Published: mic (June 28, 2013)
While most liberals remember the exact moment when Barack Obama became a national figure — i.e., his delivery of the Keynote Address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention — few recall that one of the central messages of that brilliant speech was giving the other side its due. To use his own words:
“There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America.”
It says a great deal about American progressives that this was one of the central themes of the speech responsible for the meteoric political rise of their subsequent champion. Indeed, in keeping with this spirit of ideological tolerance, I thus offer the following alphabetical list of the top nine Republicans who offer hope to liberals.
1. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
Naturally, Christie’s most famous bipartisan moment (or infamous, depending on your perspective) was his candid praising of Obama’s performance when Hurricane Sandy struck his state last autumn. That said, there is far more in his record that warrants respect from liberals. When confronted with Islamophobia during the controversy over the so-called Ground Zero mosque or his decision to appoint a Muslim to the New Jersey Supreme Court, Christie employed his characteristic bluntness in denouncing such bigoted attitudes as “crap.” He has similarly bucked the hard right in his insistence that Republicans recognize the reality of global warming (although some liberals worried that he recanted when he referred to climate change talk as a “distraction,” he was referring to speculation that it had specifically caused Hurricane Sandy rather than the theory in general). Finally, he has long been a supporter of moderate policies on gun control and immigration reform, supporting expanded background checks and certain rifle bans for the former and a path to citizenship for the latter.
2. Senators Jeff Flake (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC), John McCain (AZ), & Marco Rubio (FL)
When the Senate voted 68-32 earlier this week on a sweeping immigration reform bill, much of the credit belonged to the four Republican members of the “Gang of Eight” who shephered the measure through byzantine parliamentary procedures and past staunch right-wing opposition. Much of this, of course, can be chalked up to political pragmatism, given how the growth of the Hispanic population seemingly necessitates a more pluralistic approach to Republican political brandmaking. That said, there are also many pundits who discount the importance of Hispanic voters to the GOP’s future as a national party, which makes the decision of Flake, Graham, McCain, and Rubio to alienate the conservative base somewhat riskier than it appears at first glance. More important, though, is the simple fact that the bill for which they incurred such major risks is one of the offers a realistic path to citizenship for the eleven million illegal immigrants residing in our country even while strengthening our border security, deftly achieving both conservative and progressive goals in a single stroke.
3. Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy & John Roberts
When Chief Justice John Roberts famously joined the Supreme Court’s liberal wing to create a 5-4 majority upholding Obamacare, he not only salvaged the president’s signature legislative effort, but saved the court from a reputation as a mere rubber stamp for the Republican agenda. Nor was this was the only occasion in which he did so, as Roberts also joined the liberal majority on issues ranging from a District Court’s right to overturn Proposition 8 (California’s referendum banning gay marriage) and Arizona’s controversial illegal immigration laws. In the last two cases, of course, Roberts was joined by Anthony Kennedy, who has also supported progressives on matters such as gay rights (writing the majority decisions in cases protecting the right of homosexuals to seek discrimination protection, banning anti-sodomy laws, and overturning the Defense of Marriage Act), and abortion rights (incurring conservative wrath by joining liberals in maintaining Roe v. Wade even as he later upset liberals by voting to uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act). While Roberts and Kennedy aren’t the only judges to occasionally “switch sides,” even on the aforementioned issues, they are most conspicuous in seeking to keep the “swing vote” tradition alive on our highest bench.
4. Senator Rand Paul (KY) & Congressman Ron Paul (TX)
As I mentioned in an earlier editorial, liberals and libertarians share a lot of common ground when it comes to their support for civil liberties against the encroachments of America’s growing security state. That is why so many on the left have rallied behind the Paul clan as they have decried the military-industrial complex, the PATRIOT Act, the Iraq War, and PRISM. What’s more, Ron and Rand Paul share a great deal with progressives on key domestic issues, such as supporting the right of states to liberalize their marijuana laws and recognizing the racism inherent in the federal drug war. Although father and son do differ on many issues, both men have risen to the forefront of the libertarian movement by championing many of the values shared by their leftist counterparts. In particular, both have consistently championed reducing the growth of the military and law enforcement establishments that are not only costing tax payers billions of dollars, but immersing us in morally compromising wars and imperiling freedoms such as those guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment or cherished in George Washington’s Farewell Address.
None of this is being written to argue that liberals shouldn’t disagree with positions taken by these politicians on other issues. Indeed, many of our criticisms of the modern right-wing — such as the obstructionism of congressional Republicans or the vilification of the left regularly practiced by libertarians and arch-conservatives — are more valid now than ever before. Even so, we must never forget that ideological pluralism is just as vital to liberalism as its other demographic counterparts. As Obama himself once said:
The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into red states and blue states; red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an “awesome God” in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.