Chris Dodd, the MPAA, and SOPA

Why we can’t count on our “representatives” or each other.

Today marked one of the few victories for freedom, accountability, and transparency that we have seen in quite a while. Yet while millions gathered online petitions, called their congressmen, and generally leveraged the power of the net to save its very soul (at least for now), one curious fact seems to have escaped widespread scrutiny and analysis. It seems that following his retirement after 36 years of “service” as a lawmaker, in May of last year Democratic Senator Chris Dodd took the job of Chairman and CEO for the Motion Picture Association of America. We have to thank Glen Greenwald for pointing this out earlier today amidst all the campaigning against the Stop Online Piracy Act. Not only did Sen. Dodd take this job after retiring from the Senate, he did so after specifically stating he would not become a lobbyist like so many other Congressmen on their way out of Capitol Hill. Of course the title he currently holds is not necessarily that of a typical lobbyist or “consultant” as many like to be called, but what other purpose could a man with Dodd’s experience serve for a multibillion dollar entertainment conglomerate? Indeed Dodd made the rounds on the news networks today as a passionate defender of the MPAA and their “rights” against the onslaught of seedy pirates seeking to rob hard working Key Grips, makeup artists, and PAs of their well-earned paychecks. This line of argument exists to persuade you that the 2.2 million people employed in the movie industry really are suffering due to copyright infringement and desperately need some legislative aid to keep their jobs. If they are suffering, it probably has more to do with greed than piracy, given the fact that the industry saw record profits last year. 

Going beyond the problems with SOPA and related legislative efforts is the buying of a former congressman to do the MPAA’s bidding. Sen. Dodd is the man who helped create the only major legislation designed to reign in the power of finance in America and here he is literally selling his experience and Washington connections to help an industry that has bucked every major technological innovation in film distribution since Betamax. It is no wonder then that Dodd-Frank was such a spectacularly inadequate piece of legislation, after all what sort of effort to protect the American people can you expect from a man who sells himself to the highest bidder the moment he leaves office? 

The sad truth though, is that Dodd is not alone. There are countless former congressmen who seek fortune at the feel of Baal, thereby sacrificing not only their own integrity, but the very future of our nation as well.  We should not however expect anything different given the political, economic, and social values of the day. We exist in a society that values self-maximization and self-aggrandizement above all else. Students who excel in school are not praised because they are delving into the deep mysteries of existence, or because they are training themselves for a life of serving humanity, but rather because they are “achievers” who will one day meet with “success”.  It’s not that we actively teach selfishness; instead we reward people who know how to “get what they want”. Whether its pressing the professor to turn that A- into an A+ and thus raise one’s GPA by that .2 percent needed to get into Harvard, or taking credit for someone else’s idea at work, the aim is always to achieve more for oneself. Thus when Sen. Dodd dishonors his former office and literally takes a job that should be below his stature as a respected lawmaker of 36 years, no one even bats an eye, especially not him. It’s just another step in his long march towards self-maximization. 

Sen. Dodd and his ilk, including all those retired Generals, FBI Directors, and assorted civil servants who go work for large corporations, are really all just following the script that has been laid before the American people for several decades now. It’s a script most of us follow in our own lives and one that has no room for notions of honor, integrity, or self-sacrifice. Yet these are some of the most critical qualities necessary for the maintenance of a Republic such as ours. There is nothing wrong with making money and being prosperous, but there are times when we must heed a greater call and in order to do that we need to have principles and stick to them. We need to fight against the urge to do everything for the sake of personal expediency and think of how best our talents can be put to use for the greater good as well as our own. 

The world doesn’t necessarily need everyone to be a martyr or superhero, but it does need each of us to do our part when the time comes. In Sen. Dodd’s case that might have meant either retiring from public view( after 36 years he certainly earned it), or if he still wanted to matter he could have taken up the cause of the oppressed and forgotten, using his connections and experience in ways that maybe his former position would not have allowed. We will all face a moment in our lives when we must be willing to sacrifice a paycheck or high status position to do what needs to be done. As long as we follow the lead of people like Sen. Dodd, our country and our world is doomed, but if we begin to turn away from that example, we may someday find that hopeful days such as today become the norm rather than the exception.  

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