01/08/2007 01:49 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Weird Coalitions - Or, How to Make Bipartisanship Work for Us

Successful movements - as opposed to Partisan Wars - pull their traditional opponents into coalitions on specific issues, rather than selling out their principles in the name of the faux "bipartisanship" that Washington pundits seem to think is the ultimate goal of politics. And clearly there are many new opportunities for the progressive movement to build non-traditional coalitions.

Take, for instance, the fight to increase fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. This is usually seen as a purely Democratic issue, but here"s the Wall Street Journal today:

"Alaska's Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican known for aggressively advocating more oil drilling, is pushing a greener proposal: higher mileage standards for passenger cars. Stevens introduced legislation today that would require cars to get an average of 40 miles per gallon by 2017...Stevens tied his support for better fuel economy to the reduction of greenhouse gases."

Stevens' proposal ain't perfect, especially his long timeline. But it's a start - and an opportunity. So is this story from the Washington Post, which details what I call the New Conservation Coalition between outdoorsmen and environmentalists that we pioneered out here on Brian Schweitzer's 2004 campaign:

"After years of close association with the Republican Party and hard-nosed opposition to federal land-use regulation, the National Rifle Association is being pressured by its membership to distance itself from President Bush's energy policies that have opened more public land for oil and gas drilling and limited access to hunters and anglers. The new emphasis on the issue of access to public lands, which Schmeits said is at the "discussion" level among the NRA's directors, would represent a strategic shift for the NRA...During the past six years, an increasing number of the country's 46 million hunters and anglers, including Republican-leaning shooting organizations such as the Boone and Crockett Club, have been grumbling about the Bush's administration fast-tracking of oil and gas drilling leases on public lands."

Similarly, take the fight for public financing of elections. In the typical trick of using defeatism to justify inertia, the Washington Monthly reports that an unnamed Senate "aide" says: "Right now, there aren't 25 votes [in the Senate] for a full public-financing system." But how does anyone know this if there hasn't been a pressure campaign to try to pass such a proposal? Last I checked, the Democratic Leadership Council - which regularly supports those other 25 or so Democrats who often undermine the party - has long pushed for public financing. Additionally, there is some very real opportunity to peel off Republicans. Here's the Hill Newspaper from less than a year ago:

"Sen. George Voinovich, Ethics Committee chairman and a sometime gadfly to Republican leadership, is warming to Democratic-backed proposals for public financing of federal elections. Voinovich (R-Ohio) told The Hill that he has met with Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) to discuss collaboration on the public-financing pitch Durbin is crafting with Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.), the Rules Committee's ranking Democrat...Voinovich [has] enthusiasm for a public financing system, versions of which have been instituted at state and local levels in seven states."

The story goes on to quote corporate lobbyists attacking the idea, but - encouragingly - also Dodd's staffer saying the Connecticut senator "has discussed the issue with various senators and believes bipartisan support for such an effort is essential to its enactment."

The same thing can be said for an issue like trade. Opposition to Friedman-esque World-Is-Flat nonsense has been building in both political parties across many different regions of the country. Groups like the U.S. Business and Industry Council are joining with progressive organizations like the AFL-CIO and agriculture groups to forge a powerful coalition that cannot be pigeon-holed in right-left stereotypes. The same thing can be said of the coalition fighting for Net Neutrality.

Of course, this kind of coalition building on individual issues isn't limited to Congress. Check out how Wal-Mart has been pressured into embracing more environmentally sound practices by the coalition of groups trying to make the corporate giant behave more responsibly. Just recently, Wal-Mart announced its support for more energy-efficient light bulbs as a way to save costs. This doesn't mean Wal-Mart is suddenly an environmental saint - but it does show the benefits of working with a powerful force like the world's largest corporation on individual issues.

The media and political elites in Washington would have us believe we live in a purely Red and Blue world. But that storyline is both an excuse for lazy reporting and a subtle rationale for a stalemate that perpetuates the status quo. If the progressive movement is smart, nimble and serious about being a movement and not just an extension of a political party, we will seize these opportunities. For our efforts, we will be rewarded with something much longer lasting than one fleeting election victory - we will be rewarded with actual, real-world change.