Meet the strange bedfellows who could stop SOPA

Ron Wyden and Darrell Issa Credit: Source: Official Congressional photos, both found on Wikipedia (Wyden/Issa)

Is tech the last refuge from Democrat-Republican bickering?

It's sort of gone beyond cliche at this point to say that Congress is utterly gridlocked by partisan bickering, to the extent that the Senate can barely come up with a filibuster-proof majority for a Secret Santa exchange. That's why it's kind of interesting that the battle lines over the anti-piracy (or is it pro-censorship?) SOPA bill, the biggest bit of political news in tech circles, are drawn in ways that don't match up with the traditional left-right distinction.

An early glimpse of how this issue could unite ideologically diverse politicians came when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D) and Representative Ron Paul (R) both indicated their opposition to the bill. But in some ways Paul's opposition is easy to dismiss as an outlier within his party -- yes, the presidential candidate/gadfly wants to slash taxes and dismantle half the Federal government, but he also wants to legalize heroin and let Iran get nukes, so he's not exactly an orthodox Republican.

But two other elected officials who almost always find themselves on the opposite sides of the issues are spearheading a move to front a SOPA replacement: Senator Ron Wyden (D) and Darrel Issa (R) are promoting the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (called "OPEN" for short, in accordance with our Founding Fathers' wish that all laws have a stupid reductionist acronym). OPEN would, rather than creating a whole new set of Internet enforcement powers for the Justice Department, allow the U.S. International Trade Commission to fight against overseas illegal file-sharing sites (which, if you believe the RIAA's earnest letters to the editor, is what they're after anyway).

There's no reason to believe that Wyden and Issa have agreed on pretty much anything before. Just to pick two issues out of a hat, Wyden is pro-choice and backed the health care reform bill; Issa got a 0% rating from NARAL and has a whole page on his Website about everything that he thinks is terrible about Obamacare. The fact that these two guys can come together to oppose this bill means that (a) there is hope for America yet, (b) tech issues really don't break down on left-right lines, at least all the time, or (c) the bill really is objectively awful (probably some combination of the three).

It's also worth noting that proponents of the SOPA aren't all on one side of the aisle either: it was introduced into the House by Lamar Smith, a solid conservative from Texas, and one of the main figures lobbying for its passing has been Chris Dodd, who was a Democratic Senator up until 2010 and who was one of the crafters of the Dodd-Frank financial reform regulation that Republicans hate so much.

SOPA goes to a committee vote tomorrow, though even if it passes that Issa says that the House leadership probably won't bother bringing it to a full vote. Once that's over with, he can get back to investigating the Obama administration to make good theater and everyone can focus on very loudly blaming each other for not extending the payroll tax cut, which is the number one political issue right now for normal humans.

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