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We Welcome Our New Moralizing Overlords

Ah, a test for those folks out there who think Democrats should appeal to social conservatives through some sort of action against media smut, but keep saying I'm misunderstanding what they mean when I criticize this idea. The FCC has apparently gotten bored regulating the airwaves and wants to get into the cable and satellite radio games from which they've traditionally been barred on the grounds that, unlike the broadcast spectrum, we're not talking about a crowded public resource. Should liberals hop on this bandwagon under the theory that it's a good way to combine generally pro-regulation sentiments with a need to appeal to social conservatives, or should we fight it on the grounds that we believe in free speech and a person's right to listen to Howard Stern make dirty jokes in the privacy of his own home if he so chooses? Personally, I like what's behind door number two.

November 19, 2004 | Permalink

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» Hide The Nipples from Pandagon
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Posting a query for his liberal readership, Matthew Yglesias writes: The FCC has apparently gotten bored regulating the airwaves and wants to get into the cable and satellite radio games from which they've traditionally been barred on the grounds that,... [Read More]

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» THE FCC AND CONSERVATISM from Begging To Differ
Posting a query for his liberal readership, Matthew Yglesias writes: The FCC has apparently gotten bored regulating the airwaves and wants to get into the cable and satellite radio games from which they've traditionally been barred on the grounds that,... [Read More]

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» Cultural Insurance from Grammar.police
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» Cultural Insurance from Grammar.police
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Comments

I agree that the FCC should stay out of the cable and satellite radio business. Radio and TV stations which use a publicly owned asset - the radio frequency spectrum - need to be regulated so that that asset is used for the benefit of the most people. But, the FCC should never be set up as the national censor of what we have available as entertainment. The whole business of trying to appeal to the bluenoses in the red states is a bad idea anyway. Either we have principles or we don't.

Posted by: Vaughn Hopkins | Nov 19, 2004 10:16:45 AM

I'm with you. There is real slippery slope here, and just going down the first part of that slope isn't going to get us many votes.

The larger issue, here, is that it seems crazy to me to talk about ways to pry away the most committed Republican voters. The battle is over the moderates and moderate Republicans, mainly suburbanites. We can get these people to vote Democratic without selling our souls. Why go for the religous freaks?

My theory is that a lot of the people nattering on about values are just trying to find another way to avoid talking about security. Talking about the economy didn't work, so now it's values. The sad thing is that surrendering on cultural issues not only is a betrayal of our principles, but bad politics as well. Talk about a lose lose proposition.


Posted by: Larry M | Nov 19, 2004 10:25:17 AM

It gets worse. Sam Brownback (R-2008) just brought a bunch of anti-porn crusaders to testify in the Senate.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6525520/

I dearly hope the GOP kicks this down the field some more.

Posted by: SamAm | Nov 19, 2004 10:29:45 AM

Come on, free speech is so pre-9/11.

Posted by: Bragan | Nov 19, 2004 10:32:15 AM

Does anybody else get the idea that the Wired article on which this post is based is (oh how to put this delicately?) crap.

I do.

It's well established that the FCC doesn't have jurisdiction over satellite radio. And needless scaremongering by Wired and Cato ain't gonna change that.

Posted by: Al | Nov 19, 2004 10:36:11 AM

Should liberals hop on this bandwagon?

Fuck no!

Posted by: sc | Nov 19, 2004 10:40:41 AM

The wrong Powell quit.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | Nov 19, 2004 10:51:53 AM

>Should liberals hop on this bandwagon under the theory that it's a good way to combine generally pro-regulation sentiments with a need to appeal to social conservatives

The problem, on the whole, is not the failure to appeal to 'social conservatives', since the hard-core Christians are never going to align with leftists (and can barely stand to align with liberals) in any event. The problem is the 'pro-regulation' part, and particularly, the pro-fucking-annoying-regulation. That is the part that is actively unpopular across a broad spectrum. If people wanted socially-conservative annoying restrictions they'd vote for Bush.

And so it was.

That doesn't mean that you can't NEUTRALIZE the complaints of the social conservatives. Which usually revolves around pro-fucking-annoying-restrictions in-favor-of-social-"progressivism".

If you can do that, you can take the poison out of it, and peel off votes from 'moderates' or rather the un-profoundly-committed-to-Jesus-Uber-Alles voters.

So door #2 is the correct choice.

It's even better if you can articulate things in terms of principles. To wit: you aren't defending social security, which is a program, you should be defending the principle of not letting the old starve in the streets.

If privatization worked and the principle was protected then SS doesn't matter in this context.

ash
['Of course, if you're going to actually attempt scorched earth, which is another way of saying taking everything down with you when you lose, then skip that.']

Posted by: ash | Nov 19, 2004 11:04:12 AM

That's crap, but I'll be honest. At this point, I just can't get all woked up over it...

So weary...

Posted by: Mr Furious | Nov 19, 2004 11:15:11 AM

I think the solution in this area is to take parents legitimate concerns regarding their control over what their children watch and hear seriously. These are legitimate concerns of legitimate people. The solutions are decidedly not in the FCC, and all reasonable people should agree on that.
Clinton addressed this with the V-chip (I have no idea how effective that was). The point is to make the population as a recognize the Democratic brand as being concerned about, and looking for innovative solutions to these problems, but that the brand is also firmly against censorship.
We effed up that message by allowing ourselves to be associated with the worst excesses of the PC crowd, while at the same time allowing ourselves to be branded as 'supporting' some objectionable material. Dems let the mesage get confused, and the (R)s have done a great job demonizing us on both sides of this issue (making us look pro-censorship in some areas[PC], while at the same time promoting tax payer funding of cultural shocking art).
I think we have the right positions [educating people about tolerance and using language that is sensitive to other's reaction, and for funding for the arts [although I could re-think this on value/political costs basis]), but our message has been poor.

Posted by: theCoach | Nov 19, 2004 11:19:59 AM

Good one, Stalker Al! Everytime you show up, I know everyone here is getting desperate.

Posted by: Al | Nov 19, 2004 11:25:26 AM

there's a dynamic here that we all seem to be missing. The reason that the public spectrum is filled with cursing and fucking is because people tune in to it - otherwise it'd go away by itself via natural capitalist 'invisible hand' function. while some percentage of the far-right traditionalists (they're not really conservatives)-the home-schoolers and 3-times a wekk churchgoers - actually shun this stuff, the vast majority of the public is, by definition, watching it, or it would fail.

Our best play is to, therefore, follow Clinton's abortion mantra - sexual content should be "legal, but rare(ly watched)"...in other words, we should vigorously uphold the first amendment while exclaiming our dismay over the fact that people choose to watch this stuff. Like the Repubs played the "they're trying to take away your Bible", we should be playing the "they're trying to take away your Howard Stern / Desperate Housewives". Most conservative voters hate the 'nanny state' concept, and we should be tarring Repugs with it daily. This is a place where centrist Dems like Leiberman have a role to play. Dems role is to remind everyone involved that this is a function of the marketplace, and if people choose to shun it it'll go away - in other words, the vaunted 'personal responsibility' that Repubs love to parade behind. We also should vigorously support labeling schemes that are extremely expicit - so that even bits like the NFL 'towel scene' everyone is freaking about get labeled with a 'warning-sexual innuendo ahead' label - so we can run to the right of Repubs on protect-the family values.

Posted by: rick freedman | Nov 19, 2004 11:26:27 AM

I lived in Cuba my first 32 years, so I did shit in my pans when I learned that the FCC wants to censure cable and satellite media. Why not the Internet, huh?

It's called free speech, idiot! And if the Democratic Party (or a good chunk of the Rep. Party for that matter) can't take a principle position on that, we are already fucked.

Posted by: Eduardo | Nov 19, 2004 11:28:13 AM

You raise (indirectly) an interesting point: you assume correctly that Dems have "generally pro-regulation sentiments."

If the Ds are ever to regain political influence, I'd argue that if the Dems must rethink that core value (and limit it) because "liberty" is a far more critical and basic core value.

Another way of putting it: ever-expanding bureaucracy is not a core value of the Democratic party.

Remember that graphic (mine) you said was so "important"? Well it represents the sort of thinking which can cut through a lot of bs in land use regulation. The Dems need more of it, not more regulation.

Posted by: David Sucher | Nov 19, 2004 11:41:25 AM

I agree w/ theCoach & Rick that Dems can & should stand up for parents' rights to keep sordid content away from their kids, and for viewers' rights more generally to know what the hell they're gonna see when they tune in to a show - parental control & truth in advertising, plain & simple. Regulation is one tool in the toolkit, but the one of last resort, because it could threaten freedom of speech - so we should be leading the charge to find better, more innovative solutions using technology, voluntary restraint by broadcasters, and organized consumer advocacy.

I especially think that we should take the last of these a lot more seriously than we have in the past: we're good at consumer advocacy - we invented it - and we need to remind people that our type of activism has always been about helping people to promote the public good. Citizen activism has been discredited in the past generation or so because it's been co-opted, with citizens who are genuinely concerned about an issue essentially being used to front for whatever interest groups (left or right) are bankrolling the operation. Wouldn't it be interesting if some of the 527s that have sprung up decided to use their bully pulpit & organizing ability to rally people around parental control & truth in advertising?

Also worth noting this isn't a matter of outflanking & political positioning. it's about re-connecting to some authentic Democratic values that help us to stay grounded & connected to the middle Americans whom our policies have always looked out for, but whose trust we've managed to lose nevertheless.

Posted by: Tom | Nov 19, 2004 11:47:51 AM

The new cable and satellite media has provided tons more wholesome content than broadcast radio and television ever did. Now the only way the broadcast spectrum can survive commercially (and the only way the FCC can justify its continued existence) is to shackle the cable and satellite media to the violent prurient content standards of the broadcast media.

No way. The broadcast media owned the FCC and together they plotted a course to destruction. Let them both twist slowly on the vine as they wither.

And frankly, none of the Dems I know have a "pro-regulation" bias.

Posted by: serial catowner | Nov 19, 2004 11:50:59 AM

"Another way of putting it: ever-expanding bureaucracy is not a core value of the Democratic party."

Ever expanding bureaucracy shouldn't be a core value of the Democratic party, but you'd be hard put to prove to me that it isn't anyway.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 19, 2004 11:52:46 AM

Brett,
I would agree that in perception the Democrats are regarded as more the party of expanding bureaucracy. But in practice?
What difference do you see with regard to expanding bureaucracy in a Clinton Administration that is not present in a Bush administration? What are the metrics?

Posted by: theCoach | Nov 19, 2004 12:05:58 PM


This is THE #1 thing that turned me off about Gore and Lieberman. I remember Tipper and the PMRC. Absolutely disgusting, does not belong in the democratic party, this is our chance to purge that crap.

Posted by: loser | Nov 19, 2004 12:08:25 PM

Democrats should resist further FCC regulation on the grounds of basic liberal rights to privacy. So I agree with Matt in choosing door #2. But that doesn't mean that democrats can't at the same time voice worries about the tawdriness of much popular media. Criticizing is not the same as censoring. And such criticism could even be parlayed into justifications of family-friendly policies: family guidance is necessary to teach kids to resist the bad stuff out there, etc. etc., but families are strained, working longer hours to make ends meet, preoccuppied with worries about getting or keeping good healthcare, and no wonder kids are suffering as a result. Let's give families a fighting chance!

Just an idea. As a strategy, it has its risks. It could come off as preachy and false. But there IS a lot of crap that comes through our media, and just calling it for what it is might not be bad.

Posted by: cdunc | Nov 19, 2004 12:23:47 PM

I'm with ya, theCoach.

If you specifically pay for the content - porn away. Satellite radio, fine. HBO or Skinemax, well, risque is part of the package when you buy it (probably part of the reason you bought it, actually).

But I do not see why liberals would want to go to bat for the right of, say, the E! network or even Comedy Central to be as nasty as it wants to be. Liberalism needs to appeal the angst-ridden suburban parents who worry about their kids growing up marinated in a sexually saturated culture. They're the glue that prevents the coalition from splintering into its individual and individually powerless parts.

Posted by: Bgno64 | Nov 19, 2004 12:24:37 PM

I'm a lifelong liberal and I really dislike Howard Stern's show on cable. Yeah, I don't have to watch it, so what's the big deal. But, let's get real here. It is more than "dirty jokes." It's whole premise is to demean women. It's pretty incredible to watch Howard and his male companions, all very scuzzy (do you have to be uglier than Howard to work with him?) dudes, critique the bodies of some incredibly attractive nude women. I mean, I get sort of morbidly fascinated at the way these guys do it with such venom. It's like they are making up for all the years they were excluded from the in crowd or something. The segments where they throw fruit and other food items at a young woman's ass is even more startling. I mean, they're not going to seriously harm the women but the look on their very unattractive faces as they hurl these food items as hard as they can is creepy creepy creepy.

The argument is that Howard has a "right" to say and do these things, yet, as a liberal and a female, that sort of rings a bit hollow to me. Apparently there are many women quite willing to go on Howard's show and allow those scuzzballs to place a stick in their rectum for ring toss but when I'm casually channel surfing it is really a startling sight.

Matt asks, ...or should we fight it on the grounds that we believe in free speech and a person's right to listen to Howard Stern make dirty jokes in the privacy of his own home if he so chooses?" You may want to argue the free speech thing but don't fool yourselves into thinking it is merely that. Ot that Howard simply indulges in "dirty jokes." Lots of people in both the red and blue states are queasy about the degradation aspect of his show. Can't we find a better example for the free speech argument? It's a bit hard to get behind some schmuck who specializes in how far he can get women to degrade themselves, and who also has features that involve the degradation of people with mental retardation. This doesn't mean I think that liberals/progressives/democrats should join the bandwagon to ban his show, it just means that it offends and confuses me when he is actively defended. Kind of like the ACLU and the KKK. Yeah, they sort of shamefacedly will defend the free speech thing, but they don't exactly trot em out as their poster child.

Posted by: m.c. | Nov 19, 2004 12:25:52 PM

I mean, they're not going to seriously harm the women but the look on their very unattractive faces as they hurl these food items as hard as they can is creepy creepy creepy.

Never watched a HS show, but I am sure it is creepy. You know what else is creepy? Tele-evangelists. Can we ban them too?

Posted by: abb1 | Nov 19, 2004 12:52:31 PM

Why cann't the democrts make a big deal in the press that it is not liberal democrats sending this stuff into their homes, it is republican businessmen. Just keep repeating that point and driving it home.

Posted by: spencer | Nov 19, 2004 12:52:57 PM

Spence, you sure you don't want to check first, to make sure those businessmen really ARE Republicans? Not all businessmen are, after all.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 19, 2004 1:08:26 PM

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