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Free Press: How (Not) to Win Friends and Influence People

09/29/2010 05:48 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

By Rick Carnes

As a longtime Democrat, it concerns me greatly when our side of the aisle starts

sounding just like the Tea Party. Democrats are supposed to be the party of jobs.

On technology issues, we're supposed to be working constructively with labor, with

the creative classes (artists, musicians, songwriters, film makers) to build a digital economy

that creates jobs and economic well-being. But, just like the Tea Party, we're in

danger of being hijacked by an angry and vocal minority so convinced of the absolute

piety of their niche cause that they'll demonize anyone (including fellow Democrats)

who get in their way.

Against a backdrop of anemic U.S. economic growth and continued high unemployment,

the net neutrality one-notes at Free Press have hijacked what should be our broader

economic agenda. They continue to suck up all of the oxygen inside the beltway over

an issue that very few Americans care about or have ever paid any attention to.

But don't take my word for it... A Pew Internet report out on Monday shows that only a

tiny fraction (2%) of tech coverage last year was devoted to net neutrality. A

recent poll by Broadband for America showed that 63% of respondents believe the best

way to ensure a robust Internet is with the current approach rather than

heavy-handed FCC regulation. And Free Press' own net neutrality survey from 2009

showed that 80% of the public had never heard of net neutrality.

So what's going on here? The answer is that Free Press is out of touch with the

overwhelming concerns of voters - jobs and economic growth. Now more than at any

time during the past several years, the American people need to hear a positive,

unified economic message. They need to hear how government can foster an

environment that puts Americans back to work. This especially resonates among

singers, songwriters and others who make their living in the entertainment industry.

(We've got more song writers in Nashville delivering pizzas these days than writing songs)

So how is Free Press contributing to that discussion? By repeatedly targeting their

own allies in a vicious and personal campaign to tarnish anyone who strays from

their net neutrality orthodoxy.

They've attacked the President:

"Watching the Obama administration is like watching crash test dummies repeatedly

careen into the same wall as they side with industry - and against the public

interest - on nearly every issue."

They've attacked Democrats:

"[D]ozens of Democrats [are] willing to sell out their president, their

constituents, and millions of [Americans] to do the bidding of special interests.

They've attacked the FCC Chairman:

"Chairman Genachowski is now squarely in the crosshairs of the netroots community.

Should he cave to corporate special interest and sell out Net Neutrality, it will

become the signature action of a failed Obama appointee."

They've attacked labor:

"CWA is relying on their corporate masters rather than its natural allies..."

They've even rhetorically machine-gunned some of the most ardent net neutrality

supporters as "self-righteous, can't-we-just-all-get-along zealots of moderation"

that "are more dangerous to the prospects of net neutrality than... even Glenn Beck."

Wow!

So what have they gotten for all of their histrionics? The thoughtful technologist

and staunch pro-net neutrality blogger Lauren Weinstein probably summed it up best

this month:

"[Free Press'] 'no compromise -- take no prisoners -- scream and yell and berate'

approach to these issues may perhaps be useful from a fund-raising standpoint, but

is wholly antithetical to actually moving forward constructively on these critical

topics....

"In today's toxic political environment, where Big Lies and backstabbing have

seemingly become the orders of the day, it is perhaps unsurprising that some

pro-neutrality stakeholders have chosen to apparently embrace the mind-set,

methodologies, and rhetoric more commonly associated with the dark side of

politics... But riding as they are with some of the ghostly sensibilities of Senator

Joe McCarthy and the specter of McCarthyism, they should certainly be very much

ashamed of themselves."

Free Press' tactics aren't helpful. As a Democrat, I truly believe that Free Press

could be an important progressive voice at the table on how technology can

contribute to putting Americans back to work. They should be working constructively

with labor and creators on how entertainment, music, television, books, and movies

can contribute to the growth of the digital economy. But they've so marginalized

themselves in this debate with such extreme, uncompromising, and angry rhetoric that

they're now no longer even invited to the table. (That'll show 'em!)

It's time to get this over with. The nation desperately needs policymakers to focus

on technology policies that put America back to work, create jobs and grow the

economy. We should be concerned that our party seems to be abandoning its

traditional support for the working and creative classes and instead has been

captured by groups whose niche interests bear little relation to the traditional

interests that made our party such a strong coalition.

To paraphrase pro-net neutrality supporter Lauren Weinstein, rejecting reasonable

compromises on issues like net neutrality and stalling forward positive motion on a

range of other important Internet topics that can contribute to jobs and the economy

serves only to fan the flame of unrestrained political opportunism. So, there we

have it: Jobs and the economy or more political opportunism... We need to choose.