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Another Voice: It takes grown-ups to govern in a 50-50 nation

By Lindsay Lewis

The vaunted midterm elections laid bare, again, the American political cleave — with a blue-red split in the U.S. House and Senate, but also in the states. Welcome to Culture Wars 2019, where America’s infighting keeps us from thinking big.

Confrontation now seems etched into the DNA of both party’s leadership beholden to their most vocal bases – even if those combined still represent a minority of the electorate.

But for the rest of us, the kindergarten culture of Capitol Hill, with both parties locked in a perpetual blame-game food fight, has grown tiresome. Most voters are not ideological; they simply want results and still think the country is on the wrong track.

This is all to say that the newly elected Congress is on a thin reed to show it can govern.

Let’s start with something that should be simple and straightforward: fixing the internet. Poll after poll shows that voters want Congress to pass net neutrality and fix internet privacy. That may not salve all that’s wrong online, but will at least make sure its lords don’t manipulate traffic and disfavor certain sites and services for commercial reasons.

Congress took a pass on fixing the internet last year for a host of reasons – patronage politics, grandstanding with extremist “message bills” rather than real solutions, and just general dysfunction. And now net neutrality remains marooned in a legal netherworld.

Voters want to stop big internet companies and providers from interfering with their internet traffic, but no voter has ever heard of or cares about regulating the internet as a utility. Yet, Democrats handed the debate over to fringe interest groups and let the professional left drive them into impasse with these outdated poison pills. Unlike these dead-on-arrival but highly charged partisan approaches, good governance doesn’t necessarily win the click-bait and fundraising returns on which so many beltway professionals thrive.

Supporters of both parties clearly want to fix the internet. What does that take? It takes going back to the creed of 1996, when both parties came together to pass the historic Telecom Act. The secret sauce? To protect consumers with all the regulation genuinely needed, but not a stitch more. The internet became a magical ecosystem of competition and innovation after this bold deal.

The question is whether grown-ups in both camps can do this again. Can Democrats resist the fire-breathers and professional activists whose real goal is to sustain conflict with unnecessary poison pills like utility rules? And can Republicans shed the ossified ideological blinders of absolute deregulation in the face of genuine voter concern?

Lindsay Lewis is the executive director of the Progressive Policy Institute.

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