Growing concerns about the Patriot Act’s renewal are creating strange bedfellows. The Tea Party Patriots and the ACLU are running TV ads urging Americans to “tell Congress [to] protect our privacy.” On top of that, the executive director of Iowa’s ACLU and Tea Party Patriots’ boss Jenny Beth Martin have coauthored an op-ed in the Des Moines Register on “the need for significant reforms to curtail government surveillance authorities, like some of those included in the Patriot Act.”
And even the NAACP — which hasn’t always been kind to the tea party movement — is getting in on the act. Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and senior vice president for policy and advocacy, coauthored an op-ed with Martin, declaring: “We want our government to stop spying on innocent Americans.”
“The thinking behind these alliances is to send a message to Washington that Americans are absolutely fed up,” said Martin in an email. “When Tea Party Patriots, ACLU and NAACP can set aside their oft-adversarial history, come together, and say to Washington ‘We have a problem’…then Washington has a problem. And they’d better pay attention.”
I’m not naive enough to think that this represents a long-term reordering. When push comes to shove, expect these groups to return to their respective partisan corners. But one does get the sense an increasingly populist, anti-Washington mood is afoot. And this, if only for a moment, has transcended the usual political paradigm.
People who are traditionally at each other’s throats are discovering they share a mutual adversary. To some, it might manifest itself in the form of government snooping or a militarized police force. To others, it might just reinforce the maxim that “Any government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.” Either way, the right vs. left spectrum is currently overshadowed by one that pits big versus small — and the people versus the government. The real question is: How long can this last?