The unexpected derailing—if not total defeat—of the Senate’s horrendous anti-piracy bill and its counterpart in the House is a genuinely encouraging moment, made possible only by a tremendous public outcry against the bill of the sort we have not seen in years. Rarely is the citizenry so united on a single issue, and rarely is the gulf between the interests of the majority of citizens and the interests of the party oligarchs made so brilliantly clear.
That gulf was clearest in the appallingly empty attempts by Chris Dodd, a high-minded former Senator turned enthusiastic lobbyist for the motion-picture cartel, to justify the bills. Dodd complained that the many, many companies that boldly, unapologetically stood up against the legislation—which included Wikipedia and Google—were guilty of “an abuse of power” and of “[skewing] the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.”
Dodd, of course, knows that to an audience of liberals and left-wingers, there is no more dreadful accusation than charging someone with furthering their “corporate interests.” But what substance stands behind such an accusation? Can Wikipedia and Google really be charged with any personal “corporate interest” that is not vastly overwhelmed by their contributions to the public good? Did Wikipedia, in particular, stand to gain anything by blacking out its entire website for an entire day? Were the millions of ordinary Americans who opposed the bill mere dupes of these companies?
Suppose we regarded this accusation as an empty one. Why, then, was it made? The answer is not hard to find. As Glenn Greenwald noted, in 2007 Dodd posed as a high-minded man of principle who scorned the type of unprincipled, money-grubbing politician “who wants to be president of a trade association.” Today, Dodd is Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, a trade association (i.e., cartel) that is lobbying for the effective censoring of the Internet in order to further its corporate interests.
But the outcry could not be ignored, and Harry Reid shut the bill down. Dodd’s pathetic and mewling response was to threaten that “the industry” (he means the motion-picture cartel, whose supposed “power” is entirely a favor granted by the party bosses) would not support President Obama in next year’s presidential election. Clearly a man who puts principle ahead of party, if resenting the freedom of the Internet can be counted as a “principle.”
Of course a man fronting for a group that exists in order to promote monopoly would find nothing offensive about a bill that seeks to crack down on the unfettered freedom of the Internet, the freest public space—and the most immune to monopoly—ever created. Of course such a man would regard “the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace”—as Dodd put it—as a privilege, rather than a right. The only question is how such a man enjoyed wide popular support for so long.
Only in a completely corrupted Washington could a man like Dodd camouflage himself as a man who cared only about the Constitution. Only in a pathetically narrowed and compromised political world could such a man win automatic support from Democratic voters for the great moral triumph of being a Democrat. In such a world, campaigning as a “liberal” means nothing—less than nothing. A “liberal” politician put up for office and supported by the most corrupt political forces in this country is no more a “liberal” than the most shameless boodler from Tammany Hall. One of the Senate bill’s leading sponsors, after all, was Senator Patrick Leahy, a liberal Democrat from the liberal state of Vermont, and Senate Democrats are sticking fast to the bill in the teeth of intense opposition from their so-called “base.” Of the 19 Senators who have switched their positions and now oppose the SOPA bill, 17 are Republicans.
Imagine a country in which party leaders were genuinely cowed by such a public outburst whenever any matter of great consequence was placed before Congress. Imagine a country in which the citizens, under no external compulsion, freely assembled to express their opposition to any such attack on their liberty. We have just allowed a reckless, oligarchic Congress to pass one of the most dangerous bills in our history. Imagine a country in which we recognized that such deeds happen at our discretion, and that we can stop them. A far-fetched hope, even a slightly foolish one. But our leaders live in dread of it coming to pass. Of that there is no greater proof than the far-fetched and foolish words I have quoted above, that the free assembly of the citizens is an “abuse of power.”