A Transpartisan Consensus

There is a difference between Democrats and Republicans, and both aren’t just as bad, right? No, that’s what some twitter user told me after I said that Democrats are really just Rockefeller Republicans [1], saying that such logic is false equivalency or “where there appears to be a logical equivalence between two opposing arguments, but when in fact there is none.” Such a concept does not apply to differences and similarities between the two major political parties in the United States. This leads to a discussion about a new phenomenon in the United States: a transpartisan consensus, or what some call the left-right alliance.


How is a bipartisan consensus different than a transpartisan consensus?

The bipartisan consensus simply means the convergence of the two business-friendly or capitalist major parties, Democrats and Republicans, on certain issues. From the 2003 edition of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, it turns out that both parties agree on many policies. These include: an acceptance of war as a nation; encouraging massive profits, tax “reforms” that help the rich; support for the training of foreign military officers (the School of the Americas); denouncing welfare provisions; supporting “liberal” & “conservative” Supreme Court Justices (i.e. John Roberts, Sonia Sotomayor, and Clarence Thomas); approving of all huge military budgets post WWII; not supporting a transfer of military funds to human needs; voting for the Persian Gulf War in 1990; a consensus around Nixon following the investigation into Watergate; and being behind the idea that “American authority must be asserted everywhere in the world.” [2]

There are other instances of bipartisan consensus as well. These include votes for wars such as WWI, WWII, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, the Spanish-American War, and the Afghanistan War. Additionally, both parties voted for horrible pieces of legislation that helped shred civil liberties (USA Patriot Act, the Authorization of Military Force (2001), the anti-Occupy Act[3]), helped the rich (the Bank Bailout, “Citigroup Relief Act,” NAFTA Implementation Act), were part of “sequester” and austerity recently (Budget Control Act of 2011 and the Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012), and so on. [4] You could add the recent votes for the Iron Dome System despite a supposed gridlock that stalled immigration legislation. Due to such convergence, this is why some have said, quite rightly, that both parties are joined in a “bipartisan foreign policy.” Lest us forget that after the Civil War, “when both parties were…controlled by capitalists,” the Republican Party made concessions to the Democrats in 1876 that removed “Union troops from the South,” so Rutherford B. Hayes could become president, resulting in increased discrimination for black folks in the South until the 1960s, and likely beyond.[5]The consensus between the two parties has led some to calling these parties a “war party” (i.e. people on antiwar.com), a “business party” (i.e. Noam Chomsky), a “two-party dictatorship” (i.e. Ralph Nader), and Republicrats/DemoRepublicans to symbolize how there is little distinction between the two parties. Some have gone even farther in their criticism, saying that the consensus is the “equivalent of the one-party system in a totalitarian state” since neither party has proposed “bold changes to the social and economic structure.” [6] One cannot deny that there are differences between the two parties, but each party not only serves a specific business interests, but they coverge on so many issues (national security, civil liberties, war & peace, immigration, Israel/Palestine, drone strikes, etc…) that there is little difference between them. Some of differences are in debates about issues in the social realm like reproductive rights and gay marriage, but in whole both parties take a business-friendly approach to issues.

A transpartisan consensus, as I call it, is different. In recent years, it has been shown through the opposition to war in Libya by Congress in 2011, which like the Korean War was not approved by Congress, along with the war-wariness that would have ensured that proposed war in Syria which the would have likely been rejected by Congress as well. Such a consensus solves the problem I have struggled with for years [7]: conceiving a new political spectrum. Don Edward Beck writes that transpartisan means something is beyond partisan “attitudes and processes, and that “everybody is invited to the table” to solve problems.

However, since I disagree with his description of transpartisan on the whole since it sounds a lot like centrism, a much better explanation comes from those describing a left-right alliance. Sam Husseini, the communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy writes that about the “convergence of progressives and conservatives against the establishment…[on] war, military spending, trade, corporate power, Wall Street, fossil fuel subsidies…[and] NSA spying on the citizenry,” citing a number of articles, concluding that it is “extremely threatening to the establishment” because this establishment “keeps the left and right populist factions at bay by demonizing them to each other.” Husseini continues, acknowledged that while there are agreements, that this left-right alliance voted: “down the Wall Street bailout of 2008” initially; against the war in Libya (2011); against committing ground troops in Yugoslavia (1999); to curn the power of the federal government over personal privacy; to oppose the reauthorization of Fast Track; to oppose NAFTA in the 1990s; to audit the Federal Reserve; to break up too-big-to-fail banks; cut environmentally harmful programs; to oppose current crop subsidies; on media issues such as net neutrality; and much more. Interestingly, Husseini writes that this phenomenon should not only “be an established aspect of U.S. politics” but he comes up with an even more radical conclusion: that “there are in fact two “centers” — one that is pro-war and Wall Street (the establishment center) — and another that is pro-peace and populist (the anti-establishment center).” Such an idea shatters the idea of a traditional liberal-conservative political spectrum, which Pew Research Center shamelessly promoted in their utterly flawed and almost idiotic “Political Typology Quiz”, which Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report called “totally useless” and that it serves the interests of those who “are trying to continue the [current] kind of narrow political discussion within the very narrow spectrum.”

Husseini is not the only one who has this idea of a left-right alliance, or what should more accurately be called a transpartisan consensus. In 2004, Tom Atlee of the Co-Intelligence Institute, wrote about an event he had gone to organized by people from the left and right, which he says “had been born in the newly emerging, deeply democratic political space some are calling “the radical middle” or “the radical center” – a space filled with creativity and dialogue.” Atlee continues that at the conference how they explored their political differences and came to a place “where we didn’t want to use those labels at all” while they were intrigued with the possibility “to make a difference together.” He then writes that the “biggest insight” he had out of the conference was that if one steps out of the created dichotomies, and that

“we would find ourselves individually very different and usefully unique in our perspectives, with vast areas of workable common ground…as human beings with universal needs, living in communities, nations, and a struggling world that require our shared attention.”

He further wrote that he began to shift away from “Left/Right framings,” convinced since framing was a trap and that “the Left/Right paradigm is killing us far more effectively than the Right ever could.” Other have followed what Atlee has said, like Ralph Nader, in his recent book calling for a left-right alliance on certain issues titled Unstoppable, those who have called for an alliance between the Tea Party and Occupy which I supported at the time, and many others.


What is the usefulness of the transpartisan consensus?

The phenomenon of a transpartisan consensus, which a relatively new in the American experience (perhaps since the 1980s or 1990s) is what can be called a new political order which I said in the past is not arising but now it seems to be a reality. If it is true that Americans are centrists, then they fall into what Husseini calls “the anti-establishment center,” which is anti-corporate and ultimately socially democratic, rather than the “establishment center” of corporatist politicians of both parties. With people of the “left” and “right” uniting in favor of a rise in the minimum wage, opposing the Keystone XL pipeline on the ground, anti-drone bills across the country, and measures to rein in government surveillance, the transpartisan consensus has shown its usefulness. It is clear that this consensus can be used to stop the egregious assaults by the corporate sector and the state. It is always easy to unite people together on reforms, even if they, in theory oppose each other, on the “left” and “right.”

As Howard Zinn once wrote, fundamental problems in the United States including economic insecurity, violence, family disarray and environmental destruction “could not be solved without bold changes in the social and economic structure” of the country, which he said was not supported by major party candidates in the 1970s. It seems that even the transpartisan consensus, a new political center, wouldn’t support such “bold changes.” Instead, there would only be changes to the existing capitalist system but no questioning of that system or considering alternatives that would put more power in the hands of the people. This doesn’t mean groups and individuals should not look to make left-right alliances, allowing them to be part of this new consensus, but that they should realize its limitations. While a transpartisan consensus can be used to counter the abuses and policies of government and industry in the short term, in the long-term it is not the solution that would assure fundamental change. The solution, in the long-term rather relies on revolutionary action that is imaginative and proposes new alternatives to the predicament of a world that is, in the words of corporate magnate Arthur Jensen in the 1976 movie Network, “a business.”


[1] There are a number of people that use this term to describe certain Democrats (see here, here, here, and here). Others have said that the centrist Democrats resemble the ideas of Rockefeller Republicans (see here, here, and here).
[2] See pages 546, 553, 563, 577, 581, and 583-4 of A People’s History.
[3]Some have called this law, formally called the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2012 the “anti-occupy law” because it limits political protest (see here and here).
[4] Other laws passed by a bipartisan consensus include ones that criminalize file-sharing (Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act”), implement “free trade” treaties (i.e. CAFTA Implementation Act), help construct the national security state (National Security Act of 1947 (created the CIA), Homeland Security Act of 2002 (created the DHS)), cracked down on civil liberties/civil rights (NDAA 2012 and 2013, Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, CISPA in 2012 and 2013, Espionage Act, McCarran Internal Security Act, Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA collection act of 2012) and a number of others (Telecommunications Act of 1996, Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, No Child Left Behind Act, Commodity Futures Modernization Act (2000 act which deregulated derivatives), Selective Service Act (1948), Obama Tax Cuts in 2010 and 2012, Taft-Hartley Act (Labor Management Relations Act of 1947), Bretton-Woods Implementation Act, FISA Reauthorization Act (authorizes NSA surveillance), FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (opens up US airspace to drones, see page 3 of this PDF), Defense Production Act of 1950, Controlled Substances Act, and the Military Commissions Act of 2006).
[5] See pages 205, 258 and 584 of A People’s History
[6] Ibid, 563, 587.
[7] See my articles here, here, here, and here.

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