A populist coalition of libertarians and progressives, in concert with a presidential veto threat, has forced the U.S. Senate to put the anti-online privacy Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) on hold once again (see: CISPA Is ‘Dead for Now,’ Thanks to a Left-Right Coalition for Online Privacy). This controversial bill, supported by the establishment leaders of both political parties, is an affront to the 4th amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Even though the industry lobby outspent opponents 38 to 1, the act has met fierce resistance from an unlikely coalition of grassroots activists from both the political right and left.
Although the CISPA bill will likely be pushed again in the future, establishment proponents must be chagrined at their failure so far. The very thing that worries them most, a populist convergence across party lines, is beginning to flex its political muscle. If it were to align more closely, the corporatist structure which binds the interests of plutocracy and government (against the interests of the people) would be severely threatened.
The obstacles to such an alignment are undoubtedly great, but could lessen going forward. First of all, there are very few “pure” libertarians. Many self-identified libertarians are socially conservative to some degree, with the most ardently religious involved in the Tea Party movement. This does seem incompatible with progressive views. However, social conservatism is likely to moderate over time (due to cultural and demographic changes), and that progressives are – in fact – more religiously inclined than their liberal brethren. Thus, the biggest gap between libertarians and progressives – epitomized by their general disagreement over abortion, immigration, civil rights, and the separation of church and state – may not be so divisive in the future.
Other contentious areas between libertarians and progressives relate to the role of the federal government and the practice of collective bargaining. Judging by each group’s rhetorical stance, it would appear there is no room for compromise. Libertarians are steadfastly pro-deregulation, and want to drastically limit the size and scope of the central government. They also support “right-to-work” legislation that is perceived by pro-union progressives as being anti-labor. Although progressives should not be confused with the “big government liberal” label, they nonetheless see the federal government as a necessary mechanism of democracy. Reducing it, from their perspective, takes away political power from the general populace.
An interesting revelation comes forth when libertarians and progressives are asked to explain their respective philosophies. Libertarians argue that a strong central government leads to corruption by “playing favorites.” One of their pet peeves is the Federal Reserve, which they accuse as working in concert with Wall Street. Progressives assert that the influence of money in politics leads to corruption by subverting the “will of the people.” Their pet peeve is Wall Street, which they accuse as manipulating governmental entities like the Federal Reserve. The logical parallel is both reciprocal and striking. Libertarians and progressives each rail ethically against the danger of institutional corruption (i.e. corporatism), while assigning blame to different, yet related causes. It is much like a single coin having two distinct sides.
Additional policy issues produce more agreements and disagreements between libertarians and progressives. The latter praised Rand Paul’s filibuster effort against the administration’s drone program earlier this year. Both groups are patently pro-civil liberties and anti-war – much to the dismay of President Obama who thought he could get Republicans to stop the sequestration cuts for fear of losing defense spending appropriations. On the flip side, libertarians and progressives are ideologically divided over taxes, entitlements, and gun control.
Whether a libertarian-progressive coalition could achieve any tangible result other than occasional cooperative efforts, like their unified opposition to CISPA, is problematic on several levels . But, the continuance of a status quo agenda has the potential to bring them closer together. Just the possibility of such a populist force would be enough to generate considerable apprehension in the political establishment; and for that reason, Democratic and Republican party leaders will be monitoring their relationship very closely.