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The Weblog Candidate
Aug 26, 2002 :: Greg Knauss

The denouement of Lawrence Lessig's recent OSCON speech -- that the tech-savvy aren't doing anything meaningful about the slow erosion of their digital rights, save whine a lot -- isn't notable because it's a new thought. The notion has been obvious for a very long time, ever since the erstwhile New Economy started burping up innovations that challenged the assumptions built into existing law. What is surprising is how many people fail to understand its importance, that it still has to be said at all.

Effective political involvement by the citizens of the Internet borders on the non-existent. Mostly content to preachify and complain, the real-world political impact of those who know their ass from their Ethernet connector has been close to nil. There's been a lot of talk, of course -- endless, endless talk -- but precious little action.

At least using any real-world definition of "action." Recently, however, several leading lights in the masturbatory world of weblogs have gotten a hard-on for poltics -- or, rather, for a politician -- and are expending considerable energy promoting the from-nowhere, owes-no-one candidacy of one Tara Sue Grubb.

Grubb -- if she wasn't already from North Carolina, her name would require that she move there -- is a real estate agent running for Congress on the Libertarian ticket. Her sole political talent appears to be having the luck to run against Howard Coble, one of the primary sponsors of the widely-reviled Peer-to-Peer Piracy Prevention Act, also known to detractors as the "P2P Hacking Bill." Before last week, Grubb was less than an unknown, even occasionally going unrecognized in her own house.

But with publicity coming primarily from Dave Winer's increasingly inaccurately named Scripting News, she is now the Brave Defender of on-line cyber-rights -- the "weblog candidate." And while this is a handy title to have in the wake of endless mainstream articles about the phenomenon, it doesn't actually, y'know, mean anything.

Grubb is, at best, an enigma. Her stands on an untold number of issues -- the bric-a-brac of daily life -- are complete mysteries. She's offered no position papers, no policy statements, nothing that constitutes the lifeblood of an informed electorate. The occasional opinion has popped up on the weblog candidate's week-old weblog -- War bad! Parties bad! This essay bad!-- but she remains fundamentally a one-issue politician: the boot-strap defender of your digital future.

Meaning, of course, that she practices the same kind of pandering, suck-up, knee-jerk nonsense as the other side, only with thick layer of naivete piled on top. It took Grubb five days to start soliciting donations from Weblog Nation, her appeal based solely on her opposition to a single bill and a lot of weblog-based flag waving. Her methods are the same quid pro quo that Coble has offered the entertainment industry: "Support me and get what you want." The only difference being that she doesn't stand a chance and serves mainly to suck attention and money away from people who actually know what they're doing. Like, say, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, of which Lessig is a board member.

Often dismissed by technologists as a gaggle of technology-oblivious lawyers, the EFF is in a far better position to actually do something about the inarguable erosion of digital rights than a part-time wannabe. They are lawyers, and know how to play the game -- in the courts and in the smoke-filled back rooms and in the real world. It's an unpleasant fact that the Jeffersonian notion of citizen-statesmen is dead, but bemoaning the modern political process when so much is immediately at stake an unaffordable luxury. Train new firemen after the building has stopped burning.

Dave Winer -- Grubb's Richelieu on the Internet -- was infuriated by Lessig's OSCON speech, because it accused do-nothings of doing nothing. "Lessig is so damned irritating," Winer protesteth too much. "He says 'We've not done anything yet.' Arrrrgh. Incorrect. He's not done anything yet."

Except to write books and bring cases before the Supreme Court and use his media appearances to argue passionately about the need for interested parties to get involved, to donate money, to have some effective impact; except to offer the best chance that people who care about these issues have to combat the money and power that a multibillion dollar industry has -- with lawyers, via the courts. It may not be mindlessly promoting a political blank slate in a hopeless quest to garner some tiny percentage of the electorate in a single Congressional district -- Winer's primary political accomplishment -- but it is something.

All this means that Tara Sue Grubb really is the "weblog candidate." She's an empty page, capable of being filled in with whatever people like Dave Winer and his philosophical bedmates want to see. He can think that supporting a losing cause is action against the disappearance of his rights, he can think that dismissing Lessig and the EFF strikes a blow for consumers and artists, he can think that the calcified institutions of the US political system will crumble to dust in the face of a few thousand people posting messages on the Internet. He can think whatever he wants, but it all ends up meaningless, pointless, useless talk. And very little action.

Which sounds an awful lot like weblogs, doesn't it?



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