What do you hate more: The cable and phone companies that you deal with up close and personal – or “big government” in the abstract?
I suspect that most of you would cite the companies – the “service providers” who give you the Internet, but who fail to show up at your house when they’re supposed to. Indeed, these companies are widely loathed, as evidenced by their nadir ratings in the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index. Heck, even conservatives who hate “big government” really hate it when their Internet is down and the service guy is AWOL.
Yet these are the companies that Republicans have aligned themselves with. A bad political move.
This is my way of broaching the topic of net neutrality. As issues go, it might seem like a snore, but what happened last Thursday was historic. The Federal Communications Commission voted for net neutrality, for an open Internet. It will treat the Internet as a public good, writing rules to ensure that the media giants (Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Verizon) allow all web traffic to flow equally. The giants will be barred from creating faster broadband lanes for content providers that are willing to pay more; the giants will be barred from shunting recalcitrant content providers into slower lanes.
In short, the FCC wants to ensure that the media giants’ actions are “just and reasonable.” That’s the gist of net neutrality – the enforcement of an equal playing field. I won’t stray into the policy weeds, because what interests me most is the political dimension.
A few months ago, when the FCC chairman first signaled his support for net neutrality, the usual conservative Republicans jerked their knees. People like Ted Cruz started fuming about “government overreach,” and warned that net neutrality was “Obamacare for the Internet.” They were joined by the media giants, who hired a phalanx of top-priced K Street lobbyists to pressure the FCC to stand down.
Ask yourself whether the Republicans look good here, forging an alliance with the corporate lobbyists and the media giants that most people hate.
Here’s a great barometer of the public mood: When Ted Cruz went on Facebook and called net neutrality “the biggest regulatory threat to the Internet,” even his own fans disputed him. Such as: “I support Sen. Cruz and I’m a big admirer, but on this he’s very, very wrong.” And “I’m a Ted Cruz fan, but as a small website owner, it seems to be net neutrality is a good thing.” And “Senator Cruz, you are risking alienating a huge part of your base by such a pro-monopoly stance.”
See the problem for the GOP? Even its own base hates the media behemoths more than it hates “big government.” At least on this issue, even the GOP base views corporate monopolies as a threat to Freedom. The hustling Internet entrepreneurs – like Netflix, Tumblr, Etsy, Reddit, and thousands more – feel the same way. The four million grassroots folks who recently flooded the FCC with comments feel the same way. So, at least on this issue, the feds are on solid political footing: using government to ensure that private enterprise thrives unfettered.
Chip Pickering, an ex-GOP congressman who’s lobbying for small Internet entrepreneurs, has perfectly described his former colleagues’ knee-jerk ‘tude. Last month he said: “Republicans lumped net neutrality in with the carbon tax and Obamacare – ‘He’s taking over everything and now he wants to take over the Internet.’ But it was a reactive, visceral response without a real understanding.”
A visceral response without a real understanding…Nothing new there. That’s how the congressional Republicans roll. And after the FCC ruled last Thursday, they naturally stayed in character.
John Boehner called net neutrality “a secret plan to put the federal government in charge of the Internet,” some Texan did the rhetorical riff about “government overreach,” others want a symbolic resolution condemning the FCC (which President Obama would veto anyway), still others want legislation that would soften the FCC rules (a strategy that conservatives dismiss as wimpy), and still others want to investigate whether Obama pressured the FCC to rule as it did (a new Benghazi!). All told, congresswoman Marsha Blackburn vowed, “We’ll use every option that we have to push back.”
Surrender, losers. By joining forces with the corporate powers, you’re on the wrong side of Freedom.
Speaking of losers, let’s see how the congressional Republicans are faring in their quest to shut down the Department of Homeland Security. Remember, their strategy was to fund the keep-us-safe department – but only if Congress agreed to gut Obama’s pro-immigration orders.
Well. That strategy was a loser. So last Friday, with the shutdown clock ticking toward midnight, Boehner tried to surrender – by floating a Band-Aid bill to keep the DHS lights on for another three weeks. He couldn’t even get that passed; 52 Republicans refused to support him. Then, with two hours left on the Friday clock, he floated a bill to keep the lights on for one more week. That one passed, and Obama signed it. Which means we’ll potentially get the same shutdown farce this Friday.
But for the best take on the gang that can’t govern, I yield the floor to conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer, opining on Fox News: “The Republicans lost on this….If you can’t execute a surrender when you control both houses, you ought to think of a different line of work.”