The Perennially "Unusual" Yet Somehow Ubiquitous Left-Right Alliance

The AP reports: “The House narrowly rejected a challenge to the National Security Agency’s secret collection of hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone records Wednesday night after a fierce debate … The vote was 217-205 on an issue that created unusual political coalitions in Washington, with libertarian-leaning conservatives and liberal Democrats pressing for the change against the Obama administration [and] the Republican establishment…” The New York Times writes “disagreements over the program led to some unusual coalitions.” Similarly, NBC opined the “amendment earned fierce opposition from an unusual set of allies, ranging from the Obama administration to the conservative Heritage Foundation.” [Emphasis added throughout.]

And, when the NSA story broke, the Washington Post Express headline [June 11, 2013] read: “Recent revelations have given even the most ardent political foes a common target: government overreach.” AP wrote of the “odd-couple political alliance of the far left and right” [June 12, 2013] with the Edward Snowden revelations making “strange bedfellows.” [New York Daily News, June 11, 2013]

Every time you have this convergence of progressives and conservatives against the establishment, it’s regarded as “unusual” “odd” or “bizarre”  — even though it keeps coming up on issue after issue: war, military spending, trade, corporate power, Wall Street, fossil fuel subsidies, as well as — in the case of the NSA spying on the citizenry — the central issue of Constitutional rights and civil liberties.

As documented below, the meme in the media and elsewhere is a permanent note of surprise, when it should be an established aspect of U.S. politics: There are in fact two “centers” — one that is pro-war and Wall Street (the establishment center) — and another that is pro-peace and populist (the anti-establishment center).

The establishment keeps the left and right populist factions at bay by demonizing them to each other, “let’s you and him fight” is the mindset. Which is why MSNBC so often feeds hate of conservatives and Fox feeds hate of progressives. If they were to pay more attention to issues, they might break them down and it might become clear that there’s quite a bit the principled left and right agree on. Meanwhile, establishment Democrats and Republicans collude on war, Wall Street and much else, effectively reducing principled progressives and conscientious conservatives into pawns of the Democratic and Republican party establishments.

A left-right alliance is extremely threatening to the establishment. Rep. King recently bemoaned about the NSA scandal: “too many Republicans and conservatives have become Michael Moores.” Similarly, former Iraq war military spokesperson Dan Senor triumphantly declared: “I think this further strengthens the center on national security. I think there was a real risk over the last couple weeks that there would be this left/right coalition that would backlash against the United States government…” Sen. Lindsey Graham commented back in 2010: “You know what I worry most about: an unholy alliance between the right and the left.” Dan Quayle in 1990 as George H. W. Bush, who Obama recently honored, was driving the nation to war attacked the “McGovern-Buchanan axis.

A major way that they keep principled progressives and conscientious conservatives hating instead of dialoguing is by not acknowledging all they have in common — and when it is acknowledged, treat is as a freak instance.

Certainly, there are disagreements, but the agreements should not be dismissed or minimized. And both should be talked out by the groups in a real fashion. Each shouldn’t be caricatured by an establishment hell-bent on preventing a meaningful dialogue from taking place.

The major media tends to stress the differences between the establishment Democrats and establishment Republicans, sometimes this results in inflating minor issues or marginalizing major issues, or taking serious schisms and putting them down the memory hole.

During the last presidential election, both President Obama and Gov. Romney talk constantly about “jobs” — but both backed the secret TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] deal that threatened jobs, and were opposed by much of their electoral base. And, critically, the issue got minimal coverage. The convergence of progressives and conservatives that initially voted down the Wall Street bailout of 2008 has been largely forgotten.

A real dialogue between the the left and right may lead to a sort of political re-alignment. As I suggest at it could become the basis for a voting strategy, with disenchanted Democrats and disenchanted Republicans pairing up and voting for the anti-establishment candidates they most want in twos rather than being separated and eternally trapped voting for their “lesser evil”. At minimum, experimenting with such approaches would likely lead to a healthier political culture and grant the bases of each establishment political party a way to assert themselves against the elites.

Perhaps the formation of an organization is overdue: The Center for a New Center. That might go a ways of curing the political culture and media from its insistence that there’s something perennially unusual in something that keeps happening:

War and Military Spending:

“House Republican leaders on Wednesday abruptly canceled a vote on a resolution forcing U.S. withdrawal from Libya amid signs an unusual alliance of liberals and conservatives could approve the measure, indicating Congress’s growing dissatisfaction with the extent of U.S. military operations overseas.

“The House had been scheduled to vote on a resolution by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio) requiring President Barack Obama to withdraw from Libya within 15 days. The measure cites the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which says the president must get approval from Congress if a military operation lasts 60 days or more.

“But at a closed-door meeting of House Republicans Wednesday, GOP leaders were surprised by members’ strong concerns about the Libya operation. Some conservatives were prepared to support Mr. Kucinich’s resolution, Republican aides said.” [Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2011]

Tom Ashbrook introed a good segment of his radio program “On Point” thus: “Ron Paul, ’08 GOP presidential contender, is a conservative libertarian leading light and Tea Party hero. Barney Frank is a no-apologies liberal Democrat. They agree on one big thing. America’s giant military budget must be cut, in a giant way: a trillion-dollar cut over the next decade.” [July 14, 2010]

“Congressional calls for a quick end to military operations in Afghanistan grew louder Monday when a bipartisan group in the House urged President Obama to immediately withdraw U.S. troops. … The push is the latest salvo from an unusual alliance of anti-war Democrats and fiscally conservative Republicans who have united behind an expedited withdrawal from Afghanistan following bin Laden’s death.” [The Hill, May 9, 2011] This was particularly odd, given that it’s the “latest salvo” — if it’s the latest, doesn’t that make it not so unusual?

“Bombing makes strange bedfellows in U.S. politics Question of deploying ground troops crosses Republican, Democratic party lines” “As the bombing of Yugoslavia enters its third week with no sign of subsiding, the politics of war is dividing both major American parties, forging unlikely alliances between traditional liberals and conservatives.” [Globe and Mail, April 12, 1999]

Civil Liberties:

“Privacy-minded state lawmakers, banding together in an unusual left-right political alliance, are in a dogfight with law enforcement groups across the country as they move to put protections in place for those on the ground. [Politico, May 6, 2013]. “In his unusual alliance with three liberal justices, Antonin Scalia misread the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.” [New York Times, June 3, 2013] This goes back: “An unusual coalition of liberals and conservatives persuaded the House of Representatives to approve legislation today to make it much harder for Federal and state law enforcement authorities to confiscate property before they bring criminal charges in narcotics and other cases.” [New York Times, June 25, 1999]

When there’s a succession of there, it’s still regarded as bizarre: “The bedfellows get stranger and stranger: Henry J. Hyde, the anti-abortion, right-wing Republican Congressman, joins forces with Barney Frank, the gay, left-wing Democrat, to curb Federal power in property forfeiture: Ron K. Unz, the conservative Republican who helped end bilingual education in California, argues against school vouchers in the pages of The Nation, a leftist magazine; the Clinton Administration fights its longtime allies, the trade unions, over their support of steel import quotas. [New York Times, July 11, 1999]


The Atlantic [June 18, 2013] ran the headline: “The Odd Bipartisan Coalition That Could Sink Obama’s Free Trade Legacy: Executive-power-wary Tea Partiers and labor-aligned Democrats could block ‘fast-track’ authority for two huge agreements.” But this is a pattern on trade issues, just as it is on civil liberties.

“The campaign to pass the Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) Act [with China] raised the unusual spectre of a Democratic president allied with big business and free-trade Republicans and against a key part of his own party’s normal constituency – trade unions and environmentalists. However, there were also some unusual bedfellows in the senate, with Jesse Helms, the conservative Republican chairman of the foreign relations committee, in alliance with the liberal Democrat, Paul Wellstone.” [Scotsman, September 20, 2000]

Nearly two decades ago, the Los Angeles Times, [November 5, 1995] wrote: “Indeed, the poll finds a substantial core of support for the inward-looking conservative populist positions associated with Perot, conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan and the unusual left-right alliance that opposed the free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada two years ago.”

The case of trade is particularly crucial, since trade affects so many other issues, for example, immigration. While the left and right typically disagree on immigration, they agree on trade, and pro-corporate trade deals it’s becoming clear have cause much of the conditions causing desperate immigration.

Wall Street and Taxes:

“The U.S. Senate will vote Wednesday evening on a revised $700 billion Wall Street bailout package, after the House of Representatives sparked economic turmoil by rejecting an earlier version. But Democratic rebels who joined in an unusual alliance with conservative Republicans to scupper the bailout bill in the House warned the Senate not to try and rush the bill through to put them under pressure.” [The Inquirer, October 1, 2008]

“Federal Reserve Opposed as Big Bank Savior by Odd Allies” [Washington Times, November 9, 2009]: “An unusual alliance of conservatives and liberals is pushing to break up or downsize banks deemed ‘too big to fail,’ rather than create a new regulatory regime led by the Federal Reserve to try to keep them from getting into trouble again.” A month later, “Strange Coalition Targets Bernanke,” read the Politico [December 7, 2009] headline: “There’s a strange political cocktail brewing in Washington, one that mixes top conservative strategist Grover Norquist and tea party organizers at FreedomWorks with democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), progressive activists and public interest advocates. The unlikely coalition’s bid to block Ben Bernanke’s nomination to a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve until Congress votes on legislation to audit the secretive central bank is tapping into a growing anti-establishment mood — and legislators up for reelection next year are taking notice.”

“An unusual alliance of left-wing Democrats and right-wing Republicans has joined in sponsoring a bill to allow the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s investigative arm, to “audit” the Fed’s monetary policy decisions — a move that Fed officials fear would reduce their political independence in setting interest rates.” [New York Times, September 18, 2009]

This apparently goes back decades: “Tax Plans Create Bizarre Alliances; Dispute Concerns Use Of Revenues From Corporate Minimum” — “Proposals for a tough corporate minimum tax have sharply divided the Democratic House leadership, creating a set of bizarre alliances cutting across partisan and ideological lines.

“The struggle has placed House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) in the same camp with President Reagan and the House Republican leadership.” [Washington Post, May 21, 1985]

Or this: “Child Tax Credit Plan Creates Unusual Alliances”: “A proposal to grant a $500 per child tax credit to middle-income families is pitting the Clinton administration and pro-business Republicans against an unusual coalition of organized labor and Christian conservatives.

“President Clinton and Republican congressional leaders have endorsed the idea of a $500 a year tax credit for children as part of the five-year balanced budget deal they worked out earlier this month.

“But Clinton and the GOP’s pro-business wing, in another unusual alliance, are seeking to hold down the cost of the child credit to make room for other tax cuts they regard as more important.” [Washington Post, May 31, 1997]

Environment/Fossil Fuel Subsidies:

Few could have predicted the trend we’re seeing now: Amid calls for austerity, some green groups are aligning with conservative think tanks to push for cuts to environmentally harmful programs. The odd alliance kicked off last month when Friends of the Earth and Public Citizen teamed up with Taxpayers for Common Sense and the conservative Heartland Institute for their ‘Green Scissors’ report, focusing on cuts to everything from ethanol and oil tax credits to timber subsidies.” [Washington Post, September 14, 2011]

“Senate Democrats announced a breakthrough in a long-stalled farm bill Wednesday that would provide billions of dollars for California fruit and vegetable marketing, farm conservation and food stamps — but would maintain costly, traditional crop subsidies for corn, wheat, cotton, rice and soybeans. … But it was unclear whether the deal would appease the unusual left-right alliance of reformers hoping to change the 70-year-old system of crop subsidies that they contend has speeded farm industrialization, harmed the environment and contributed to the nation’s obesity epidemic.” [San Francisco Chronicle, October 17, 2007]

Big Business Control of Media:

There has been a fairly regular left-right convergence on media issues such as net neutrality and low-power radio. “The Senate approved a resolution today to repeal all of the new regulations that would make it easier for the nation’s largest media companies to grow bigger. By a vote of 55 to 40, the Republican-controlled Senate defied the White House and issued a stinging political rebuke of Michael K. Powell, the Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and architect of the rules. … Both the amendment and the resolution have been strongly supported by an unusual alliance of liberal and conservative organizations, civil rights groups, labor unions and religious organizations. [New York Times, September 17, 2003]


“Democratic legislators in Oklahoma were so unhappy with President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind school improvement law that they drafted a resolution calling on Congress to overhaul it.

“But at the last minute, one of the state’s most conservative Republicans, state Representative Bill Graves, stepped up with his own suggestion: Tell Congress to repeal it entirely.

“The resolution passed, and Graves got a standing ovation.” [International Herald Tribune, March 10, 2004]

Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy and founder of He can be reached at: (@samhusseini

Thanks to Joanna Nix for research assistance. 


Sam Husseini is an independent journalist. He writes at