” states that truth always occupies the middle, between two extremes. This fallacy is also called “false compromise” (or “bothsiderism” and “false equivalence”), in which one must give both sides of an argument “their due,” regardless of their truth and/or morality. In 2017, then-President Trump exemplified this, saying there were “very fine people on both sides” of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.   


To be sure, America is in no danger of imminent political compromise on divisive issues, and that’s hardly cause for celebration: Compromise is necessary for a functioning democracy.  

Yet if the middle ground is the predetermined default position in disputes, we must ask whether any particular middle-ground “compromise” supports the common good – as in, good for people in all sectors of society.   

To that point, some argue, as Rebecca Solnit did in a column for the Guardian, that centrism wrongly favors an unjust status quo. “The notion of a neutral and moderate middle is a prejudice of people for whom the system is working, against those for whom it’s not,” Solnit wrote.

But in ruling out centrist compromise, those who categorically reject centrism place restrictions on what is deemed acceptable even before negotiations begin. This is the flip side of No Labels’ insistence on centrism. 

Democracy demands that no position be taken off the debate table by fiat. Unfettered debate must determine the nature of any compromise that is reached, which cannot be pre-ordained – even by appeals to common sense. 

Gut-wrenching as this can be, we must hold fast to this defining feature of democracy. 

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