Earlier this week, Tim Lee of Ars Technica published a piece on the broader implications of the anti-SOPA backlash. To the surprise of some observers, it was Republican legislators who defected from SOPA in the largest numbers, in part due to a sophisticated grassroots campaign. Patrick Ruffini and I argue that this isn’t a mere coincidence, but rather a reflection of certain underlying structural dynamics, e.g.:
Salam and Ruffini told Ars on Thursday that the differing reactions to the online protests reflects structural and philosophical differences between the two parties. They said Democrats have deep ties to Hollywood and to labor unions who staff Hollywood productions, which makes it hard for them to buck these interests and vote against PIPA. In contrast, they said, Republicans have few ties to groups that support PIPA, and they have a Tea Party faction that has grown increasingly invested in Internet freedom as it has become more reliant on the web for its own organization.
The IT industry could be a rich source of both votes and campaign cash, but so far neither party has done a good job of championing its interests in Congress. Salam and Ruffini believe that Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial culture is a perfect fit for the GOP’s free-market policy agenda, and they told Ars that the fight over PIPA is a golden opportunity for the GOP to build a lasting political alliance with Silicon Valley.
I should stress that there is a deep cultural divide between Silicon Valley and the Republican base. In part, Ruffini and I are making an argument about the Republican future, i.e., over time, Republicans will become more culturally “in tune” with the technology industry and that at least some slice of the technology industry will grow more skeptical towards the Democrats, particularly if the parties polarize around IP. In my view, it is natural for a pro-market party to oppose copyright extensions and to favor the rollback of software patents, which tend to cause a kind of economic “gridlock” as resources flow to defensive litigation and regulatory arbitrage and away from exploratory innovation. And it is natural for a political coalition that fears disruptive economic change (see the attacks on private equity, etc.) to want to strengthen culturally influential incumbents, like the major motion picture and recording companies. The right hasn’t fully cottoned to the critique of a strong incumbent-protecting IP regime, but the idea seems far more plausible now than it had even a few months ago.
This will be the subject of my next essay for NR, incidentally. The anti-SOPA backlash was, in my view, the most encouraging political development in recent memory, and I aim to explain why.