Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Chris Dodd and the Dead Moose on Google's Table

Perhaps the most important reason that Al Gore deserves the Nobel Peace Prize (even though it was not acknowledged at the ceremony) is that he has advanced the language we can use for describing political discourse. He has provided us with a new category: An assertion in political discourse either acknowledges some "inconvenient truth;" or it doesn't. When Declan McCullagh wrote, in his Iconoclast blog post for CNET, "Most presidential hopefuls who show up at the so-called Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif., praise their hosts and marvel at the company's search technology," he was describing politicians who kept the level of discourse safely (and "conveniently") in the latter category. That sentence, however, was used to introduce an account of Chris Dodd's recent visit to Google; and Dodd decided that, for this audience at least, he was not going to shy away from inconvenient truths. McCullagh posted the following excerpts from Dodd's speech to make his point:

If you believe that the Googles of the world can serve as a democratizing force and expand freedoms--after what we have seen in the wake of 9/11, with the sheer amount of information you have, we would be fools to not also believe the other side of that equation: that such power can also take those freedoms away...

It is what you have been criticized for doing in your China venture,, which was built to expressly censor subjects the Chinese government deemed controversial.

And it is what you are currently being accused of doing, in assisting the Israeli government with identifying a citizen who made allegations against three members of the Shaarei Tikva Council posted on your Blogger service...

And you can start with this: By telling the Chinese government that will no longer censor information with Google's consent. And should the Chinese government not find that acceptable, will be shut down.

He then offered what may be the only sensible reaction to Dodd's strategy:

Is this good advice? Because there's no really perfect answer, it's hard to say.

As one might expect, McCullagh has already fielded some commenters eager to answer his question more definitively. Personally, I am less interested in whether or not Dodd's advice was good than I am in his taking the trouble to propose it at all, forcing his audience to admit that there is a dead moose on the table. Similarly, while I appreciate those who defend Google's decisions with the ultimately-a-business argument, I am less appreciative of that argument being applied to resolve a question that involves a conflict of moral values between two radically different cultures. Yes, Dodd is running so far behind that he needs to do something to raise his political capital; but just maybe (and I know it's a long shot) he decided to talk about the dead moose on the table because it is such an affront to his personal moral convictions. This gives him the courage to talk about inconvenient truths. That is a courage he shares with Dennis Kucinich (whose numbers also continue to be "down in the noise"); and we should honor both of these men for giving us, as voters, an opportunity to make a real choice that matters.

No comments: