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

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

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."


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

"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.