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Far left, far right unite on some issues in Congress

Who says bipartisanship is dead?

In recent months, some on the left and right have joined forces on a range of issues, from the NSA’s domestic surveillance program to free trade, public education standards, police militarization and more. That’s not to say Democrats and Republicans are having some big kumbaya moment here in Washington — not by a long shot. Traditional partisanship is as fierce as ever.

But on the margins of our politics, some unusual alliances are forming.

Just last week, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Tea Party Patriots joined forces in a media blitz aimed at forcing Congress to reject a reauthorization of the NSA bulk data collection program. On Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul went to the Senate floor to rail against the NSA in a filibuster-style speech. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, joined him with a speech of his own.

“Given the overwhelming evidence that the current bulk collection program is not only unnecessary but also illegal, we’ve reached a critical turning point,” Heinrich said, sounding themes similar to Paul’s.

Free trade is another area in which certain elements of the left and right are finding common ground.

Many Democrats — including all of those in New Mexico’s congressional delegation — are deeply skeptical of giving President Obama so-called “fast track” authority to negotiate trade deals.

The labor unions, a key Democratic constituency, are worried that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will ship even more American manufacturing jobs overseas. As it turns out, some on the far right, including Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., are skeptical as well, but maybe for slightly different reasons. The tea party is deeply worried about giving President Barack Obama wide latitude to negotiate a major trade pact in secret. And they share the left’s concern about corporate welfare.

“Tea Party activists like free and fair trade,” wrote Judson Philips, president of the Tea Party Nation in a February op-ed in The Hill newspaper. “We also like national borders and our nation, unlike global corporatists who have no loyalty to the country of their birth but sure know how to use big government to get taxpayer-funded bailouts and special favors.”

Common Core — the new federal benchmarks for reading and math proficiency in kindergarten through 12th grade — also has some on the left and right gnashing their teeth in opposition. Special interest groups as diverse as the deeply conservative Heritage Foundation and ultra-liberal Occupy Wall Street have come out against the federal curriculum championed by President Obama’s administration.

Many conservatives rather predictably object to federal intrusion in local education policy-making, but some of the administration’s friends, including the National Education Association, are also concerned.

Teachers are worried about how to adapt their classrooms to meet the tough new standards, as well as whether they’ll get adequate training to do so. They also object to new evaluations that could affect their careers.

Overzealous law enforcement policy is also leading to some political consensus.

Last year, the Journal published a three-part series examining the Department of Homeland Security, with a special emphasis on DHS’s role in militarizing police local police. Reader responses from across the political spectrum reflected a deep concern about a growing police state in America. Even conservatives, traditionally the party of law and order, are starting to become wary of heavy-handed policing.

“When the police are dressed like combat troops, it’s not a fashion faux pas, it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of who they are,” popular conservative pundit Mark Steyn wrote on his blog.

By the way, the Journal’s series won first place for political enterprise reporting in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies journalism competition earlier this month. Two days later, Obama moved to end the transfer of some of the most fearsome weaponry from DHS and the Pentagon to local police departments. As best as I can tell, no one in Congress – from either party – lodged much of a complaint about the president’s decision.

In his 2014 book “Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State,” Ralph Nader argues that there is much the left and right can agree on.

The former consumer advocate, lawyer and five-time failed presidential candidate makes a case that the two parties could possibly agree on demanding more efficiency in government contracting and spending, mandating an annual audit of the Pentagon’s budget, reviving civic education in schools, and breaking up the megabanks whose recklessness led to the 2008 financial crash.

There is also a lot that our two major political parties will never agree on. But when they do form consensus, even on the political fringes, it injects a welcome breath of fresh air into our otherwise stale political discourse.


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