Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I Want a Digital Rights Candidate

I'm starting on my wishlist for 2008, and here's what's at the top of my agenda: I want a digital rights candidate for president.

I'm sure this will raise the hackles of those who might -- quite reasonably -- put the environment or the social safety net or the war or human rights or civil liberties first, but I honestly think it might be the only winning strategy for taking the White House in a country in which the administration is threatening long-held Constitutional principles, and media monopolies have made so many incursions into the public sphere.

Digital rights issues have the potential to engage many independent voters and could even threaten the bastions of the right wing. Look at the position of the Christian Coalition on Net Neutrality to see why partisan politics could be seriously undermined.

Frankly, although I'm a card-carrying feminist, I've been disappointed with Hillary Clinton thus far. Her Checklist for Change doesn't address any of the fundamental political, economic, or civic issues of our information culture, and her recent positions on privacy and Net Neutrality strike me as too little too late. As I've said before, I was underwhelmed by her Media Safety Guide, which emphasizes ratings and filtering software rather than real family media literacy. And the Entertainment Ratings Safety Act, which she co-sponsored with Joe Lieberman, clearly earned him nowhere near enough political capital to fend off a challenger from his own party in the recent Connecticut primary.

At least, I'm glad that she's distanced herself from the National Institute for Media and the Family, whose work on the "adolescent brain" sounds more like nineteenth century racist sociobiology than a plausible explanation for teenage disaffection from the dominant culture. Her current ally, Common Sense Media, makes some gestures toward common sense by including reviews from kids themselves of digital media and acknowledging that commercialism can be as harmful as sex and violence.

I don't think that any of the 15 congressmen who voted against the anti-social networking Deleting Online Predators Act could win a race for the highest national office, although Dennis Kucinich has tried in the past.

On the face of it, I might pick Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, sponsor of the latest Network Neutrality bill, as a progressive who could win in the heartland. But his tendency to utter Dorganisms may doom his candidacy.

In any case, Democrats are really in trouble when the words of Sam Brownback sound more progressive than many of their policy statements. In fact, when I googled "digital rights Senate," the top results were all linked to Republican rhetoric.

And certainly nobody is talking about funding the large-scale digital library projects that will be critical for the future, particularly when most policymakers are tacitly handing this responsibility over to for-profit corporations like Google and Yahoo and Microsoft.

So who will it be? Can somebody tell me who to vote for?

In the mid-eighties one of my fellow Ivy League classmates told me that a little known governor from Arkansas would one day be Commander in Chief. (She knew this because she had interned with him, although apparently there was no funny stuff involved.) If I can't shape the outcome, I at least want to be able to have a degree of certainty about how future events will unfold, so I can seem particularly prescient, sort of like Michael Bérubé accurately predicting the outcome of the Superbowl based on the colors of the team jerseys.

And don't say someone like Jon Stewart will be the winner, because that's already coming out as a Hollywood film.

But, seriously folks, we should all be concerned by the fact that copyright law can be used to constrain certain forms of political speech, that common file-sharing and life hacking practices are being associated with terrorists and pedophiles, that these rhetorical monsters are being used to justify unheard-of forms of surveillance of the civilian population, that threats to Net Neutrality are undermining the democratic potential of the Internet, and that low-income users dependent on schools and libraries will have their content further filtered and the reach of their peer-to-peer networks even more constricted than more affluent Americans.

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Blogger mike said...

you could always look to thrid parties... unfortunately our elector system is heavily skewed towards two party system but I drought any of corporate parties are going to adopt a platform similar to the pirate party… maybe we should push harder on 3rd party politics maybe get the greens to adopt some of the pirate party platform points.
If the democrats go with a pro-anti-which-way-is-the-wind-blowing-war candidate (Hillary et al), perhaps there will be an opening for 3rd party political influence.

11:41 AM  

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