Dual Base-In Coalitions

While I don’t think there’s going to be any sort of “liberaltarian” realignment of American politics, the occasional convergence of Left and Right does create some interesting possibilities that can on occasion transcend noisy but ineffectual protests. This initiative, as described by the Guardian‘s Spencer Ackerman, could represent an example:

A bipartisan group of eight senators will introduce a bill on Tuesday that would force the government to reveal how it interprets the laws underpinning the massive surveillance programs revealed by the Guardian.

The bill by Senator Jeff Merkley (Democrat, Oregon), which his office said it planned to introduce to the Senate on Tuesday, would force the government to disclose the opinions of a secretive surveillance court that determines the scope of the eavesdropping on Americans’ phone records and internet communications.

The bill has the support of senators Mike Lee (Republican, Utah), Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont), Dean Heller (Republican, Nevada), Mark Begich (Democrat, Alaska), Al Franken (Democrat, Minnesota), Jon Tester (Democrat, Montana) and Ron Wyden (Democrat, Oregon).

Specifically, the bill would compel the first public airing of the so-called Fisa court’s understandings of section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the government has cited as the basis for collecting the phone records of millions of Americans; and section 702 of the 2008 Fisa Amendments Act, which the government has cited as the basis for the NSA internet monitoring program known as Prism.

Ackerman notes that Merkley earlier managed to get Dianne Feinstein, that hardy defender of government national security priorities, to join with him in an effort to convince the FISA Court to “declassify opinions of this court that are assessed to contain a significant interpretation of the law.” Jawboning didn’t work, but legislation might.

The larger point is that this bill represents the point of view of pols in both parties who are very interested in reining in surveillance programs (or at least making them more transparent), but is framed in a way that should attract broader support–again, in both parties.

The “base-in coalition”–one that begins with energized activists but slowly attracts a partisan majority–are a familiar feature of politics. But in this case we seem to have a dual base-in coalition, at least potentially, and that’s one byproduct of the “Snowden realignment” that might actually have legs in the future.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.