Do you remember “A Better Deal”? You know—the Democrats’ promise, unveiled in mid-2017, about the things they’d do if they recaptured Congress.
It played to meh reviews, as such rollouts usually do. But I thought it had one great section—the one on monopolies and antitrust. From health care (especially hospital ownership) to big-box stores to beer, monopolies rule our markets and lives. They reduce competition and raise prices. Republicans rarely do anything about them, unless they involve someone Donald Trump considers a sworn enemy, like CNN. Democrats have tried, but infrequently and often too tepidly.
But A Better Deal said enough. We’re gonna get tough on monopolists and wannabes. No less a figure than Jared Bernstein, a leading liberal economist who doesn’t impress easily on these matters, thought the language was pretty terrific.
Well, Democrats. Now, The New York Times has detailed for all of us to see some absolutely shocking, anti-democratic, and—not that it should matter—anti-Democratic behavior on behalf of the biggest tech giant there is: Facebook. You, reader, need to read that piece if you haven’t. It’s a monster piece of journalism that deserves to change the whole course of the conversation about Facebook. And it confirms every worst thing you thought and then some.
For Democrats, it’s time to follow through on that A Better Deal promise. The voters of America have placed one of the houses of Congress in your hands. You said if you took control, you’d crack the monopoly whip. And here we have fresh evidence of a monopoly power engaging in egregious behavior, concealing from the public facts it knew pertinent to no less a matter than Russian influence in the 2016 election and then going on a PR offensive that at once tried to pin blame on George Soros and to cry that Facebook was a victim of anti-Semitism (great touch!).
All that should be motivation enough. But if you need more, here’s a little partisan icing on the substantive cake: Facebook refused to take down Trump’s post on his Muslim ban or to otherwise censure him because it was afraid of the conservative response. It hired a Republican consulting firm called Definers because it didn’t want to seem liberal. It hired Jon Kyl (this was before he filled John McCain’s Senate seat) to help it avoid the appearance of having an “anti-conservative bias.”
So, Democrats, take a stand. Schedule hearings immediately. Nancy Pelosi, want to save your job? Take action, right now.
The committee that has jurisdiction here is the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The incoming chairman will apparently be Frank Pallone of New Jersey, a longtime member who just got reelected with 63 percent of the vote from a district that is not known for being too tech-heavy. In other words, he has no visible reason to hold back. Here are Pallone’s major contributors. Facebook specifically and hi-tech generally aren’t among them (he’s gotten just a few thousand bucks from the company).
But this is not just on Pallone. This is a Moment for the Democratic Party. The Democrats have been too cozy with tech for too long. In the 2016 cycle, Facebook’s PAC and employees donated $4.65 million, 67 percent of it to Democrats. This year, it gave $2 million to politicians, 70 percent of which went to Democrats. Amazon’s PAC and employees gave $1.8 million in 2016, 70 percent to Democrats. The PAC and employees of Google (now Alphabet Inc.) gave $9 million in 2016, 64 percent to Democrats.
There’s nothing inherently evil about that money, especially compared to oil and fossil-fuel money, which is the mother’s milk of the GOP. But it and all the connections that come with it have colored the party’s view of the country and its economy. This includes everyone. The Clintons, the Obamas, everyone. They gave the impression of having come to believe that if things were OK in Silicon Valley and Redwood, they were OK everywhere. As Apple goes, so goes America.
But that wasn’t true. What was true was that huge stretches of the country might as well have been a galaxy away from Silicon Valley. I think it’s unfair to say Democrats totally forgot about these people. They tried to pass infrastructure bills and minimum wage bills and overtime pay regulations, and the Republicans thwarted them at every turn.
But they did forget how to talk to them. They forgot to make them the centerpiece of their economic policy as they became lost in obsession over the promises of the sharing economy. Into that lacuna stepped Donald Trump, and the rest is history.
Democrats, seize this day. Come down on these people, hard. Chuck Schumer, consider imploring your daughter to leave her Facebook job and work somewhere else. This is exactly the kind of appearance Democrats don’t need. Nancy Pelosi, you’re from San Francisco. Show your independence from these people in your neighborhood.
Break Facebook up. Regulate the tar out of it. Just do something, and something big. You said last year you want to reclaim the mantle of being trust-busters on behalf of the little people. Well, step up. The little people will notice if you do—and believe me, they’ll notice if you don’t.