April EXCLUSIVE: Inside How SOPA Was Defeated

Elisabeth Meinecke

4/3/2012 8:05:00 AM - Elisabeth Meinecke

The defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act in January was perhaps the biggest display of bipartisanship in America this year. But how did it get so far in Congress to begin with?

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From Townhall Magazine's EXCLUSIVE April feature, "Inside How SOPA Was Defeated" by David Freddoso:

“You are singing in the shower, and the FBI shows up to arrest you because the song isn’t yours.”

On January 20, 2012, as the fight over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) neared its climax, this brief, amusing complaint spread so widely through every social medium on the Internet that it may be impossible to determine its original source. Opponents of SOPA quickly made it a part of their rallying cry on Twitter.

Except that this all happened in Spanish, the language of the original tweet. It was a sign that the whole world really was watching the debate over SOPA in the U.S. Congress.

And they had good reason to watch.

Congress was considering a very heavy-handed measure for federal government control over the Internet. It posed a threat not merely to some future concept of the Internet and its development, but to the very experience that Internet users enjoy today.

The push to ram SOPA through Congress inspired a rare intensity of opposition. Many bills fail, but is not common to see one come so far through the legislative process, with so many powerful sponsors from both parties, only to be abandoned for fear of the voters.

One would err to walk away from the story with only a few bromides on the power of political activism on the Internet. Had SOPA covered nearly any other legislative topic, the fight might have taken on a more partisan character and ended in a predictable fashion—witness the fights over ObamaCare and Medicare Part D, both of which happened in the Internet era.

But the Internet, as a subject of legislation, just meant too much to too many people for lawmakers to meddle freely, as they so often do.

How SOPA Fooled Congress

“I don’t think most offices understood the issue well,” a Senate Republican aide told me one month after SOPA’s demise. He was trying to explain why so many members of Congress—including Democrats, moderates, and even tea party rock stars like GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida—signed on to SOPA in the first place, only to remove their names later on the moment the anti-SOPA pressure rose.

He makes a valid point—many congressmen and senators don’t understand Internet technology at all. In 2010, former Democratic Rep. and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich appeared on a reality television show in the course of which he was given a simple Internet research task to perform. When he proved unable even to turn on the computer he was given, he offered the explanation, “I never had to learn it.” He explained that as governor and as a member of Congress, he’d always had people there to do it for him.

“It’s a bipartisan problem,” says RedState.com managing editor Erick Erickson, a conservative commentator on CNN who waded into the SOPA debate in its late stages. “Members of Congress live in such a bubble. Their lives don’t revolve around the Internet the way millions of Americans’ lives do—their businesses and their social lives.”

The House Judiciary committee meetings on SOPA provided some confirmation of Erickson’s opinion. ...

Read more of David Freddoso's piece in the April isssue of Townhall Magazine.
 

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