Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Patriot Act jumpstarts potential liberal/libertarian coalition

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2011 at 12:03 PM

It’s no secret that these are odd times in American politics. Just how odd is being revealed in Congress right now, as a “fantasy coalition” of Democratic liberals and Republican libertarians — something we wished for just the other day — is showing signs of developing. In a blog item on Friday, I reported that congressional leaders Harry Reid and John Boehner had agreed on a renewal of the odious Patriot Act. At the time, I wrote that “It will be interesting to see how far congress members’ love of individual freedom and civil liberties goes. Enough to bring together Tea Party libertarians and the more liberal-leaning Democrats in a 'strange bedfellows' coalition?”

Today, as TalkingPointsMemo reports, Vermont liberal Sen. Patrick Leahy and Kentucky libertarian Rand Paul  are joining forces to introduce an amendment to the Patriot Act that would phase out some of the worst  parts of the law. The Leahy-Paul amendment would let National Security Letters (NSLs) expire at the end of 2013. NSLs are a type of subpoena used by the federal government, which demands that particular organizations or people turn over various records and data such as credit card transactions, phone calls, e-mail addresses, etc. Under the Patriot Act, the government doesn’t need to show probable cause for the NSL, and there is no judicial oversight of the process. If you history buffs out there think this sounds a little like the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, apartheid-era South Africa, or recent Egyptian policy, you’re right.

Leahy and Paul’s amendment would also mandate that the Justice Dept. audit the issuance of NSLs, and would expand public reporting on the use of NSLs. As TPM reports, Rand Paul said, "We were so frightened after 9/11 that we readily gave up these freedoms. Not only would I let these expire, but I think we should sunset the entire Patriot Act."

Nitpickers will say Leahy and Paul could have gone farther and dumped other appalling features of the Patriot Act, but I welcome this move by progressives and libertarians to find common ground on a particular issue. Like we said Friday, if this kind of coalition could be nurtured and grown, “it could lead to other interesting Tea Party/Progressive coalitions, including getting us the hell out of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Illustration by Propaganda Remix Project
  • Illustration by Propaganda Remix Project

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