A left-right alliance is emerging in the United States on one issue after another that could form unstoppable majorities for many overdue changes. Its manifestation comes in various forms.
First is the combined, vigorous assertion of public opinion. Last year, a shower of e-mails and other protests descended on Congress from voters that led to a near a majority, composed of Democrats and Republicans, defying their own leadership to say “no” to NSA dragnet snooping on Americans. Then liberal and conservative constituents told members of Congress to avoid becoming embroiled in another Middle East war, this time in Syria. In a major defeat for the neoconservatives, the ratio of “nays” to “yeas” from constituents were coming in from 60 to 100 to one. Congress backed down.
Americans of all political identities are tiring of costly imperial wars of choice and vastly bloated military budgets draining tax dollars from necessary public works at home. And early sign of this trend emerged in 2010 when liberal Democrat Rep. Barney Frank (MA) and Libertarian-Republican Rep. Ron Paul (TX) joined together to challenge the nearly $800bn a year for military programmes.
Looking ahead, should US President Barack Obama and his global corporate allies send the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to the Congress under a “fast track” procedure prohibiting any amendments, a majority composed of House Democrats and Republicans are ready to block it, again in defiance of their leaders. These rebelling lawmakers sense that existing trade agreements – NAFTA and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – register opposition by many workers both liberals and conservatives back in their home districts.
Loss of sovereignty
Liberals emphasise the wholesale net loss of jobs and industries and conservatives denounce excessive loss of sovereignty. At the worker level, global companies exporting their jobs and whole industries to autocratic regimes abroad transcend differing political labels and make for common ground. Global Trade Watch director, Lori Wallach, calls the TPP “NAFTA on steroids”.
Other libertarian, conservative, liberal and progressive citizens want to change the so-called Patriot Act’s infringement upon the freedoms and liberties of Americans (the Act comes up for renewal in 2015). Regular media reporting on abuses under the Patriot Act, such as invasion of privacy, are increasingly seen as affecting all Americans – and not just certain minorities such as Muslim-Americans.
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Left-right coalitions oppose rampant corporate welfare or crony capitalism, handing out subsidies, giveaways of taxpayer assets and bailouts of Wall Street, as well as the publicised, egregiously unfair tax havens and other tax escapes by Big Business. Breaking up the banks, deemed “too big to fail”, has off-the-charts public support.
Granted there is a prolonged anti-public interest gridlock and paralysis of what can be called Washington’s corporate government (composed of corporate Republican and corporate Democrats). But left-right convergences could foreshadow political realignments pressing on incumbent politicians to advance long-overdue redirections opposed by corporate lobbyists. These convergences do not have to change election results; they work on elected representatives between elections.
For example, the passage of the Whistleblower Protection Act of 2013 and the False Claims Act of 1986, which empowered federal employees to expose wrongdoing and corporate fraud on taxpayer-funded programmes, like Pentagon contracts and Medicare, demonstrate when Left-Right join together, strong corporate opposition can be overcome. This was also true with the passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform in 2002, which is presently being eviscerated by five of nine Justices of the US Supreme Court.
In my new book, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, I describe the various stages in which these alliances find themselves. Some are just an outpouring of revulsion against what members of Congress are doing. Others are more operational, expressing themselves in visible alliances that attract media attention and get “on the table” of politicians.
This is the stage at which inflation-adjusting of the federal minimum wage (from the present $7.25 to over $10 per hour) for 30 million American workers is working. When Walmart “moms” and McDonald workers picket their employers, they are not asking themselves about ideologies. They just want an overdue wage restoration with which to provide necessities for their families.
Higher minimum wage
A more advanced stage is the passage of the proposals into law. More cities and states are raising their minimum wage without waiting for Washington, though the Senators and Representatives recently are feeling the heat. Just last month, even Republicans Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty came out for a higher federal minimum wage. They notice the polls coming in at between 70 and 80 percent in support of increasing the minimum wage.
At a dozen state legislatures, it took only left-right alliances to pass juvenile justice reform of outrageously long jail sentences for minor possession of street drugs and start seriously confronting the costly, counter-productive practices of the prison-industrial complex. Former House Republican Speaker, Newt Gingrich, and right-wing lobbyist Grover Norquist and other right-wingers started a “Right on Crime” initiative to save society tax dollars by stopping the filling of jails with non-violent offenders. The US has the highest percentage of its population in jail of any nation in the world.
I know no other political realignment in the next several years that can get things done other than a majoritarian left-right convergence.
For as Abraham Lincoln said: “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.”
Though they will continue to disagree on many issues, the left and right do agree on the need for many important changes. When they focus on acting together, they are unstoppable.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate and author of Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State (2014).