On the outside are the American people. Across the ideological spectrum, they are fed up with Hollywood's assault on their values, using the public airwaves they own. On the inside are the lobbyists for the entertainment industry giants, plying members of Congress with satchels of campaign cash and demanding only ... inaction. Which has a greater effect in politics today?
Take the idea of cable choice, which would allow viewers to choose their cable channels a la carte and, more importantly, not have to pay for networks they don't watch or, more emphatically, find personally offensive. It's a slam-duck idea, one conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats alike, could endorse.
In June, Sen. John McCain offered an amendment to a Senate telecommunications bill that would have offered regulatory incentives to cable operators to offer cable choice to their subscribers. But it was defeated in committee by a vote of 20 to 2. Conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats alike -- they all fled. Only Sen. Olympia Snowe joined McCain in support.
One big reason? Common Cause reports that between 1991 and 2006, major cable industry interests and their trade groups spent more than $105 million on campaign contributions to federal candidates and on lobbying in Washington. Since 2003, major cable companies have ramped up "government affairs" spending and donating to keep Congress and regulatory agencies from asking tough questions about cable mergers and cable price increases, and to suffocate cable choice in the crib.
Will a strengthened Democratic presence in Washington prove to be any different in the indecency debate? In the Senate particularly, there are members of that party -- Joe Lieberman, Jay Rockefeller, Byron Dorgan, Mark Pryor, Blanche Lambert Lincoln and Clinton come to mind -- with proven records. A move in this direction could bring waves of conservative Democrats, once disaffected with their party, and now disdainful of their adopted GOP, back into the fold.
But would these Democratic leaders be willing to buck the lobbyists as well as their Hollywood benefactors? What of the Republicans? Will time in the wilderness allow them to rediscover their roots? It's a wide-open question, with a wide-open field, and a continuing political opportunity. Time will tell who grabs it.