I've said a few times in the past that, as someone who doesn't identify with any particular group on the political/partisan spectrum, I've appreciated
the fact that the issues I tend to cover aren't normally considered "partisan" and can often create "strange bedfellows." Copyright, for example, isn't an issue that fits into partisan lines at all (though, unfortunately, that's because for a long time, both major parties supported ever greater maximalism -- though that may finally be changing). In fact, when issues did
become partisan, it often meant that all reasoned discussion and debate (and chance for actual forward motion) went out the window. Net neutrality was a good example of that. When it first came about, the discussions concerning net neutrality weren't partisan at all, but then the Democrats embraced it, and the Republicans lined up against it, and any reasoned or nuanced discussion or debate about it seemed to vanish.
Still, some issues are historically associated with one side or the other. Things like "national security" often seem to be an issue that the traditional "right" lines up behind, while "civil liberties" is an issue that the traditional "left" lines up behind. I'm old enough to remember when being a "a card carrying member of the ACLU"
was used as an insult by Republicans to smear Democrats. Obviously, there are libertarians who are often (in my view, incorrectly) associated as being on "the right," who care deeply about civil liberties, but for the most part, the general stereotype is that Republicans on the "right" lined up behind strong national security fights and were less interested in civil liberties, while the Democrats on the "left" were "weak" on national security.
So it's at least a little bizarre to see this piece in Foreign Policy Magazine talking about how the Heritage Foundation, often considered the keepers of the Republican platform, refused to publish a paper that defended the NSA's surveillance efforts as perfectly legal and constitutional
. The Heritage Foundation was a big supporter of the Patriot Act, and urged that the key provisions that enabled the dragnet data collection of phone records be renewed
. Even more bizarre? When Heritage refused to publish the paper, Benjamin Wittes, of the Brookings Institution -- often considered a "liberal" think tank in DC -- jumped in to publish a version of the paper instead:
Cully Stimson, a senior Defense Department official in the Bush administration who now runs Heritage's national security law program, called Benjamin Wittes, the editor-in-chief of the national security blog Lawfare and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Stimson "asked me whether Lawfare might be interested in [the papers], and I was delighted to publish them," Wittes told The Cable. "We asked Steve to consolidate them into a single paper, and there were some subsequent revisions as well because of the document release that took place in the intervening period," Wittes said, referring to the government's decision in August to declassify a large number of documents about NSA programs.
Now, there could be a few different things at work here. For example, while Brookings is traditionally considered more on the liberal end of the spectrum, Wittes has long been a full on cheerleader for the surveillance state, so it was a natural fit. Similarly, Heritage is now under the leadership of Jim DeMint, who has long been identified as being more closely aligned with the more libertarian wings of the Republican Party. So this could be simply a case where the leanings of those two individuals resulted in what might be seen as a "strange bedfellows" situation with this paper.
Alternatively, there's an argument that rather than a sort of post-partisan issue that some of us hope these kinds of issues will become, this really is an overtly partisan issue, to the point that Heritage is less eager to support NSA surveillance by the administration because it's not "their guy" in the White House, The same may be true for those on the left who are willing to support the NSA's actions (even when they protested angrily about similar, and potentially less egregious, civil liberties abuses under George W. Bush) because it's okay with President Obama in charge. If this is true, it's not just incredibly cynical and short-sighted, but it's kind of depressing at the intellectual dishonesty of it all.
While either of those scenarios may be true, I'm still hopeful that more and more of these important issues having to do with technology and civil liberties policy will be viewed as post-partisan
(which is very different than "bi-partisan"), in that they're important issues that should be dealt with on their own merits, rather than if you happen to prefer the red team or the blue team. Part of the problem that many of us who focus on things like innovation and civil liberties policy have with the way the political efforts break down is that neither party comes close to representing what we're interested in. If more of these important issues that are getting attention don't fit neatly along party lines, perhaps the political landscape can be reconfigured in a more effective way to actually deal with the issues of tomorrow, rather than mere bickering about the issues of the past.