Here is what Rep. Tom Reed acknowledged last week in joining the bipartisan “No Labels” movement: Operating from the extremes doesn’t work in a centrist country.
Not that Reed ever did take the tea party’s blood oath of ideological purity, but the former mayor of Corning won election to Congress just over two years ago with the backing and affection of the Republican far right, for whom compromise is a four-letter word.
But Reed is also a practical man – mayors have to be – and, as such, it would be hard for him not to take note of the obvious: the tea party approach is preventing the country from dealing with serious issues. It’s a fact, and acknowledging facts doesn’t make you any less of what you already were, which in Reed’s case is a political conservative.
But more than that, he is a conservative who understands that it doesn’t diminish yourself to treat political opponents with respect and to search for a way to move forward in a country that can only work when honorable men and women of both political parties are willing to compromise.
That’s what No Labels is about. From its own website, www.nolabels.org, it defines itself this way: “No Labels is a growing citizens’ movement of Democrats, Republicans and everything in between dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving.”
Reed found that to his liking: “When you involve yourself in a group like No Labels, a large, bipartisan group whose sole purpose is to bring people together from the Senate and the House who work across the aisle, I think that’s a positive step in the right direction of trying to get things done and remove the roadblocks we see in Washington, D.C., when it comes to partisan divides.”
The tea party types are aghast. New York tea party leader Rus Thompson summarily wrote him off. “It bothers me,” he said. “He won’t have my support again.”
It’s hardly surprising. The tea party lives in its own bubble – an echo chamber in which members hear and amplify each others’ voices, without regard to the fact that they owe that freedom to a country that is, of necessity, politically diverse.
For two years, Americans have watched as the tea party influence made Washington a worse place, not a better one. Its grim insistence on having its own way in all things can work only if the other side is willing to capitulate to what amounts to threats against the country, not to mention violations of common sense. Indeed, the tea party saw its influence diminish in last year’s elections.
Anyone who expects to see Reed campaigning for a tax increase or for significant gun control will soon have those fantasies punctured. He remains as conservative this week as he was last month, but he also understands the difference between advocating for your position and watching the house burn down. In that he is a model not only for Republicans, but for all public servants.
We have no doubt that Democrats will continue to look askance at Reed, as Republicans do at Democrats. But it is heartening to know that New York remains home to some Republicans who understand that the way ahead sometimes requires them to hold their noses and take a step forward. There needs to be more of them.