Selling the progressive lemon

Sarah Lee Contributor
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There appears to be an odd trend in policymaking over the last two years: many of the unintended consequences of proposed legislation or crisis regulation coming from the White House – whether in practice or extrapolated in theory – seem to run counter to the stated goals or original intent. In other words, these policies tend to exacerbate the problems they’re supposed to be fixing.

Consider the upcoming Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas, occurring there this weekend, incidentally simultaneously with the other side of the aisle’s RightOnline Conference. Proudly progressive in tone and certainly supported primarily by Democrats, the conference is a caucus of lefty techies and bloggers, and purports to be an idea exchange that seeks to teach activists how to be “more effective in using technology to influence the public debate.”

And yet…they are openly supportive of the outrageously (and hilariously) misnamed “net neutrality” legislation, a push by the Obama administration via the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reclassify the free and open internet – the nature of which has led to innovation resulting in an entirely new online economy not to mention creative surges in technological advancement — to one regulated by government much like a 60s-era public utility. Bureaucratic oversight has a dismal track record when it comes to production of anything new and useful. The Netroots will be effectively celebrating legislation that spells the demise of the very thing that brings them together.

Then there’s the recent reaction to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, specifically the repeated efforts by the administration (in defiance of a federal ruling to the contrary) to force first a deepwater drilling moratorium and later an all-water drilling moratorium, despite the outcry from the area most affected that the ability to earn their daily bread would be so negatively impacted as to almost cease to exist. The energy policy of this administration has always been to move the US away from the need for foreign oil. However, stopping drilling – in addition to the terrible economic blow it levies on the Gulf states – also means that the tankers doing the drilling will move on to other regions of the world where their needs are required. This, of course, means the US, without domestic oil production, would absolutely have to increase their reliance on foreign oil. That is unless it’s possible to move to wind technology tomorrow.

Finally, there’s the new huge bureaucratic office that came from the recent Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, ostensibly an office that will “implement and, where applicable, enforce federal consumer financial law consistently for the purpose of ensuring that all consumers have access to markets for consumer financial products and services and that markets for consumer financial products and services are fair, transparent and competitive.”

That all sounds very appealing except that, in government-speak, treating everyone “consistently” is generally anathema to transparency and competitiveness. Competition necessarily means that not everyone will be treated the same. There’s also the problem of rhetorically promising more individual attention while growing the size of a government office. In government, bigger is generally not better – only slower.

These kinds of logical inconsistencies make one wonder if there’s reason to believe that this administration is just plain foolish or if there are other reasons that the goals are stated as one thing while the results will almost certainly run counter to those goals. And if it’s the latter, why not just put it on the table? Could it be because, like any lemon, the selling point is the coat of paint, not what’s under the hood?

Sarah Lee is an Atlanta native and freelance writer living and working in Washington, D.C.