The faux populist group Americans For Prosperity has been running ads against network neutrality in Mike Doyle‘s (D-PA) district in Pittsburgh. Doyle’s response? A letter to FCC Chairman Genachowski telling him to ignore faux populist FUD from AFP, hold firm, and move full speed ahead to protect consumers while Congress takes up the work of updating the Communications Act for a more comprehensive approach.
Rep. Doyle’s Democratic colleagues should learn from Doyle’s example — on this issue and other issues such as Wall St. reform — where a corporations seek to dress up their agendas in populist clothing combined with some decorative cover from Tea Party protesters.
Let me start by quoting at length from Rep. Doyle’s letter:
As you may know, television broadcasters in my district are airing advertisements from a group called “Americans for Prosperity” suggesting that you are about to take over the Internet. As you definitely know, those allegations are untrue. Setting those ads’ fear, uncertainty and doubt aside, I have heard from many constituents and small businesses in my district that are worried of having new and innovative business ideas restricted by a prospective customer’s broadband provider. And at the Federal Communications Commission’s field hearing on July 21, 2008 at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, several witnesses agreed that the Internet – and other communications networks – were only useful if people had access to them and used them. As the Commission’s National Broadband Plan makes clear, more needs to be done to spur the deployment and promote the accessibility of open broadband networks for all consumers, including rural, low-income, and disabled Americans.
I have heard from stakeholders and constituents, from people on all sides of this debate. I have reviewed the Commission’s recent National Broadband Plan, the relevant statutes, the DC Circuit’s recent decision in Comcast v. FCC and your statements about the decision’s fallout. And I have come to the conclusion that if the Federal Communications Commission is to enact those goals, then we are left with only two options that I believe must happen concurrently.
First, the FCC must reclassify residential broadband services as Title II – Telecommunications Services. Instead of taking us back to 1996-era regulations, you proposed that the FCC forbear from enforcing certain requirements under that law, including wholesaling requirements and price cap regulations. I am sure that you did not come to this decision lightly, and I hope that as the Commission decides which regulations to forbear and which to enforce, that you keep consumers in the front of your mind.
I want to draw attention to what makes this letter so good. In a few sentences, Doyle calls out AFP’s claims for what they are without wasting time or spewing vitriol. He then clearly recounts his personal experience with his constituents. While these inform his decision, Doyle does not claim that “the people” want a particular action. Rather, as the person elected to represent them, he understands his job is to listen to their needs and concerns and figure out the best policy to meet those needs.
Having done that, Doyle leads, not follows. He says ‘this is what my constituents tell me they need, so we’re going to deliver.’ He is here to solve problems, not be liked, and that’s what he wants Genachowski to do.
Other Dems need to learn this lesson. Not just for my own little neck of the woods, but for the entire agenda on which Democrats campaigned in 2008. They need to learn the lesson Obama learned the hard way in the health insurance reform fight — that if you spend your time listening to a handful of angry protesters who see any effort to protect consumers and enforce accountability as “socialism,” if you worry about every op ed written by industry-funded mouthpieces and weekly variations in approval numbers you will get nothing done. Instead, as Doyle does here and as Obama and the Democratic leadership finally did to get insurance reform and student loan reform done, you need to decide on what’s right and fight to make it happen.
Business front groups like Americans for Prosperity will wail, whine and shriek about how any effort to protect consumers is socialism in disguise. As Paul Krugman explained in this op ed Democrats need to recognize these fake populists for what they are, go back to their FDR roots, and welcome their hatred. Because, as even generally pro-business Washpo columnist Steven Pearlstien recently wrote, the common thread in recent disasters from the financial meltdown to the BP oil platform was the utter failure of federal regulators to their jobs. That came from accepting industry assurances that nothing could possibly go wrong and swallowing malarkey that even a hint of regulation would deter investment, stifle innovation, and kill jobs. For Democrats to lead, they need to stop listening to this never ending chorus from the same choir and get things done.
Which brings me to this morning’s musar (sermon) for Democrats. In this midyear election, the same forces that have opposed any effort to set reasonable rules of the road to ensure a healthy economy and protect consumers — whether in broadband policy or elsewhere — are once again shouting with all their might that any effort to hold industry accountable or change the status quo will kill jobs, deter investment, and stifle innovation. These “old enemies” as Roosevelt called them have their noise machines turned up full blast. They even have the same Red Scare tactics they used in Roosevelt’s time, using the new electronic media to turn whip up angry mobs afraid about ‘foreigners’ coming to ruin our way of life, and screaming that liberal urban elites want to enslave ‘real Americans’ in a Socialist State.
In response, let us read from Samuel I Chapter 15. God commands King Saul to go and destroy the Amalekites; God explicitly tells Saul not to take plunder, as War for God is not War for Profit. But Saul allows the people to plunder the best sheep and cattle. God sends the prophet Samuel to rebuke Saul. “Though you be little in your own sight, has not God made you king of Israel?” Samuel asks.
At first Saul protests that he has, indeed done what God wanted. Better even. He claims the people took the best plunder “to sacrifice unto the Lord your God.” So, Saul implies, if you really wanted what was best for God, you would agree with me.
To this Samuel answers “to obey is better than sacrifice, to listen is better than the fat of rams.”
Confronted, Saul at last admits the truth: “I have sinned, because I feared the people and hearkened to their voice.” Samuel turns from Saul. Saul reaches out to catch Samuel by the sleeve, but the sleeve tears. Samuel then pronounces: “So too has God torn the kingdom from you, and given it to another, better than you.”
Democrats who “fear the voice of the people” — whether it is the angry mobs of the Tea Party protesters or the faux populism of corporate front groups — risk getting their sleeves torn this November. A majority in their districts sent them to Washington to fix a host of problems. They are not sent here to count the number of op eds or angry phone calls or to track daily opinion polls. Democrats, do not think of yourselves as “little in your own sight.” Stand tall, like Rep. Mike Doyle. If you follow his example, you will find the same people who sent you to Washington to change business as usual and get things done will reward you with another term to continue doing the work of repairing the damage that 8 years of idolatry to the Gods of the Marketplace have wrought. But if you allow the noise machine of the Old Enemies to put fear in your hearts, you risk seeing your true supporters turn from you as Samuel turned from Saul.
Stay tuned . . . .