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Please begin with an informative title:

The diary title is derived from the old adage politics makes strange bedfellows. When the data collection activities of the NSA became a subject of major debate we began to see a public conversation that violated the script for the Democrats vs Republicans video game that is the media version of US politics. Early on Dianne Feinstein in her capacity as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee was a fervent apologist for the NSA while Rand Paul a libertarian Republican was calling it an abuse of civil liberties. Civil libertarian progressive Democrats began to take positions that sounded very similar to Paul's and the security state Republican conservatives were lining up supporting Feinstein and the Obama administration.

Now we have the situation that Congressman Justin Amash R MI has introduced an amendment to the defense appropriation bill that would defund the mass data collection activities of the NSA. It is being cosponsored by John Conyers D MI. Amash is described as a libertarian colleague of Paul and Conyers is a well known left leaning Democratic progressive. Michelle Bachman, Tea Party darling social conservative and member of the house intelligence committee says that she will vote against the amendment.

The White House has gone into attack mode urging loyal Democrats to oppose this serious blow to the nation's vital national security interest. A secret classified briefing/lobbying session has been scheduled for congressional representatives.

This really brings into relief the schizophrenic nature of the coalitions that are holding both major parties together. It's easier the break down the component groups of the Republicans.

Corporate oriented economic conservatives - there are people who have always been Republicans since the civil war. They were the most vocal opponents of the new deal. Their commitment is to the security state.

Religiously oriented social conservatives. Their main energy is invested in fighting the culture wars in opposition to rights for women, racial minorities and LGBT's. Many of them were or, are descended from, southern Democrats who became Republicans.

Libertarians - They hate government. This means opposing social support programs but they are also strong on civil liberties. This puts them in opposition to the social conservatives on the culture war issues.

What about the Democrats?

There are groups who see the Democratic Party as the only available haven on culture issues such as racial justice, reproductive choice and marriage equality.

There is an aggregation of people who generally fall on the left side of the Democrats. Progressive is the present label and liberal a more historic term. If there is a common position, it is related to supporting the new deal traditions of social democracy with economic support and collective bargaining rights for ordinary people. A commitment to civil liberties has been a part of this tradition.  

There is some sort of centrist group of Democrats that is difficult to define. They aren't actively opposed to the concerns of the two groups above, but when it comes to priorities, maintaining a hold on power takes first place. While they don't trumpet the free market and private enterprise as loudly as their Republican centrist counterparts, they have common ground on things like neoliberal trade policy.  The administrations of both Bill Clinton and Barak Obama have consistently followed this policy path.

These breakdowns aren't neat and tidy. People, particularly the professional politicians, often fail to act with logical consistency. For the past 25 years the US political system has spent much of the time in something that approaches gridlock. The leadership of the two parties have managed to keep the factions in their base mostly in line and there are pitched battles over showcase issues where there is actually not great significant difference in positions in basic policy. The media covers these like sporting contests. A major case in point is the health insurance legislation known as Obamacare which is in practice a modest change in existing arrangements being treated as though the entire future of civilization hinges on its fate.

Now we have an issue where the animals at the political zoo are escaping from their cages. There is substantial public attention focused on an issue that has been kept off the radar by treating it as a state secret. There was an expansion of NSA activities following 9/11. It seems likely that the practices of the Obama administration have been pretty similar to those of the Bush administration on this issue. Given the cover of secrecy a conclusive determination of that can't be made.

Civil libertarians among progressive Democrats and civil libertarians among libertarian Republicans have found common ground and are joining together to take specific action. These two groups often behave like sworn enemies over issues of social policy and economic policy. For some people on Daily Kos the very idea of saying anything positive about a libertarian amounts to political heresy.

I certainly don't think that this represents a sustainable coalition that is likely to move beyond this particular issue. However, it does present an interesting spectacle and a glimpse of just how shaky is the foundation of the great American political video game.  

     

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