The on-again-off-again alliances between conservative and liberal groups is on again, but not without its contradictions. Back in the early Eighties, during the Reagan years, conservatives joined with anti-nuclear power groups to end the multi-billion tax dollar boondoggle called the Clinch River Breeder Reactor in Tennessee.
Their joint lobbying in Congress overcame the opposition of both the nuclear industry and the White House.
In subsequent years, "corporate welfare" began to be noticed critically by such right-wing groups as the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. They viewed it as an unacceptable disruption of market forces and a drain on taxpayers.
In 1999, I called arch-conservative Grover Norquist to inform him that my exchanges with House Budget Committee Chair, Cong. John Kasich (R-Ohio), had born-fruit. Mr. Kasich held the first hearings on corporate subsidies, giveaways and bailouts ever in Congress. Mr. Norquist joined with a mixed panel of liberals and conservatives that raised corporate eyebrows. But Cong. Kasich's superiors-Newt Gingrich and others-were distinctly cool to any follow-up legislation. They were corporatists first.
More recently, in 2003, the Federal Communications Commission was flooded with about a half a million messages from the likes of Common Cause and the NRA against its proposal to allow further ownership of more radio and television stations by giant media conglomerates. Although the FCC commissioners passed the measure by a narrow three-to-two vote, the jolted House of Representatives overwhelmingly overruled it and the Senate rejected one segment of the ruling. Unfortunately, this very rare Congressional rebuff to giant media companies like Clear Channel and Murdoch was blocked in the House-Senate Conference.
Dependence by our country on foreign oil has brought together environmental groups and right-wing leaders concerned about national security. What The Washington Post called "strange bedfellows," people like ex-Senator Gary Hart and Senator John Kerry have joined with former CIA director James Woolsey and conservative lawyer-lobbyist C. Boyden Gray, in sympathy with a group called Set America Free.
Forget about stronger fuel-efficiency regulation with this association. Instead they are into subsidizing both the auto companies (investment tax credits for example) and car buyers to provide GM, Ford and Chrysler with "incentives" to make the kind of hybrid vehicles that Toyota and Honda are already selling in the U.S. So their choice is guess-what: more corporate welfare and an aversion to technology-forcing regulation similar to the 1975 legislation which propelled the auto companies to nearly double their average duel efficiency over the next quarter-century.
There is still no serious talk within these groups of a national solar energy conversion mission that would over time displace the fossil fuel-nuclear economy.
The latest convergence of liberal and conservative activity involves selective opposition to the renewal of the Patriot Act in Congress before the year's end.
The ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights and prominent liberal law professors and scholars have opposed various provisions since its hasty passage, without public hearings, by a panicked Congress in October 2001. Since then, the Act has been championed and abused by both Bush, and his attorney general John Ashcroft, who retired with a record of zero victories from five thousand arrests for terrorist activity, according to Georgetown Law Professor David Cole.
In an open letter, dated March 22, 2005 and posted on www.checksbalances.org, twenty of the more prominent leaders of conservative organizations, led by the ex-CIA official, ex-Republican Congressman, Bob Barr, called on President George W. Bush to drop his support for renewing "the most intrusive, unchecked powers temporarily granted by the Patriot Act."
The signers, who include David Keene, Grover Norquist, Paul M. Weyrich, and John Snyder, specifically listed Section 213, which allows government agents to "secretly search through people's homes and business and seize their personal property without notice for days, weeks, months or perhaps ever."
Also, they opposed Section 215, which "allows government agents to collect personal data on law-abiding Americans-such as the books they buy or borrow, their personal medical history, or even records of goods they purchase," without the provable cause of connections to the "commission of a crime or to a foreign terrorist agent."
They also objected to Section 802, which defines "terrorism" so broadly as to give unbridled discretion to government agents at the expense of judicial review for constitutional compliance.
Liberal anti-Patriot Act groups also oppose arrests without charges and imprisonment without attorneys, even of material witnesses, indefinitely. Both groups decry a government that destroys the liberties of law-abiding Americans in the name of protecting them.
How effective will these alliances be? On paper, the right-left coalitions jar many members of Congress. But if they stay on paper and do not move to a coordinated stage of civic action that has lasting power, unlike the FCC episode, Congress and the two major Parties will feel they can wait them out and let Mr. Bush unleash once again his scare tactics that send members of Congress running for cover.