Obama caving on net neutrality? We can no longer believe a word he says, can we?

During the campaign then-candidate Barack Obama kept reminding us that “politics is the art of the possible.” We were encouraged to understand “possible” in the same context as “Hope®” and “Change We Can Believe In™.” That is, the Obama presidency was to usher in a new age where the old business as usual politics of the Beltway wouldn’t be tolerated. “Yes We Can©,” he insisted, summoning the disaffected masses into an arena of engagement where the entrenched forces of corporatism and corruption could be, would be, overthrown.

That was the promise. That was the dream.

The reality of the Obama administration has been a smidge less kumbayah than many might have hoped, though. The health care “debate” was as nasty and dishonest as anything the Republic has seen since … well, honestly I can’t quite think what the applicable touchpoint might be here. Civil rights? The Summer of 1968? The entirety of the Reagan years? Blowjobgate? Heck, I don’t know. Suffice it to say that from one end of the process to the other, if a government or corporate official’s lips were moving, somebody was being played.

In the end we got “reform.” I won’t try and parse the details – that’s been done pretty well in other places – but I will point out that the Monday after the bill was passed in the House, health stocks led a thumping Wall St. rally. Those of us who believe that things happen for reasons felt this was significant.

The bill passed and signed provided for no public option and much of what the public was encouraged to believe about the bill was … how to put this? … open to interpretation? How about rescission? Denial of care for pre-existing conditions? Legal mandate for people to buy coverage but no caps on rates? Hunh. Stay tuned.

Now, if you were even remotely plugged in, you know that the health care debacle sparked a range of responses. Some said that while the bill was flawed, and that it fell short of what the massive majority of the public wanted, it was nonetheless an improvement, and a significant one. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, they said. Others saw in the bill an epic betrayal and a monumental bailout of a corrupt, amoral insurance industry. Obama is a bought-up corporatist, they said, and one who is functionally no different from a Republican.

Some defended Obama, arguing that this was the best that could have been done, given the current construction of Congress. Others pointed out that he pandered to the “center” while either ignoring or arm-twisting the “left,” and they noted consistent poll results showing that the progressives were in line with a 70+% majority of the population. [Ed. Note: See comment #1 below for an addendum to this section.]

It’s hard to remember a time when the idealists and pragmatists were so at each other’s throats – and I’m talking about idealists and pragmatists who fundamentally agree on the shape of reality and the direction of the promised land here. I saw brutal arguments on blogs and lists that, had they been conducted in person, might have come to blows. And again, I’m talking about arguments between folks who agree on about 99.9% of the issues in play.

These were dark moments, and by “were” I mean “still are and are likely to be for the foreseeable future.” And by “foreseeable future,” of course, I mean “for the rest of my life and some years beyond.” Or longer. The privilege elites and their divide-and-conquer machine have succeeded so magnificently that they’ve now wedged powerful progressive minds against each other. Can I imagine ways we might pull together get the train back on the tracks? Sure, but let’s be honest: there’s a big difference between “possible” and “probable.” I can imagine Martians landing on the White House lawn this afternoon, too, but it’s not something I’d wager a lot of money on. We Americans are bad about that, aren’t we? We get all fife-and-drum-corps over The Land Where Anything is Possible® (well, anything except making education a national priority) but we rarely slow down long enough to ponder what is plausible.

I’m not here to tell you what to think. And my point isn’t about health care policy, although I certainly have my opinions. Instead, I’m here to point out that those in the “epic betrayer” camp are on the verge of having still more ammunition, because as Jason Rosenbaum explains, the Obama administration seems to be on the verge of abandoning another major campaign issue: net neutrality. Granted, this is one with more than a few legal and judicial twists and turns to consider, but language like “keeping in place the current regulatory framework for broadband services” is rhetorical sleight-of-hand. It certainly sounds better than “selling out a campaign promise because corporations are more important to this administration than the people who elected us.” But hey, I work in Marketing so I certainly appreciate strategic messaging.

The analysis linked above talks about potential abuses if we fail to enact a net neutrality policy. What might those abuses look like? Well, Rosenbaum speculates at four – and here are some more to ponder:

(1) Block your tweets, if you criticize Comcast’s service or its merger, especially if you use the #ComcastSucks hashtag.

(2) Block your vote to the consumerist.com, when you vote Comcast the worst company in the nation. No need for such traffic to get through.

(3) Force every candidate for election to register their campaign-donations webpage and abide by the same weird rules that apply to donations by text message.

(4) Comcast could even require a “processing fee,” becoming the Ticketmaster of campaign contributions.

(5) Comcast could reserve the right to approve of every campaign online and every mass email to a political party’s or advocacy group’s list (as they do with text message short codes).

(6) If you create a small online business and hit it big, threaten to block your business unless you share 1/3 or more of all your revenues with them (apps on the iPhone app stores often are forced to give up a 1/3 or more; so are cable channels on cable TV).

(7) Block all peer to peer technologies, even those used for software developers to share software, distribute patches (world of warcraft), distribute open source software (Linux). In fact, Comcast has shown it would love to do this.

(8) Block Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, Moveon.org (and its emails), because of an “exclusive” deal with other blogs. Or alternatively, block FoxNews.com because of a deal with NBC and MSNBC.

(9) Monitor everything you do online and sell it to advertisers, something else that some phone and cable have done, with the help of a shady spyware company.

(10) Lie to you about what they’re blocking and what they’re monitoring. Hell, the FCC wouldn’t have any authority to make them honest. The FCC couldn’t punish them.

This is a really, really big deal – in some ways perhaps a bigger deal than health care because of the role that the Net plays in the development of public opinion (such as it is) and shaping policy. And Obama is a big believer in net neutrality. He campaigned on it. He continues to be a strong supporter of it.

How do we know? Because he said so:

I said I’m not telling you what to think, but I am going to ask a question. Begin by watching this brief clip:

The question: how can we credibly believe a word that Barack Obama says?

Obama’s decision to sign (support, push for, cut back room deals for, etc.) a health care bill without a public option wasn’t a departure from a vaguely articulated policy position, was it? It was a direct contravention of an explicit campaign promise. There’s no gray area here. The campaigning man said I will not and then the elected official did. It’s when like your teenaged kid says “I will not be over at Billy’s getting high.” Later: “Where you been, son?” “Over at Billy’s getting high.”

Maybe Obama lied or maybe he changed his mind. Changing our minds happens to the best of us. Especially to the best of us, because we keep ourselves open to the possibility of new and better information. Usually when we change our minds on the big stuff, though, we acknowledge that we’re departing from the script and offer up a defense/explanation of our decision. I don’t recall Obama’s “I know I said I’d never do this, but” speech – if I missed it, will somebody send me a link? All I saw was a lot of posing and posturing and a very satisfied president declaring victory.

Regardless, the cold, harsh fact is this: we can no longer believe Barack Obama, even when he’s making a direct, unambiguous, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die promise. He caved on his signature issue, and whether he had reasons or was justified in doing so is beside the point. Now he appears to be on the verge of caving on another high-profile issue that, as he himself explains, he campaigned on.

This doesn’t mean that his decisions are inherently wrong. It doesn’t mean that he’s going to be a bad president. It just means that when his lips move…

He asked us to “hope.” He asked us to “believe in change.” He asked us to embrace the possible. And now he’s proven, beyond even the most naïve credulity, that the same-old same-old is still the law of the land.

This can’t be a good thing for a man who has to stand for re-election here in a couple of years. GOP voters are voting against him no matter what he says, and it’s hard to leverage “hope” for “change you can believe in” when those who once supported you know – know – that you cannot be trusted.

3 replies »

  1. This came in via e-mail from our friend Ian Welsh:

    Framing those of us who were against the health care bill as “idealists” and not “pragmatists” is pretty awful framing. I would say that many of the objections were pragmatic. I could as easily call those for the plan “pony-plan thinkers”, for example.

    Other than that, agreed.

    Guilty as charged. I was trying to sort of shorthand that section by demonstrating the extreme ends, and in doing so I oversimplified. Perhaps too much.

    Your point is well taken. There were lots of people who opposed the bill on very pragmatic grounds, and you were one of the more persuasive members of that crowd (which also included people like Stirling Newberry, as I recall, and Sean-Paul Kelley, right?) I suppose if you looked around enough you could also find folks who supported it for idealistic reasons.

    So my apologies if I made what was essentially a four-cornered battle royale sound like a b/w morality play.

  2. While I am honored to be conisdered in the same catageroy of intellectual heavyweights like Ian and Stirling, and while i did object to the hcr as you describe, I can only say i did so after Ian and Stirling did all the heavy lifting. Lambert at Corrente too!