The other day, I wondered why more tech-savvy lefties were not more outspoken against Michael Capuano's objectively dumb proposals for Internet use in the House. Matt Stoller has now spoken out pretty strongly against Capuano. He has followed up with a response to some internal criticism that's popped up on Open Left.
Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) was perfectly right in sounding the alarm about this. Even though the Capuano rules are technically a loosening of existing standards, they would create some very bad precedents, including a narrow focus on existing services like YouTube and an inherent distrust of advertising-supported Web startups.
For a minute, I was a little worried that we were seeing the tech-savvy Anti-Stupid Coalition balkanize into red and blue camps. What is the Anti-Stupid Coalition? It's a group of tech-savvy activists in both parties who will set aside party labels when one of our own does something objectively stupid with technology or government transparency. Republican online operatives like myself have been unafraid to speak out when the party isn't doing all it can to harness the medium. It's good to see that not every techno-progressive is circling the wagons around Capuano, as I initially feared.
But what strikes me about Stoller's rant against bureaucratic stupidity is that it could so easily have been uttered by a conservative "leave me alone" type:
Simply put, I've tried to work with members of the House and Senate to do neat internet projects (like Legislation 2.0, or putting legislation online), and ethics and franking rules always create bottlenecks to carrying them out. It's very irritating to have a neat project ready to go and be told "I have to ask ethics whether we can host this on an outside website" and then have the project drop because a 55 year old bureaucrat doesn't understand the internet. The mindset here is similar to the one that called the use of blogs a loophole in campaign finance reform laws and argued for regulating them. It's regulation for regulation's sake.
This is how millions of small business owners feel everyday about the maze of federal regulations they have comply with.
There is an inherent tension between technology and regulation. Regulation puts barriers in place of the natural flow of organic systems. Internet technology is all about harnessing and networking organic systems, using the decentralized "wisdom of crowds" to solve problems, not central diktats.
Mac-wielding progressives are very enthusiastic about technology, and also members of the party that built the top-down bureaucracy. Like conservatives, when they come into direct contact with the regulatory state, they realize how arbitary and behind-the-times it is. Stoller isn't alone in his frustrations. Liberal managers I've known want the ability to fire incompetent employees at will without being sued. This isn't a red vs. blue issue. It's a smart vs. stupid issue.
As liberalism evolves into David Brooks' moneyed class of free agents, it will move rightward on issues like federal regulation -- maybe not on all the particulars, but in an attitudinal sense. I have heard Barack Obama singling out over-regulation as the main excess of liberalism in the last 40 years. And unwittingly, they will be validating a key Reaganite critique of government, just like Republicans have spent the last decade validating Big Government through "compassionate conservatism" and earmarks.