Democracy & Technology Blog Social conservatives need to rediscover “personal responsibility”

The Christian Coalition’s idiotic support for net neutrality regulation, in part, prompted Dick Armey to observe:

Dick Armey as Majority Leader

America’s Christian conservative movement is confronted with this divide: small government advocates who want to practice their faith independent of heavy-handed government versus big government sympathizers who want to impose their version of “righteousness” on others through the hammer of law.
We must avoid the temptation to use the power of government to perfect our society and its citizens. That is the same urge that drives the Left and the socialists, and I can assure you that every program or power we give government today in the name of our values can be turned against us when the day comes where a majority of Congress is hostile to us.

Amen. Regulation only begets more regulation.
It’s not just the Christian Coalition, unfortunately, playing with fire and endangering our personal liberties. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales seems to want to preserve Internet customer data to make it easier to combat child sexual exploitation (see my previous post). The Internet admittedly creates or expands opportunies for sexual predators, but it also allows undercover agents to pose as children for the purpose of apprehending predators. Gonzales ought to put more resources into sting operations, which appear to be highly successful. Not force the private sector to maintain data on millions of innocent people — data which invariably will be lost, stolen or mined for some other purpose.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is pressuring the cable and satellite industries to “voluntarily” adopt broadcast indecency regulation. Martin at least understands the harmful implications of direct regulation, although pressuring the private sector is a terrible evasion of our system of checks and balances. Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) and others have loaded the Senate telecom reform bill with indecency provisions that would create new law and could easily spin out of control.
There are filtering and screening technologies, ratings systems and educational efforts for empowering parents and others to combat undesirable content, as Adam Thierer of the Prgress & Freedom Foundation outlines in recent comments filed with the FCC. Filtering and screening tools mean that regulation isn’t the least intrusive means of protecting children from indecent content. They therefore threaten the constitutional foundation of current and prospective regulation. So the tools get criticized for being too technical for most adults to grasp. However, in the final analysis, there shouldn’t be any debate either about the need for regulation or the adequacy of blocking tools. Fundamentally, educated conservatives should all be able to agree this is an issure of personal responsibilty.
The House of Representatives once debated an amendment by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) to require televisions to include circuitry (a k a the “v-chip”) to enable viewers to block programming they deem objectionable. Armey argued against it, for reasons that should resonate with all true conservatives:

…if you accept the responsibility and the privilege, the honor and the joy of having children, you accept the fact that you will determine what it is they watch and what they do not watch. You will give the supervision.
You say both parents work out of the house. My mom and my dad worked out of the house every day of my life. I came home every night after school. I went and I listened to Spiderman on the radio, and I did not read Playboy. My mom and my dad would not tolerate it. They never depended upon any Government-mandated technology or any Government advisory forum….
You can buy into that old line that my momma taught me to avoid: Trust me; I am from the government. Do what I mandate of you, and your children will be safe. And take your chances with that at more cost, more expense, more confusion and more Government control through more big Government. Or you can just simply say: I am your mom. I am your dad. You are the kid. I am the parent. You will do what I tell you to do, as parents have done for years.

Although the Markey Amendment passed, 183 Republicans rallied to Armey’s position versus 43 against. There’s no substitute for wise leaders.
See: Remarks of Mr. Armey on the Markey Amendment to H.R. 1555, Congressional Record, H8495, Aug. 4, 1995
See:The Current State of Parental Controls (and What it Means For This Debate),” by Adam Thierer, Sept. 21, 2006

Hance Haney

Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project
Hance Haney served as Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project at the Discovery Institute, in Washington, D.C. Haney spent ten years as an aide to former Senator Bob Packwood (OR), and advised him in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee during the deliberations leading to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He subsequently held various positions with the United States Telecom Association and Qwest Communications. He earned a B.A. in history from Willamette University and a J.D. from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.