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The Tea Party Helps Hold the Line on Internet Freedom | The Nation

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George Zornick

George Zornick

Action and dysfunction in the Beltway swamp. E-mail tips to george@thenation.com

The Tea Party Helps Hold the Line on Internet Freedom

Since 2009, the far right has seen the evil hand of government intruding everywhere: healthcare reform was really a diabolical plot to institute government death panels that would kill off the elderly and disabled. Bailing out the auto industry was really a government takeover of a proud American private manufacturing sector. Getting rid of private student loan servicers? Yet another “soviet-style” takeover. And let’s not even get started on cap-and-trade legislation to limit carbon emissions—that, of course, is an international plot designed to “control what you can and cannot do.”

So when it comes to the Stop Online Piracy Act and its companion in the Senate, the Protect Intellectual Property Act—bills that, if you haven’t been following, would actually give the government unprecedented power to censor the Internet in the name of preventing piracy—one might reasonably expect politicians who so often channel Tea Party phobias about federal control to oppose them, too.

Fortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening. Despite the highly effective protests and seeming turning tide of public opinion, PIPA is still looking at an uphill battle in the Senate. (The White House might end up vetoing the legislation anyhow, but it would no doubt be a setback for Internet freedom supporters if that bill actually cleared the Senate, since it would set a benchmark for the next inevitable battle over intellectual property online).

There are currently only sixteen senators on the record against PIPA:
      Scott Brown
      Maria Cantwell
      Benjamin Cardin
      Tom Coburn
      John Cornyn
      Jim DeMint
      Chuck Grassley
      Orrin Hatch
      Mike Lee
      Jerry Moran
      Rand Paul
      Marco Rubio
      Jeff Sessions
      Mark Udall
      Mark Warner
      Ron Wyden

That’s a pretty low number. There are thirty-eight senators supporting it, with the rest undecided. Now take out the Tea Partiers and their anti-government sympathizers—Coburn, DeMint, Lee, Paul, Rubio—and the list gets even smaller. Throw out frequent but not consistent members of that group—Cornyn, Grassley, Hatch, Moran and Sessions—and it’s smaller yet.

Many of the aforementioned opponents are using the same language to oppose PIPA that they’ve used in railing against other, non-scary administration initiatives.

Here’s Paul, for example: “Blocking entire websites from search engines due to questionable [content] is not only an overreaction to the problem, it essentially gives government and some companies the power to regulate and censor the Internet.” (His father added from the presidential trail this week, “Let me tell you, governments can't protect you from yourself. And they don't need to be taking over the Internet either.”)

Lee talked about “dilution of First Amendment rights” when he opposed it; Moran noted “serious constitutional and security concerns.” On the House side, right-wingers were no less passionate: Representative Paul Ryan, an opponent of SOPA there, said last week that “the internet is one of the most magnificent expressions of freedom and free enterprise in history. It should stay that way.”

It’s tempting to crack a joke about broken clocks being right twice a day, but there’s no reason to believe these concerns about constitutional violations and intrusive government aren’t heartfelt—even if some prior accusations were clearly off the mark, or motivated by politics. They’ve been a royal pain to progressive causes in recent years, but it’s not all bad to have these rigid opponents of government authority in Congress.  

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