One of the more surprising developments in PIPA/SOPA politics has been the transition of Hollywood-backed legislation from a bipartisan issue with both Republican and Democratic proponents and opponents to a partisan issue. Democrats (particularly Senate Democrats) are increasingly identified as supporting the legislation and Hollywood while Republicans increasingly frame this as an exercise in big government and crony capitalism.
On the one hand, this seems remarkably unfair given that Democratic Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) was the first Senator to oppose PIPA and one of the chief architects of the bipartisan alliance of Senators and Representatives that kept PIPA/SOPA from advancing to the point of no return. It also ignores the role the Obama Administration played in legitimizing and galvanizing anti-PIPA/SOPA efforts (including the SOPAStrike web blackout) by strongly opposing PIPA/SOPA before the SOPAStrike, despite the naked threats of Hollywood moguls to punish the Obama campaign by cutting off any further contributions.
But too many Senate Democrats seem intent on handing Republicans a partisan victory. Whereas even Republican champions such as Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) have acknowledged “legitimate concerns” of opponents and have “shelved” SOPA so that it can be “scrapped” and a new approach developed, high profile Senate Democrats continue to insist that they will press on against what they regard as unwarranted opposition motivated either by financial interest, disinformation, or political opportunism. Indeed, PIPA author Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) used his opening floor speech yesterday to chastise Republicans for their opposition to PIPA and his hope that, now that Republicans are back in Washington and away from all those annoying constituents protesting PIPA, they will return to the True Path of Reason — which lies in fanatically embracing any legislation that gets the MPAA seal of approval.
Which brings us to the interesting question for the legislative season: will prominent Senate Democrats chose to make this the issue on which they will drive the Democratic Party generally off a cliff by continuing to try to “sell” PIPA/SOPA, thus embracing Republican charges of a “culture of corruption” and “crony capitalism?” Or will they finally come to their senses and publicly embrace those like Wyden who insist that measures directed against online infringement must not also threaten free speech and innovation?
First, watch this clip of the Republican Primary debate in South Carolina, where CNN’s John King asked about support for SOPA:
Let us note a few fascinating things about this clip. First, it is somewhat surprising that CNN/John King decided to raise the issue at all. The media blackout on this has been pretty intense from companies like Time Warner, which King acknowledged thinks “laws like this are just what we need.” It is also useful to note how King rather shamelessly (and with increasing desperation) shills for Time Warner in the guise of framing the question. “Tens of thousands of jobs at stake” Mr. King? Really? You want to actually substantiate that figure? Last anyone could actually prove, total provable loses to the Entertainment industry (as opposed to inflated studies with questionable methodologies) were approximately $460 million or .2% of total revenue for the year. For comparison purposes, retail shoplifting costs retailers $25 billion a year, but no one is proposing that malls be encouraged to conduct random strip searches as a “voluntary measure” to reduce shoplifting. But I digress . . .
Note that the audience actually boos when King first defends SOPA. This, of course, tells the candidates where to go. Still, how the candidates message and the fervor with which the audience received these answers is quite telling.
Newt Gingrich’s response — which is utterly and unequivocally anti-SOPA with no caveats whatsoever — is therefore unsurprisingly a home run with the crowd. After a joke at the expense of Hollywood that reemphasizes his conservative credentials, he gives a list of things wrong with the bill: how it is Hollywood v. “technologically advanced people,” how this will “mess up the Internet” and is “totally unacceptable.” Gingrich then points out that there are already laws that give rights holders plenty of tools to fight infringement and that Gingrich “Stands for freedom” and against SOPA. Finally, in keeping with his new image as a conservative populist, he sums up by saying “the idea that we have the government start preemptively start censoring the Internet and corporations’ economic interest is exactly the wrong thing to do.”
Romney, in traditional fashion, hedges a bit by noting that God knows he cherishes intellectual property, but still comes out the same way. In keeping with his image as “America’s future CEO,” he points out that SOPA would “have a depressing impact on one of the fastest growing industries in America.” Then goes on to waffle a bit more about wanting something “narrowly tailored” but ultimately coming down against SOPA and repeating “I’m for Freedom.”
But the biggest shocker is Ron Paul and the audience reaction. Paul points out that he was actually ahead of the Republican curve and that at first there were more Democrats than Republicans opposed to SOPA. In keeping with his image as the defender of the True-And-Limited Constitution, he notes that “freedom and the Constitution bring factions together.” This gets HUGE applause — which is why it is so shocking. The Republican base, which considers it a capital offense to sit next to Nancy Pelosi unless you put a booger in her hair, now hates SOPA so much it is even kosher to be bipartisan and work with Democrats to kill it.
Santorum, in keeping with his image as the conservative, violently objects to the Internet being a “rule free zone.” But even with his rather personal grudge against Google, he still comes out strong against SOPA.
Unless we stipulate that Google has bribed the entire Republican base, it is pretty obvious that real people — at least on the right — have become very, very, VERY anti-PIPA/SOPA. That alone would not necessarily persuade Democrats to abandon their position (although Lord knows it was enough to make them abandon the Public Option, and it always seems enough for Ben Nelson). But we have seen the same very, very VERY anti-PIPA/SOPA sentiments on the left, as well as from several million people who were not particularly politically engaged and who would rather not need to waste their time on this nonsense. To get this many millions of people this angry this quickly — without the benefit of a major news network push — should be an indicator that maybe, just maybe, you proposed bill has some serious problems that are pissing a LOT of people off.
Oddly, however, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) understands this perfectly, the Senate Democratic leadership is having big problems with the concept that a LOT of people are very upset about their most perfect-wonderful-PIPA. Frankly, I have seen Jewish grandmothers react with less defensive hostility to the suggestion that their grandchildren are not actually that adorable than Pat Leahy in the last few days.
From Internet Heroes To Tools of Hollywood
Increasingly, the mainstream media story-line on this is changing from “Hollywood v. Silicon Valley” to “Democrats as servants of Hollywood v. Republicans who hate big government.” Even Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who did her darndest to sell SOPA to the Tea Party on behalf of her Nashville donors, has now officially thrown in the towel and stated that the House must ‘scrap’ — not ‘fix!’– SOPA and start all over again. By contrast, the continued insistence of Harry Reid, Pat Leahy, and numerous other Democrats to not only defend PIPA, but to insist that they will “fix” it and bring it to the floor sometime soon is effectively drowning out the Democrats like Wyden, Senator Mariah Cantwell (D-WA), Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Mike Doyle (D-PA) who have come out unequivocally, to borrow Newt Gingrich’s phrase, “on the side of freedom.”
It does not help that MPAA head and former Senator Chris Dodd continues — without irony — to play the part of corrupt political insider/special interest lobbyist. Dodd has now openly declared on Fox News that Democrats must continue to hold the line and support PIPA/SOPA or Hollywood will no longer be their Sugar Daddy.
How do those Senate Democrats who remain loudly unwilling to concede the least flaw in PIPA/SOPA imagine this looks to the rest of the country? Hint, it took less than 3 days to break 25K signatures on the Petition to investigate Chris “Tex Richman” Dodd for bribery. People cannot be more disgusted with this conduct, and by extension anyone who keeps pushing PIPA as God’s gift most perfect legislation unfairly maligned by those who love piracy.
To use a Hollywood analogy, Chris Dodd is now the slimy boyfriend villain in some bad after school special who gets his teen-age girlfriend, the generic Democrat (played by Harry Reid) addicted to heroin and then forces her into a life as a suburban call girl. A tearful generic Democrat trembling before his Hollywood paymaster, tragically sobbing “please, please don’t make me keep going . . . [sob] . . . I’ll do anything else . . . but please, can’t I keep one shred of dignity . . . [sob].” Dodd slaps him across the face, knocking him to the ground, and laughs. Dodd then holds up a check for a gajillion dollars and says: “Dignity? You sold out your dignity while I was still a Senator!” [waves check] “You still want this? You still want that campaign sugar? Then you’ll keep pushing PIPA no matter how badly you tank in the polls!” Then Dodd drops the check on the floor and storms out while a still pathetically sobbing Generic Democrat, face filled with a combination of desperation and self-loathing, picks up the check and kisses it before collapsing on the floor in a miserable pile of pathetic wretchedness.
As long as enough Senate Democrats insist on publicly pushing PIPA, refusing to acknowledge that lots of real people with no connection to Google or Pirate Bay HATE PIPA for real reasons, they will give the Republicans what they have been looking for but have so far been unable to find: a way to peg Democrats as the party of corruption and crony capitalism who use Big Government to serve their Big Donors at the public’s expense. Despite the best efforts of Republicans to beat the drum on Solyndra and Lightsquared, nothing has managed to transfer the title of “Party of Corruption” from Republicans to Democrats since the Abramoff scandal. So why are so many Senate Democrats so determined to make this happen for Republicans?
It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way
Fortunately, there is still time for Senate Democrats to avert their imitation of the good ship Costa Concordia with Harry Reid playing the part of Captain Francesco Schettino. After all, until the SOPAStrike, Democrats — and the Obama Administration in particular — had a good story on this. The still do, but it is being drowned out by those still trying to peddle PIPA and the window for saving this is closing very fast.
First Harry Reid and the remaining PIPA-peeps need to take a lesson from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on how to back away from this graciously, whether they mean it or not. You can find her Facebook statement here. See all the “likes.” See how graciously she acknowledges the real concerns of actually people, i.e., her constituents. (This stands in marked contrast with her NY colleague Chuck Schumer, whose staff were reportedly so rude to constituents on the phone that one practically expected to see them urinating out the window on the crowd of protesters last Wednesday.)
Next Harry Reid and the Dems need to make it very clear that the MPAA does not drive the legislative agenda and that the current version of PIPA will be scrapped. Not “fixed;” Republicans have now set the bar way too high. If Marsha Blackburn and Lamar Smith can say they they will “scrap” SOPA and look for a new approach, then people will expect the same from Democrats — particularly after remaining so tone deaf for so long. Anything less than “scrapped” will look like more waffling in service of your Hollywood masters. Then you need to eat some crow. You need to acknowledge legitimate concerns of human rights orgs like Reporters Without Borders, cybersecurity experts, Entrepreneurs like Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian, and back away from the defensive crap that this is all manufactured by the mendacious copyright pirate Google (who, outside of DC, still has extremely high favorability ratings — why DC politicians think Google bashing is a winning strategy is another of life’s mysteries).
Most important, you need to promise that the process for any new bill to replace PIPA will be both lengthy and transparent to assure that Congress comes up with a bill that is the right approach to the problem of foreign rogue websites. For the love of Heaven, you need to avoid echoing
Tex Richman’s Chris Dodd’s call for more back room dealmaking. The suggestion that you can negotiate this with Google and a handful of tech companies will not only demonstrate your absolute cluelessness about how this works, it will confirm for everyone that you are still not getting it on the absolute screaming hatred by everyone in America outside of DC against “business as usual special interest politics.” If you can’t really understand in your heart of hearts that real people might give a crap about this for their own reasons, then at least try to pretend.
Then you need to absolutely shut up and bring on Ron Wyden and Mariah Cantwell, the Democratic Senate heroes of the hour. You might also include Ben Cardin, who (I believe) was the only Senate D who switched from supporting PIPA to opposing it before the SOPAStrike. These three need to follow Ron Paul’s line about how concern for freedom brings factions together and how Wyden and Cantwell worked with their colleagues across the aisle to tirelessly educate their own party and their own leadership and this is a great day for Democracy and Freedom and exactly how the system should work when we listen to the people not special interests blah blah etc. Then Cardin can talk about how he initially didn’t get it, but as soon as he heard from his constituents he realized this was the wrong approach blah blah represent you not special interests blah blah Obama leadership the Internet is our future God Bless America and democracy.
Then quietly tell MPAA that this will not move this year, don’t even try. PIPA is so toxic that the Senate probably will not move any legislation beginning with the letter “P,” just in case people might get confused. More public threats and blathering will only make matters worse, because it will just confirm for the public that Hollywood are clueless bullies who think they own any politician to whom they give money. And in any event, even Senate Democrats were idiotic enough to try to push something through on the grounds that they “addressed the legitimate concerns,” and even if Hollywood could buy enough Republicans to get the 60 votes needed for cloture, John Boehner and Eric Cantor will simply pronounce this job-killing-big-government-special-interest-corrupt-crony-capitalism legislation dead on arrival, because Republicans love freedom.
Assuming the White House doesn’t do something stupid, like have Joe Biden convene a closed-door “summit” to broker a deal, Democrats will be able to back off with minimal damage. If Obama is challenged on the campaign trail, he can boast that when Hollywood came demanding he support SOPA, he didn’t Wikipedia to tell him to support Internet freedom instead. What better proof that Obama himself is clean on this than the angry tweets of Rupert Murdoch and the naked threats to campaign staff — all spurned with a cool eye and the casual statement: “This Administration is not for sale.”
So we will need to see what happens. The ball is clearly in the court of Harry Reid, Pat Leahy, and the other Senate Democrats who keep undercutting Ron Wyden and Obama. The longer Senate Dem leadership keeps reminding the public that PIPA exists, let alone continue trying to sell it, the more they will reenforce the idea that PIPA is a partisan favor by Democrats to Hollywood. However, if Reid is that eager to change his title to “Minority leader” and Leahy to change his to “Ranking Member,” I’m sure the Republicans will be happy to oblige.
Stay tuned . . . .