The big media question after the mid-term shellacking wasn’t so much whether President Obama would move to the middle, but how far to the middle he would move (for the record, I never thought he would moderate at all and still don’t). The answer is now becoming clear. On high profile issues where the people’s representatives actually get a vote and the press spills lots of pixels, he’ll move as far to the middle as he must to maintain a veneer of bipartisanship and reasonable compromise. But on lower profile issues where the people’s representatives don’t get a direct vote, he will stay over on the hard left and dare anyone to challenge him. If his actions survive a Congress or two, they’ll live on long after his presidency ends.
That is precisely what the president has done on two fronts this week. In the first, his appointees to the Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines to insert itself as a regulator of the Internet. The rules they adopted were only delivered to commissioners late the night before the vote, which also seems to be a strategy that the Democrats under Obama have mastered: Delay disclosure so that hardly anyone knows what they’re actually voting on. They did this with ObamaCare, they did it with omnipork, they did it with the DREAM Act, and they did it with the net neutrality rules. So much for transparency.
As John Fund notes, there has been no public outcry to get the government involved in Internet regulation, but various voices on the left have been pushing for “net neutrality” for years, and now they have nearly all that they wanted. Net neutrality’s roots are anything but neutral.
The net neutrality vision for government regulation of the Internet began with the work of Robert McChesney, a University of Illinois communications professor who founded the liberal lobby Free Press in 2002. Mr. McChesney’s agenda? “At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies,” he told the website SocialistProject in 2009. “But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”
A year earlier, Mr. McChesney wrote in the Marxist journal Monthly Review that “any serious effort to reform the media system would have to necessarily be part of a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist system itself.” Mr. McChesney told me in an interview that some of his comments have been “taken out of context.” He acknowledged that he is a socialist and said he was “hesitant to say I’m not a Marxist.”
So Obama’s FCC has taken action that began with agitation from the far, far left, and over the objections of both the courts and a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, 300 of whom have gone on the record against net neutrality. The most likely impacts of net neutrality include chilling of innovation and empowering of centralized government bureaucratic authority, and rising costs due to compliance with whatever the FCC ends up dictating to ISPs. Regulatory regimes tend to grow, and hardly ever shrink, over time, so now that the FCC has inserted itself on the net, expect its tentacles to slither about and keep growing and growing and growing. Unless either the Republican House or the courts put a stop to it, anyway.