Lest any citizen think the U.S. Congress is absorbed only in the weightiest matters like nationalizing the health care system, the House just passed another piece of legislation -- a bill urging that TV commercials be no louder than the shows in which they appear.
The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM) passed Tuesday on a voice vote, "presumably expressed at a comfortable level," joked a USA Today writer. It now goes to the Senate, which is considering an identical bill.
"I not only dive for the mute button, but I end up having to close my windows so that the blast doesn't affect by neighbors," said Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, the entrenched Silicon Valley Democrat who is the major promoter of CALM. "I live on a cul-de-sac, and so the sound resonates."
Everyone knows these commercials are louder than the programs that surround them. What? The broadcasters presume their entire audience hiked to the refrigerator for a beverage and wouldn't want to miss a word of Subway's "Five Dollar Footlong" song? But Eshoo exaggerates a bit to call it a "blast," as if a jet fighter had grazed her roof.
It's annoying, very annoying. But nothing more!
It's mildly surprising that the Democrats haven't found this problem to be a violation of the Geneva Conventions for torture. If playing loud rap music at Guantanamo qualifies, why not this?
There's no doubt this law would do well in the polls. Eshoo says that never in her 17 years in the House has she carried a bill for which there has been so much enthusiasm: "Only the Do Not Call list has even come close." The appeal is bipartisan, as Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns insisted: "You can say: 'Well, that's fine. Just turn it off,' but it's constantly an irritant when you have to do it. And we've got all the new bowl games coming up."
But lost in this populist battle is the raging irony: What gives Congress the right to interfere with commercials by enacting new legislation and regulations when they inherently flee from the proposition that they have an obligation to enforce existing decency laws in the programming sponsored by these ads? That, too, polls very well.