Friday, January 27, 2012

Can the PIPA Protest Teach Us Anything About Gridlock?

After a widespread Internet blackout, SOPA/PIPA—legislation that could shut down entire websites if they enable copyright infringement—underwent a dramatic one-day change in its vote tally. In a time of rising gridlock, what features of the SOPA/PIPA debate enabled it to translate a popular outcry into a victory for opponents of the legislation?

No political deal was needed. Most big issues—like the debt— require Republicans and Democrats to accept something they don’t like. For SOPA/PIPA, vocal voter disapproval could lead a legislator to change his/her vote without having to accept a politically unpalatable compromise.

Defending the status quo. The apparent defeat of SOPA/PIPA was not a positive legislative victory—it was victory by killing a bill.

The makeup of supporters and opponents. The majority of supporters were Democrats with ties to the entertainment industry, while the widespread Internet response likely cut across ideological lines. Republican quickly lined up against it, while undecided Democrats gave in to public pressure.

While clearly not exactly the same as the big issues paralyzed by gridlock, it is at least heartening to know that elected officials still respond to an active and vocal electorate. What lessons might be gleaned from the SOPA/PIPA episode to spur action on a positive legislative agenda?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. My initial thought is that this has the flavor of a typical legislative fight, either between differing industries, or consumers vs. business, or labor vs. managment. Less organzied interests are always looking for ways to make their voice heard when they do not have lobbyists or a Washington presence. This technique could certainly be copied in other types of legislative battles. When I think of Gridlock, however, I am thinking more about long term, large scale problems like the debt, immigration, and energy dependence (that within them have dozens or hundreds of small scale legislative conflicts), that seem to overwhelm the system towards inaction while the problem festers. Perhaps the point is that if a movement of young people upset about the debt were to develop - the internet and social media give them a better chance to organize and make their views known and perhaps these tools could have an impact of unraveling gridlock