In 2010, Lindsey Graham could see it coming.
"You know what I worry most about?" the Republican Senator from South Carolina told CNN about the growing opposition to the war in Afghanistan. "An unholy alliance between the right and the left." If the war continued to yield no clear victories for the U.S., libertarian-leaning Republicans who believed it was "impossible for us to win" could join with "people on the left who are mad with the president because he is doing exactly what Bush did and we’re in a war we can’t win." Such a coalition would pose the gravest threat to the joint war-making project of the Republican and Democratic establishments. "My concern is that, for different reasons, they join forces and we lose the ability to hold this thing together."
Six months later, progressive icon Ralph Nader saw the potential power of a libertarian-left alliance, too, but welcomed it. Appearing with Ron Paul on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s "Freedom Watch" show on Fox Business Network in January 2011, Nader issued a manifesto for "a dynamic political force" that would not only stop the war in Afghanistan but radically re-shape American politics. What he called "genuine libertarian conservatives" were "great allies" and together with "many liberals and progressives" could challenge "the bloated, wasteful military budget," "undeclared wars overseas," "hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate welfare," "invasions of our civil liberties and civil rights," "the sovereignty-shredding, job-destroying NAFTA and World Trade Organization agreements," and the "completely out-of-control" and unaccountable Federal Reserve System. Nader could also have mentioned the criminalization of drugs, police abuses, and immigration restrictions, which the left and libertarians have fought together against for years.
In fact, Graham’s fears and Nader’s hopes have now been realized. Never has there been a greater convergence of libertarian and leftist activities, never has it given more trouble to the powers of Washington, D.C., and never has it been a greater cause of concern, hope, and conflict among the political intelligentsia.
Eight months after Nader’s "Freedom Watch" pronouncement, Ron Paul supporters along with socialists, anti-market anarchists, and other lefties of various stripes were the first to set up camp in Zuccotti Park and launch the Occupy Wall Street movement. There were arguments over whether advocates of free markets belonged in the movement, whether the economic crisis was caused by deregulation or by government encouragement of high-risk financial speculation, and whether the solution to the crisis was greater or less government control of business, but the libertarians stayed. As Occupy spread to other cities, libertarians were almost always a visible—though minority—presence at the encampments. "One would more reliably come across vocal Ron Paul supporters at Occupy events than vocal Obama supporters," reported Michael Tracey in the American Conservative. "It was not lost on the Zuccotti Park crowd, for instance, that Ron Paul personally expressed a measure of support for the movement earlier than most any other national U.S. politician–aside from Sen. Bernie Sanders or Rep. Dennis Kucinich."
Occupy is often derided as having been leaderless and ineffective, but in conjunction with the Tea Party, few if any social movements in American history have done more to identify and discredit collusion between government and corporations. "Corporatism," once a term confined to academic discourse, is now routinely used to describe the general relationship between government and business in the United States. Moreover, it seems safe to assume that because of the efforts of Occupy and the Tea Party, which began in 2009 largely as a protest against the Troubled Assets Relief Program, few if any members of Congress will vote for another massive corporate bailout in the foreseeable future without fear of upsetting their constituents.
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