I‘m currently a life member of the John Birch Society and formerly served on the staff of the organization for 13 years.
So why should any left-winger reading this care a fig about what I have to say?
Because of a conversation I had with another conservative magazine writer recently. In frustration at the unconstitutional excesses of the Bush administration, I blurted out to him: “The only people doing any good out there are the people at Air America.” I expected to shock him with the statement, but his two-word reply shocked me: “And MoveOn.org.”
We were both exaggerating for effect, but fact is, as my journalist friend continued, “We probably only disagree on, maybe, 25 percent of the issues.” I’d have put the percentage a little higher, though I tacked an ending onto his sentence: “ and those issues aren’t especially important right now.”
When Air America started, I told myself and my friends that it would fail because it would be redundant. The Left already controls all the television networks besides Fox, along with most of the major newspapers. But here we are a year later, and the most penetrating news analysis on television is and I’m not exaggerating here Jon Stewart’s Daily Show on Comedy Central.
I tuned into the Boston Air America affiliate when I became a community radio talk show host almost two years ago, thinking that I could use a few of their wild statements as a springboard to bounce my counterpoint. And although I got a few yuks out of quips about “Airhead America,” I found that I agreed with the hosts more than I disagreed with them.
They criticized the Bush administration for deceiving us into the Iraq war. No problem there. They criticized Alberto Gonzales for his torture memos. Again, no problem. They criticized deficit spending, the PATRIOT Act, and corporate welfare. Hurray, hurray, and hurray!
So I called into a few “progressive” radio talk shows, identifying myself as a “right-wing radio talk show host,” and explained my understanding of these issues. Stephanie Miller told me that I was a “not a very good right-winger.” A liberal show host at my radio station even called me a “liberal.”
But my views haven’t changed one bit since I joined the John Birch Society during the Reagan administration. So this is not a conversion story.
What’s changed is that the Bush administration has simply gotten that bad and that, according to some polls, we are almost at the point where most genuine conservatives realize it.
The Left and Right will never agree on the issues that liberal talk show host Ed Schultz likes to call “God, Guns, and Gays.” Nor will we agree on most economic issues, such as Social Security or whether the federal government should have a role in health care.
Unlike the Hannitized Dittobots who call the so-called “right-wing” radio talk shows, you won’t find me sporting “Club Gitmo” gear. I realize that what happened at Abu Ghraib could happen to any American faster than you can say “Jose Padilla.”
These are some issues of common concern that could lead to cooperation between Right and Left. Does a “rebel alliance” against the evil neocon empire sound crazy? Not only has it already begun to take shape today, it’s happened before.
The First Rebel Alliance
The American political Left and Right actively worked together on a project that literally saved the U.S. Constitution during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Back then, the Republican Party pushed for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution and became frustrated at failing to get the two-thirds vote in Congress needed to pass it. So the GOP led a push toward the first constitutional convention (con-con) in more than 200 years by pushing state legislatures to call a con-con. They needed calls from two-thirds (34) of the states. By 1987, President Reagan and Vice President Bush needed only two more states to call a con-con, a convention that would have had the same power to tear up our existing Constitution and write a new one from scratch that our Founding Fathers had in 1787.
An odd coalition formed that paired Common Cause with Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and the AFL-CIO with the John Birch Society. Conservatives got resolutions condemning the convention from the Daughters of the American Revolution, the American Legion, and even the National Rifle Association, which feared that the convention would tinker with the Second Amendment.
An impressive array of letters from lawyers and professors, from Harvard’s liberal Lawrence Tribe to Notre Dame’s conservative Charles Rice, circulated on both sides.
But the alliance was far more intricate than merely an exchange of letters. Groups on the Left and Right coordinated letter-writing campaigns, and even spoke before state legislative hearings over which person testifying would bring up which points against the con-con.
All of official Washington, along with Wall Street, mobilized against this ad hoc grass-roots army. The national Republican Party backed a con-con to the hilt, along with Presidents Reagan and the elder Bush, and most Republican U.S. senators. Most “inside the Beltway” conservative organizations also backed the constitutional convention, making it the acid test for higher office within the Republican Party. Wall Street-backed business organizations underwrote the Republican Party campaign with donations and resolutions. And national Democrats divided, with many staying silent or even becoming verbally supportive of going to a con-con.
But the results revealed the complete political isolation of the Washington, D.C., power brokers. The liberals were able to unify the Democrats in the state legislatures, while the conservatives were able to peel enough Republicans away from the Washington big shots in order to form a working majority coalition in favor of the Constitution.
The coalition stopped the con-con steamroller cold, and in 1988 got the states of Alabama and Florida to pass legislation withdrawing their calls for a new convention. The legislatures of Louisiana, Utah, and Virginia followed with their own rescissions in later years, rolling the number of states calling for a convention back to a safer level.
The coalition sprang back into action in 1994 when popular Utah Governor Mike Leavitt got the idea to rename the con-con, calling it a “Conference of the States.” The telegenic Republican governor again won the support of the national Republican Party and marketed it through the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of mostly Republican state legislators. Despite some quick and early successes by Leavitt, the coalition had effectively killed off the scheme by the end of 1995.
After the victories, both sides claimed all the credit for themselves and tried to forget the embarrassing fact that they had allied themselves with the other side. But neither the political Left nor Right could have prevailed without the support of the other side.
Many on the Left may be tempted to pooh-pooh the impact of organizations such as the John Birch Society, the Eagle Forum, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. But like the Left, the Right maintains active organizations on the grass-roots level with no connections to Washington. Several have hundreds of local chapters of volunteers across the country, multi-million dollar annual budgets, and in the case of the John Birch Society a staff of 40 professional organizers it calls “coordinators.” The Right is equally capable of putting letters into representatives’ mailboxes from home districts and putting bodies into district offices of swing legislators during a legislative campaign.
The New “Rebel Alliance”
The entire U.S. Constitution had to be in danger in order for the Left and Right to work together in the past. That’s just what it’s taken for the alliance to form again. The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are in danger again today.
The issues the Right and Left are already working together on are related to the Constitution: (1) Exposing the Bush administration’s policy to eliminate the right to trial, as in the case of Jose Padilla, (2) Stopping the Bush practice and advocacy of torture, (3) Ending the administration’s unnecessary Iraq War, (4) Eliminating unconstitutional, warrantless wiretapping, and the most objectionable parts of the PATRIOT Act, (5) Stopping multilateral trade agreements such as CAFTA, renewal of the WTO, and the upcoming Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
The current Rebel Alliance is completely ad hoc and has no formal organization, for several reasons. First, we don’t trust each other. Groups on the “paleoconservative” Right those not in the Bush neoconservative orbit who have strong ideological reasons for joining an ad hoc alliance include some of the organizations most disliked by leftists: The John Birch Society, Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, the Rockford Institute, the “Buchanan Brigades” of Pat Buchanan’s American Cause, libertarian-leaning Lew Rockwell and his Ludwig von Mises Institute. And, of course, Antiwar.com, where the Rebel Alliance meshes and works together best.
Of course, we “right-wingers” don’t trust you leftists at all either. Leftists will always view conservatives like me as paranoid radicals, and conservatives will always view the Left as the ideological heirs of Joseph Stalin. It will be hard for either side to even shake hands on the banks of the Elbe River at the end of any alliance of convenience. But a lot more could be accomplished with a little more cooperation, even something as a simple as an e-mail or a phone call regarding tentative campaign plans on issues of mutual interest on critical issues related to the U.S. Constitution.
The second reason that any sort of formal organization in this new alliance is all but impossible is because groups on both sides will likely drop in or out of the coalition, depending on the organization’s agenda or even the clash of personalities involved.
Any successful Left-Right cooperation should focus upon the U.S. House of Representatives. The chief lesson of the con-con battle was that the executive branch and the Senate, the legislative chamber of 100 men and women who want to run the executive branch, were not greatly swayed by grass-roots pressure. But House members are literally running for reelection nonstop and are particularly susceptible to broad-based pressure from the districts. With the Left unifying the Democratic Party, it would only take the swing of a couple of Republican representatives by the right in any committee in order to launch a Watergate-style investigation on the indefinite detention of American citizens without trial or the contemptible policy of “extraordinary rendition.”
Liberals are pinning their hopes on Democratic chances in November, but even a slight Democratic majority in the House of Representatives in January (a divided government I dearly hope will come to pass) would not solve the problem. Genuine reform and controls on the unitary executive will elude the nation without the assistance of the Right, as Democratic reforms either die in the closely locked Senate or by Democratic neocon implants in the House (there are Joe Lieberman types in the House too!) Whatever happens in November, the Left is going to need the Right to peel away more Republicans away from Bush and find more congressmen like Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
A little more coordination of effort could go a long way toward saving the U.S. Constitution from the depredations of the Bush administration, both before and after November.
Down with the neocon Evil Empire! Long live the new Rebel Alliance!