Remember when Republicans said they opposed Big Government and the “nanny state?”
Remember when Republicans said children belonged to their parents and not to the state, so the state should stay out of the business of how to raise children? That it doesn’t “take a village” — it just takes a family?
Remember when Republicans insisted that individual responsibility was one of their key policy principles and that to make a third party responsible for behavior creates a moral hazard?
Remember when Republicans believed that the primary job of corporations was to maximize shareholder value and that imposing social duties and obligations upon corporations politicized them and made them into quasi-governmental actors?
Yeah, me too. But those days are gone, at least for now.
In yet another example of how populism has infected the Republican Party and cracked up the conservative Reaganite coalition that delivered roughly 40 years of economic growth and vitality to the country, a significant number of Republicans are supporting a big-regulation bill sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who is one of the most progressive leftist elected members of Congress.
The bill is the “Kids Online Safety Act,” or KOSA. Among other Big Government provisions, KOSA would create legal liability for internet platforms for young people “harmed” by social media, and impose a “duty of care” upon social media companies. It would shift responsibility from parents to corporations, making social media platforms legally responsible to “protect children” without telling them how to do so. It essentially puts social media companies in a no-win situation.
In other words, it’s the standard kind of anti-corporate regulation we expect from progressive leftists.
Here’s what’s new: The co-sponsor of the legislation is socially conservative Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee. And many other elected Republicans in Congress are enthusiastic about this opportunity to join the progressive left in regulating internet platforms.
If we were talking about regulating any other industry, we probably wouldn’t be witnessing quite the same Republican eagerness to regulate. But bashing “Big Tech” has become the cause of the moment for a lot of elected Republicans. The grassroots are angry at the tech industry, especially social media companies, and elected Republicans have an innate sense to try to harness their voters’ anger for their own benefit.
Everyone seems to be mad at Big Tech these days, but especially populist Republicans. They’re sure that social media platforms like Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) discriminate against their favored content, such as vaccine fearmongering and stolen election conspiracies. They think that somehow they should have the right to determine which books Amazon promotes and which Amazon does not.
The nice thing about principles is that they provide bright lines and guardrails. When you operate by principle, you may sometimes find that you are actually defending the rights of those who disagree with you, believe it or not.
That’s the difference between the conservatism I have known since listening to Ronald Reagan’s radio essays over the breakfast table as a teenager and today’s populism. Conservatives follow their principles, even if the end result is not the one they prefer. Populists, on the other hand, start with a preferred outcome and will pursue any means necessary to accomplish it.
So, when it comes to the Kids Online Safety Act, conservatives who value principles such as individual responsibility, limited government and limits on civil lawsuits would never support an effort to saddle the most innovative U.S. companies with impossible regulatory burdens and new legal liability to be exploited by trial lawyers. They would never assert that it is the job of corporations to protect children rather than holding parents accountable and responsible.
Populists and progressives, on the other hand, have a desired outcome. In this case, it’s simply sticking it to Big Tech for perceived wrongs, and they don’t care what ancillary damage is caused and what harmful precedents are established.
It is parents who are primarily responsible for protecting their children from the harms of smoking, alcohol, drugs and yes, social media. Conservatives used to know that.