by Eileen | 10:30 am, January 13, 2013 | Comments Off
The RSC fired a guy for disagreeing with them. Blah, what else is new? If you could round up all the people fired, de-funded, and blacklisted from the Old Guard of the right, you could put together an utterly brilliant firm. Yes, of course there are people who deserved to be fired who were fired. Yet, I’ve also made it clear I feel a great many idiots are still on payroll. The very nature of who does and does not get funding, whether or not funding is renewed, and who lands on the list of ‘calls we don’t return’ is so corrupt and opaque that it’s very difficult for someone not on the inside to know, absent firsthand knowledge of someone’s situation, if that someone lost funding deservedly, if a person whose every call gets ignored really brought it to herself.
I once heard through the grapevine that a certain man had been unceremoniously terminated by the non-profit where he was working. A very forceful personality, a bit of a know-it-all and a show-off, but also absurdly intelligent and creative. Did he lose his job for letting his personality get the best of him or because his own work output was making his bosses look bad? Not having been there, I can’t say, but it is so, so devastating to our movement that you just know good people get shut out for markedly dirty reasons. Good companies have reputations where you know that, if some guy got fired, the company was in the right – he deserved it. But we don’t have that.
And that’s why I think Derek Khanna’s story is so interesting. He’s the right-wing blacklistee everyone knows. His policy suggestions for copyright reform were taken down from the Republican Study Committee’s website, then publicly disowned by the RSC. Not, however, before it received praise. As he made only suggestions and his paper was clearly a first draft, far from being espoused Republican policy, that takedown amounted to the RSC stating that, on some issues, they won’t even allow discussion. Even that wasn’t enough and, not long after, Derek Khanna was fired.
For him personally, that may be the best thing that will ever happen to him. Being the guy who’s so smart and so visionary on technology that the Republican elite and their donors are terrified of you is Silicon Valley gold. For the center-right, it’s a blow we can’t be taking. The willingness to address an out-of-date and off-the-rails system seriously would have made us look like real adults. Sensible reform would have shown we aren’t bought and paid for by crony capitalists. And Mr. Khanna’s topic – copyright reform – is something young voters care about. We had a shot to do the right thing and get votes for it. Which, for those of you keeping score at home, is preferable to writing laws to suit the biggest donors only and then lying to voters.
The RSC’s response was farcical. Not only have they guaranteed publicity for Mr. Khanna’s recommendations, the language of the disavowal is insincerity wrapped up in doublespeak. RSC Executive Director Paul Teller described “Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it as having been “published without adequate review”. That the RSC brass believes they could fool the rest of us into thinking papers just get onto websites without human hands says a lot about how poorly some people understand technology. Far be it from me to suggest the RSC greenlit the paper because they’re so in the dark on tech policy that they barely understood Derek Khanna’s suggestions and then took it down when angry RIAA vice-presidents started calling, or that they sympathized with the ideas but buckled the minute big donors complained. Suffice to say, someone with decision-making authority was for that paper before he was against it.
Mr. Teller reached new lows when he purred that, “Copyright reform would have far-reaching impacts, so it is incredibly important that it be approached with all facts and viewpoints in hand”. I suppose it’s just a given that “all facts and viewpoints” will be edited and spun before we get to have them “in hand”. For the likes of the ultra-conservative RSC to suddenly pretend they give equal weight to all possible viewpoints reaches Kafkaesque surreality.
I won’t parse Mr. Khanna’s recommendations here. What does deserve comment is the churlish response he’s gotten since being, literally, disowned and cast out. Having belatedly realized that they can’t ‘disappear’ a paper once it’s been online and that Mr. Khanna’s celebrity is now working against his former employers, the hatchet men have been let out.
Most of Derek Khanna’s critics on the right are engaging in one of the cheaper logical fallacies; in short, anyone who wants copyright reform must hate property rights and secretly be a commie.
The three myths referenced in the paper’s title are that “the purpose of copyright is to compensate the creator of content,” that “copyright is free market capitalism at work,” and that “the current copyright legal regime leads to the greatest innovation and productivity.” Mr. Khanna isn’t disavowing that creators should receive compensation, that free market capitalism is a good thing, or that innovation and productivity are worthy ends. If he had, I wouldn’t be writing nice things about him. What he challenged was how well, if at all, the existing copyright regime serves those ends.
That’s the heart of policy. Agreeing on the ends is step one, the easy part. After that, come matters of how to get there, what the trade-offs will be, and whether or not they’re worth it. It’s an inherently normative process. Crafting policy means writing rules that affect other people. It’s a big deal and should be taken more seriously than the RSC, one of any guilty parties, wants to.
Closely examining why failed tactics are still in use invites the question of just who is benefiting by sticking with what doesn’t work. In the lingo of policy types, that’s ‘Regulatory Capture’ and no one wants to be linked to it. Technology will be the legislative issue of 2013. Democrats and the left are already well ahead on claiming those issues and, by extension, the gratitude of geeks everywhere. On issues like privacy and piracy, they can already claim credit for a lot of good scholarship. Obviously, they care. Do we? It doesn’t look good to be the group that waits until other peoples’ work brings an issue to the forefront and then suddenly announce you want a vote.
But that’s not the worst thing. On all those tech issues, the left, or center-left, isn’t absolutely right. To name two, left-leaning groups want to build privacy protections on federal laws, as if giving the state more power will enhance anyone’s privacy, and support the terrible idea of net neutrality. So where are the sensible center-right respondents? Well, we fired them for ticking off our major donors. There are free-market oriented people writing on tech policy. But the RSC’s move in firing Derek Khanna makes one wonder if the actual voters members of Congress will listen to them.
Righties more in line with the current copyright regime sniffed that, “When an RSC paper is praised on the Daily Kos website, you have to wonder what’s going on.” It did not, apparently, occur to these critics that when both sides can agree that X is a problem and Y could be a good solution, you might really be onto something. The fellow so angsty over what the Daily Kos thinks bragged that his organization had been among those who pressured the RNC to retract the paper. Hell, when I saw an item on the Daily Kos that I agreed with, I thought praise was due to Kos for having come up with something smart; I did not think I needed to be reeducated because a good free-market girl can never find common ground with ‘them’. Political operatives who think any idea that garners leftist sympathy must go in the trash at once worry me – deeply. Pay attention to what your opponent thinks of you, but don’t define yourself by it.
The RSC should be examining who their work really serves and whether or not they are serious about regaining majority status. I am happy they are learning, albeit the hard way, they can’t sweep things under the rug just because that’s easier than seriously addressing and perhaps incorporating dissent. I hope to see people across the center-right realm paying attention to this with open minds. Derek Khanna’s departure from the RSC ought to provoke reassessments of two entrenched habits among the web of center-right groups. For years, they’ve been praising the people but really serving Mammon. The RSC’s behavior highlights the fact that the GOP is not pro-market or pro-individual but really pro-big business. Secondly, the practice within the trade has been to push troublemakers out of the way. It’s high time their hearts and minds moved toward a reintroduction with their party’s founding ideas.
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