It's long been clear that the best (and perhaps only) political hope for civil liberties in the U.S. is an alliance that transcends the standard Democrat v. GOP or left v. right dichotomies. Last night's surprising (and temporary) failure of the House to extend some of the most controversial powers of the Patriot Act -- an extension jointly championed by the House GOP leadership and the Obama White House -- perfectly illustrates why this is true.
or most civil liberties incursions over the last decade, there's been at least some glimmer of opposition on the Left -- exemplified by people like Russ Feingold in the Senate and the Congressional Black Caucus and Dennis Kucinich in the House. But they've been easily overwhelmed by the civil-liberties-hating mainstream of the Democratic Party, and particularly hampered by the lack of any meaningful partners on the Right (where Ron Paul has been a solitary voice on such matters).
on the very same day that the Obama White House demanded that Egypt repeal its 30-year-old "emergency law," it also demanded enactment of the House GOP's proposal to extend America's own emergency law -- the Patriot Act -- for three more years with no new oversight (the White House actually wants a longer extension than the House GOP is willing to support).
what happened last night highlights the potential to subvert the two-party stranglehold on these issues -- through a left-right alliance that opposes the Washington insiders who rule both parties. So confident was the House GOP leadership in commanding bipartisan support that they put the Patriot Act extension up for a vote using a fast-track procedure that prohibits debate and amendments and, in return, requires 2/3 approval. But 26 of the most conservative Republicans -- including several of the newly elected "Tea Party" members -- joined the majority of Democratic House members in voting against the extension, and it thus fell 7 votes short.
Rachel Maddow last night pointed out that there is a split on the Right -- at least a rhetorical one -- between what she called "authoritarian conservatives" and "libertarian conservatives." At some point, the dogmatic emphasis on limited state power, not trusting the Federal Government, and individual liberties -- all staples of right-wing political propaganda, especially Tea Party sloganeering -- has to conflict with things like oversight-free federal domestic surveillance, limitless government detention powers, and impenetrable secrecy (to say nothing of exploiting state power to advance culture war aims). Not even our political culture can sustain contradictions as egregious as (a) reading reverently from the Constitution and venerating limits on federal power, and then (b) voting to vest the Federal Government with extraordinary powers of oversight-free surveillance aimed at the American people. This was the contradiction which Dennis Kucinich smartly exploited when challenging the Tea Party to join him in opposing the Patriot Act's extension:
More on a left right alliance on Afghanistan with Rachel's show stringing together a series of breathtaking videos showing Republican congressmen opposing the Afghanistan War below:
What about it? Should we join forces here?