There's a near-consensus among political writers left, right and center that No Labels, the new anti-partisanship group started by political consultants Nancy Jacobson and Mark McKinnon, leans to the left. The atmosphere in the room where the No Labels rollout was held Monday — the Roone Arledge Auditorium at Columbia University's Alfred Lerner Hall in New York — just felt lefty. The No Labels people did and said things that Democrats do and say and that Republicans don't do and say. So here are seven signs — some significant, others just little clues that would have no great importance by themselves — that suggest the true political leaning of the new, supposedly centrist organization.
1) The “Woodstock of democracy.” Mark McKinnon — you may remember him as the adviser who quit the John McCain campaign in May 2008 because “I just don't want to work against an Obama presidency” — delivered opening remarks at the event. “Welcome to our little Woodstock of democracy,” he said. The audience welcomed his comparison, but it's not an image many Republicans would have appreciated.
2) The “No Labels” anthem. Before lunch the group's college-age volunteers, all wearing orange No Labels t-shirts, filled the stage to sing rap star Akon's anthem to nonpartisanship, composed specially for the event. I wish they didn't have no labels, the students chanted, swaying with the music. There'd be more change with no labels. The music was interrupted with brief clips from speeches by John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama. It's doubtful that would have happened — or that there would have been such Obama-esque references to “change” — had there had been more Republican input.
3) The missing national anthem. The agenda for the No Labels event said the national anthem would be sung by Broadway star Deborah Cox. Instead, Cox sang “America the Beautiful,” which is perfectly fine, but is not the national anthem. When I asked a No Labels spokeswoman why the change was made, she didn't know. “I assume that [Cox] preferred that song,” the spokeswoman said. Although it could just be that “The Star Spangled Banner” is difficult to sing, in general liberals are more likely than conservatives to believe that the national anthem should be replaced by “America the Beautiful.”
4) The logo. There are a lot of Republican and Democratic logos showing an elephant and a donkey in red, white, and blue. The No Labels logo used the same concept, except with an entirely different set of animals: a giraffe, a seal, a dog, a butterfly, snail, moose, penguin, squirrel, etc. Republican input would have certainly put an eagle in there somewhere. Or course, Republicans probably wouldn't have signed on to the concept at all. And now, it turns out No Labels stole the idea in the first place — and not from a Republican.
5) The venue. If you wanted to feature the not-red-not-blue politics of the supposedly nonpartisan center of American politics, would you hold your event in one of the bluest parts of America? And not just in Manhattan but on a college campus in Manhattan? That's what No Labels did. Before the event, I asked McKinnon why not have the conference in, say, Milwaukee, or St. Louis, or Atlanta, or Denver — why Manhattan? “It's a lot easier to get press in New York City than Milwaukee,” McKinnon said. “No Acela.”
6) The winners and losers. The event featured appearances by a number of Democratic politicians: New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and others, as well as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. They're all currently in power. In contrast, the Republicans who showed up were recently defeated officeholders: South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis, Delaware Rep. Mike Castle, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. No Labels seems to have been primarily for Democrats seeking to portray themselves as centrist. A few disgruntled Republicans went along for the ride, and their presence gave the event an air of bipartisanship that probably wasn't reflected in the audience.
7) The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico's Ben Smith noted that, “The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.” That's a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.
Anyone who has been to a lot of Democratic and Republican political events knows that those events have different characteristics, apparent in ways big and small. In Manhattan Monday, you could just sense it: No Labels leaned left.