The Left/Right Alliance That Cut Pentagon Spending

Transpartisanship vs. bipartisanship


The winter hat of freedom

The New America Foundation has just published a paper called "The Sequester, the Pentagon, and the Little Campaign That Could"—the second in a sequence of studies it's calling the "Strange Bedfellows Series." The report is a worthy account of how some progressive Democrats and Tea Party Republicans joined forces in 2010-12 to cut "defense" spending, showing how the alliance emerged, won a significant legislative victory, then lost some ground after ISIS became a major issue. You should read it.

But as interesting as the specific case study is, what really captured my attention was this explanatory passage on the report's inside cover, explaining what the larger series is about:

The paths taken on issues from sentencing reform to changes in Pentagon spending to resistance to government surveillance share a common thread: they were all a result of transpartisan cooperation. By transpartisan, we mean an approach to advocacy in which, rather than emerging from political elites at the center, new policy ideas emerge from unlikely corners of the right or left and find allies on the other side, who may come to the same idea from a very different worldview. In transpartisan coalitions, policy entrepreneurs from the ideological corners recruit endorsers and test ideas, eventually bringing them into the policy mainstream at the local, state and national levels. Unlike traditional bipartisan coalitions, which begin in the center, the established, centrist politicians and institutions are often the last to recognize and embrace a transpartisan vision.

Not every transpartisan left/right alliance is congenial to libertarians. (Indeed, on some issues—frequently centering around censorship—both sides are essentially transpartisan coalitions and the elites would rather be talking about something else. Where was the center during the porn wars?) But I think a lot of libertarians' first instinct is to cheer when they hear that elements of the left and right are uniting against the center, and that's not just because our movement frequently feels like a left/right alliance itself. For the most part, libs understand that when people get channeled into Red Team vs. Blue Team poo-throwing matches, our issues tend to lose. But the alternative to that partisan tribalism isn't the bipartisan center. It's modular alliances among the outsiders.

Bonus link: The first entry in the Strange Bedfellows Series, on mass incarceration, can be read here.