When President Obama made his first post-election visit to San Francisco, two groups of protesters met him in Union Square. About 500 activists (the “Left”) carried signs, sang songs and chanted for an end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, for environmental action and Medicare for all.
Sharing space with us were about 250 “tea-baggers” (the “Right”) carrying anti-Obama signs. Their main issues were lower taxes and opposition to “government intervention” in health care.
Despite sharp disagreement on health care and the “stimulus”, we agreed on much. Everyone I spoke to was against the wars (although they “supported the troops”) and against the corporate bailouts, and for civil liberties. Why must we see each other as opponents rather than potential allies? In a society run by corporate elites who trample the values of both progressives and traditional conservatives, couldn’t we align Left and Right against the national security state and bankster capitalism?
Scott Horton thinks we can and should. Horton is host of Antiwar Radio, a show heard on KAOS Radio in Austin, Texas and streaming on Antiwar.com . “The left-right political spectrum is the name of our dilemma,” he says. “To end the wars and restore our Bill of Rights we have to find common grounds, not get distracted and tear each other’s eyes out over less important cultural and economic differences.”
It seems clear the left-right divide is serving the rulers. In response to the question, “Where is all the protest,” a Common Dreams reader posted: “There are plenty of folks objecting. They are simply being dismissed by the left as “mobs” and “Nazi’s”, with the right dismissing the others as communists, socialists and liberals.”
Started by libertarians, Antiwar.com features news from around the world on foreign policy, with antiwar views from all political positions. “We’re making people realize that what’s most important is what we have in common,” says Horton. “Our troops should be brought home yesterday. Stop the torture; stop the empire.”
Horton is far from alone in this crusade. Progressive talk radio host Thom Hartmann approvingly quotes Ross Perot and Ron Paul. Paul and liberal Democrat Alan Grayson co-sponsored an amendment to audit the Federal Reserve. Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders and Republican Jim DeMint are spearheading a similar measure in the Senate. Firedog Lake’s Jane Hamsher and various rightists have co-authored several letters protesting insurance and bankster giveaways.
Libertarians and leftists are also joining forces in the street. Libertarians in Monterey, California joined the local Peace Coalition and organized a demonstration against the occupation of Afghanistan. We haven’t seen any tea-baggers at these protests yet, but why not reach out to them? The empire is the antithesis of the small government they claim to believe in.
In the electoral arena, a group of libertarians and progressives has formed a PAC called Strange Bedfellows to support candidates running against Blue Dog Democrats and other war supporters.
Diverse American forces have allied against empire before. In 1898, leaders from Andrew Carnegie to Jane Addams and Samuel Gompers joined Mark Twain in forming the American Anti-Imperialist League to oppose the annexation of the Philippines.
According to the Alliance of the Libertarian Left, we should perhaps stop looking at the battle against gangster capitalism as being solely a “Left” project. One can oppose modern corporate capitalism from a socialist perspective, but also from a free market perspective, because corporations wielding government power destroy free markets.
Citing Ralph Nader, Horton says, “Our problem in the U.S. is a combination of elite private power and the public power of the state. It’s not business in and of itself; it’s business’ control of government, as in the bailout. Libertarians and leftists agreed that banks shouldn’t be allowed to socialize their costs onto the working people and middle-class people. A lot of conservatives see this clearly also.” In fact, street demonstrations against the Fed have included Ron Paul libertarians, Greens, and New Way Forward progressives.
Seeing Things Differently, Fighting Together
Historically, the Left’s prime values are justice, equality, and cooperation. The honest (non-corporate) Right’s prime values are freedom and independence. Our differences in values explain the conflict about universal health care. The Left sees it as promoting equality and supporting those who need help. The Right sees it as an infringement on people’s independence. I don’t share their values, but it’s important to recognize that they truly held.
The corporate oligarchs destroy the values of both Left and Right. The oligarchs are against justice, equality, and social security, and also against freedom, independence, and peace. So a left/right coalition at least starts with a common enemy.
How can Leftists ally with libertarians and honest conservatives? Horton says, “Approach the Right from the right. How can a conservative be for unlimited nationalism and abandoning the rule of law and unlimited budgets? Show them they are being inconsistent with their own beliefs.”
A reader on antiwar.com commented, “Approach [grass-roots conservatives] in the language of freedom.” The empire is taking away American freedoms and the freedoms of those it attacks. The war on drugs is an assault on freedom; the war on terror is an assault on freedom. Handing the keys to the Treasury to Goldman Sachs is an assault on economic freedom.
Yes, there are differences between Left and Right. But they don’t include some of the most important issues – stopping the empire, restoring civil liberties, and breaking the mega-banks’ hold on the economy. We all agree on those.
Can we get off the left/right continuum? As Horton asks, “Instead of liberals vs. conservatives, wouldn’t it be better to have it be torturers, imperialists and liars vs. the peace and freedom party?”
If we’re willing to reach out to conservatives and ally with libertarians, they are not hard to find. If we focus on the issues that unite us, maybe we can build a movement against the empire.