Left/right coalitions are a touchy subject in U.S. politics these
days — when they are a subject at all. The major party presidential
candidates, aware that Americans are fed up with partisan conservatism
and partisan liberalism, have been persuaded by their pollsters to head
for the “center” (even as the “center” gets narrower and narrower). The
trick, however, is to become a centrist through symbolic messages, so
you can still hold onto the right and the left respectively (the
country’s most consistent voters) and make sure they don’t do anything
unexpected, like get together and go independent.
The major parties are adept at this kind of cultural symbolism.
George Bush goes to Little Rock, Ark., to inaugurate a next frontier for
civil rights. The symbolic message is that the Republican Party has
accepted that Lincoln freed the slaves and truly believes racism is a
Al Gore comes out for keeping Elian Gonzales in Florida. Here the
message is that the Democratic Party is sorry it muddled the Bay of Pigs
and truly believes that socialism is a bad thing.
Bush and Gore are cultivating their images as centrists — i.e. not
too right nor too left — while trying to hold onto their core
constituencies on the right and on the left. Thus, it is to be expected
that efforts to bring together the right and the left outside of the two
party framework are met with substantial resistance from the bipartisan
powers that be. Many of the attacks on left/right coalitions — like the
ones on my coalition with Reform Party presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan
— promote the notion that since left and right disagree on so much, we
couldn’t possibly be working together for anything other than
Very few in the media today understand, for example, that my support
for Buchanan is based on our mutual interest in changing the process of
American politics so that our citizens — and not the special interests
— may democratically rule the country which belongs to us. Buchanan
spelled out this common ground in considerable detail on C-SPAN’s
Washington Journal last week, emphasizing his support for my political
reform agenda, including same day voter registration, campaign finance
reform and term limits. He also underlined our shared concern over the
Beltway’s pro-war policies and the need for a non-interventionist
approach to foreign affairs.
This last issue was the topic of a conference sponsored by
AntiWar.com two weeks ago — Beyond Left and Right: The New Face of the
Antiwar Movement — at which Buchanan and I both spoke. At the
gathering, the common agenda of left and right for ending U.S.
imperialism could be distinctly seen.
What creates the common ground between left and right? It’s the
opposition to empire building and to the two parties that support it. We
saw that left/right opposition to globalism in the streets of Seattle.
And we also see the close connection between opposition to globalism and
democracy reform. Putting political control in the hands of the people
rather than in the hands of the special interests, i.e., the
multinational corporations, and their unelected WTOs, is key to halting
globalism and war.
Some people have asked me whether Buchanan’s campaign serves as a
bridge between the left and the right. In my opinion, his candidacy is
at this point closer to a plank than a bridge. Building bridges that can
carry the weight of many travelers takes time. Still, at the conference
one could see the beginnings of people from different traditions
speaking their respective political languages while finding some common
language at the same time. An example of this can be seen in attitudes
The right is comfortable with the language of nationalism. The left
— including myself — has some difficulty with it as it is too often
associated with ethnic and racial rivalries and violence. Yet, I have no
difficulty with asserting the democratic rights of a people within
nation states. I can stand up with nationalists on that. But I am not a
nationalist. I am an internationalist looking for ways to link up all
the people of the world to enable their development.
Buchanan and I have some differences on this issue and one of the
policy areas in which this surfaces is in the area of immigration. I
come at the immigration issue — as do most people on the left — from a
pro-people of color, open policy orientation. That said, I appreciate
the issue that conservatives like Buchanan raise when they raise the
question of how we integrate the immigrant populations that have already
come here. What does it take to bring culturally diverse people
together? How do we integrate multiple cultures — not simply to
“Americanize” everyone, but to be constantly recreating and reshaping
the American culture as new populations join us?
But how to do that, circa 2000, is a complicated question in the
context of globalism, in the context of U.S. jobs being shipped across
the border to Mexico and overseas to Asia. How do we integrate new
people eager to come to the United States amidst a declining standard of
living for many American families?
This question has not been taken on successfully by establishment
liberals or conservatives. The powers that be don’t particularly want it
discussed. They want to talk about numbers, quotas, and definitions of
family structures. But we can’t talk seriously about immigration policy
until we have a way to develop the culture that we live in and that
immigrants are becoming a part of.
It is from people’s differences that the social fabric of the
country has always been woven and rewoven. This requires an active and
dynamic democracy. With all of its flaws, we have continuously developed
our democracy for over 200 years. But during the last several decades
democracy’s development has stopped, largely because the special
interests need to stifle it in order to proceed “efficiently” along the
path to globalization.
That’s one reason left/right coalitions bother the establishment so
deeply. When opposing constituencies join together to reexamine
economic, foreign and immigration policy from the vantage point of
process and political reform, the two-party monolith begins to look
vulnerable. And that’s something the beltway crowd doesn’t like one bit.