US Presidential Politics and Geek Activism

by Devanshu Mehta

When I had my idea for “a questionnaire for US Presidential candidates”:http://www.scienceaddiction.com/2007/07/09/geek-activism-questionnaire-for-presidential-candidates/ about issues important to geek activists like myself, I started reading up on the positions of the most popular candidates.

Guess what? None of them talk about the issues that matter to us directly. Even the big ones like reforming the USA PATRIOT Act aren’t being touched with a 10-foot pole- no one wants to look weak on security, I suppose.

At the same time, I have been thinking a lot about Lawrence Lessig. For those not familiar, after 10 years of leading the fight to protect a free culture among other things, “Lessig is stepping away”:http://lessig.org/blog/2007/06/required_reading_the_next_10_y_1.html to embrace a much broader issue- *corruption*. At first, this seems simplistic, naive. But in the end, isn’t that what it _all_ comes down to?

Net neutrality, copyright laws and fair use, the MPAA/RIAA, the DMCA and all the other issues that lock consumers, fans, hackers and hobbyists in a cage where the key is sold to the highest bidder. As a geek, these look like issues for _hacktivists_. In a broader sense, however, this is the oldest game in politics- the government serving the deepest pockets.

Corruption. Lessig is specific about what he means by corruption, in this quote as applied to himself:

I never promote as policy a position that I have been paid to advise about, consult upon, or write about. If payment is made to an institution that might reasonably be said to benefit me indirectly, then I will either follow the same rule, or disclose the payment.

The key word is *never*. Not sometimes. Not with disclosure. Just, plain, never.

So coming back to the issue of getting the current US Presidential contenders to answer questions about PATRIOT Act reform or Network Neutrality- shouldn’t the ultimate question be: *What would you do to remove the influence of lobbies and corporations from US politics?*

If we have an answer for that- a workable, sincere one- then we have an answer not only for problems in hackland, but also in healthcare, in energy policy, in every major social issue of this land of plenty.

Along those lines, here are links to what the major contenders have to say on Washington’s _culture of corruption_:
* Barack Obama on “Reforming Washington”:http://www.lessig.org/blog/archives/obama-corruption-fact.pdf
* Hillary Clinton on “Government Reform”:http://hillaryclinton.com/issues/reform/ and how “she is shaping up as the Privacy Candidate”:http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2007/01/72549
* John Edwards’ “letter to the FCC Chairman”:http://johnedwards.com/news/headlines/20070530-fcc/ regarding the upcoming 700MHz auction.
* The closest Rudy Giuliani comes is in “talking about fiscal responsibility”:http://www.joinrudy2008.com/index.php?section=2 but that’s a stretch. Also, here is “video of Edwards’ talk at Google”:http://googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.com/2007/05/john-edwards-at-googleplex.html
* Mitt Romney on “investment in technology and tort liability”:http://www.mittromney.com/Issue-Watch/Technology
* John McCain on “Lobbying & Ethics Reform”:http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/Issues/cb15a056-ac87-485d-a64d-82989bdc948c.htm and “McCain at Google”:http://googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.com/2007/05/mccain-talks-tech-policy-at-googleplex.html talking policy.

(Send me more links for the rest of the candidates if you find them. Also, I’m still putting together a questionnaire for the candidates, so suggestions would be great!)

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