Doc saysâ€¦ â€œFor example, I’m concerned right now that Net Neutrality, a complex issue (which I think has to do with a definition of the Internet) is turning into a left vs. right issue (left for, right against). Most voters are neither all-right nor all-left. Most issues aren’t, either. But it seems that most people who care about politics are on a side.â€ (Thanks to Leslie for the link).
I care deeply that this left-right polarization not occur, and right now I donâ€™t think that it will. People on the right and on the left are standing up for net neutrality. In Madison, Jesse Russell and Steven Stehling started a group blog that pulls right, left, and center together around the issue. Take a look at Mr. Stehlingâ€™s blog roll if you have any doubt about his philosophy. Jesse is a journalist (unbiased, they say) with a Jones for music sharing. Iâ€™m just an aging lefty. A few days ago I posted there the following: â€œWe need free access with no monopoly manipulation that segregates the little guys from big media and gives big media a priority within the networkâ€¦. This post is not to lay out any of the complexities of the issues before us, there is plenty of time and space for that, but rather to create a clear distinction of “us” and “them.” WE support net neutrality. THEY support a tiered structure that permits the stewards of the Internet public trust to manipulate the market to their own ends. WE support the four Internet Freedoms laid out by FCC Chairman Michael Powell. THEY support their own freedom to dominate markets, control content, and maximize corporate profits by dictating what they feel is appropriate use of the Internet.â€
This is a polarizing issue, and Docâ€™s concern that it could turn into a right versus left struggle is well founded because not only are the corporate interests opposing net neutrality are very good at framing issues that way, but also the left is easily baited when they do that. Doc says,
Advocating and saving the Net is not a partisan issue. Lawmakers and regulators aren’t screwing up the Net because they’re “Friends of Bush” or “Friends of Hollywood” or liberals or conservatives. They’re doing it because one way of framing the Net–as a transport system for content–is winning over another way of framing the Net–as a place where markets and business and culture and governance can all thrive. Otherwise helpful documents, including Ernest Partridge’s “After the Internet” fail because they blame “Bush-friendly conservative corporations” and appeal only to one political constituency, in this case, progressives. Freedom, independence, the sovereignty of the individual, private rights and open frontiers are a few among many values shared by progressives and conservatives. All are better supported, in obvious ways, by the Net as a place rather than as a transport system.
Itâ€™s up to us, the people who are concerned with maintaining our freedom to connect, to gather in this â€œplace,â€ to be sure that this does not happen. Right now there are some very powerful and clear voices from the right speaking up for network neutrality. Glenn Reynolds is among the most visible. Let those of us on the left be measured in our criticisms and cautious in the way we frame solutions. This is a rare opportunity for us to work with people of good will across the entire political spectrum.
They say politics makes strange bedfellows, but I think that issues like this are fundamental to democracy. For me, this is an opportunity to chip away the armor of my own frame of reference in order to work together for a common good. The polarization of politics erodes our institutions and our sense of community. Organizing around an issue that crosses the barriers weâ€™ve built between liberal and conservative, left and right, may be just what we all need to remind ourselves what democracy is about.