Tim Wu on the Partisan Sideshow and Silicon Valley

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Credit: Dale Robbins
I think Mike Lofgren is right that much of what the United States does of importance is unseen by the public and has only the most tangential relationship with the partisan sideshows in Congress, which are misunderstood and misrepresented as the main story. The heated battles over ridiculous issues like the debt limit might, to a cynic, be understood as distractions meant to entertain the public and satisfy their desire to feel that politics is taking place.

But the mistake that Lofgren makes is to think that what he describes is only the case for a “Deep State” centered on national security or law enforcement. To be sure, the attention is warranted, for these are the parts of the government that wield the most terrifying powers, particularly overseas. But anyone who has worked for other parts of government knows that they too operate under the radar screen. And here, in the real business of government, we find that parties are often less relevant than are industry loyalties; instead of really being a Democrat or Republican, one is more accurately loyal to the cable industry, big oil, Hollywood and so on.

Cars drive past a sign outside the Facebook headquarters at Menlo Park in the Silicon Valley. February 2012. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

As a minor aside — and perhaps I might be accused of defending my own party — Lofgren is not familiar with Silicon Valley and makes a few errors in this respect. I would say that the Valley is newer to Washington and has not yet developed ties as strong as, say, the defense industry, Hollywood or the incumbent telecommunications industries (I should add that intellectual property protection is mainly a southern California obsession). It is not a business that, at least yet, depends on Washington to guarantee profit or protect it from competition. The harder question is whether it’s only a matter of time.

Tim Wu is the Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law at the Columbia Law School. He teaches copyright, communications law & policy, antitrust and other courses at the school. He has authored Master Switch and co-authored Who Controls the Internet. He has held Visiting Professorships at the Harvard Law School, Chicago Law School and Stanford Law School.
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