Wednesday, 16 April 2003

Coalition formation and civil liberties

One problem the left has faced in trying to prevent some of the excesses of the Ashcroft-led assault on civil liberties is their inability to get the instinctive libertarians, including libertarian-leaning Republicans, on their side. Part of the issue may be rhetorical: by framing the issue as a problem with Ashcroft, many on the right will instinctively react to it as partisan bickering rather than a serious issue that needs to be addressed; this is hardly helped by the perception that objections to Ashcroft’s policies are played up for fundraising efforts by the ACLU and other left-wing interest groups. Part of the issue may be a failure of many in the left to take seriously libertarian claims that they have a distinctly different view of the role of the state than conservatives, and thus are dismissive of the left’s ability to gain allies.

So it’s somewhat heartening to see the folks at TalkLeft talking about building coalitions with politicans and citizens outside the traditional left to defeat “Son of PATRIOT” and other Ashcroftian idiocies—and, as Glenn Reynolds points out, Ashcroft’s idiocies have plenty of willing allies on the “left” too, including Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer. It’s clear that civil liberties are a good fund-raising issue for the left, but Democrats in Congress mostly aren’t sticking their necks out for them—if they were, they’d be filibustering the RAVE act being inserted into the AMBER Alert bill in addition to a couple of relatively minor judicial nominees.

If the policies are going to be fixed, it’s going to require a full-court press, not just from the left but also from the people on the right who are more likely to be listened to by a Republican administration. That means building long-term, cross-party coalitions that care about these issues that transcend the historically “left” and “right” interest groups in Washington and can build a real pro-civil liberties caucus in Congress that isn’t hostage to a particular party.

Charles Murtaugh makes much the same point today (22 April), far more eloquently than I did:

Too often, liberal bloggers dismiss the libertarians as sleeper GOP activists, but I continue to be impressed by how much common ground there is between liberal and libertarian critics of the Bush administration's excesses. It's a shame that so many liberals allow tax cuts and tort reform to separate them from potential allies—conservatives, it's worth noting, don't let disagreements about abortion and drugs deter them from cautiously embracing the libertarians.

The Word of the Day: logrolling. Liberals might want to try it sometime…