Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Hillary Clinton betrays the First Amendment and wastes the government's time with video game sales bill

Tonight, Politech brings me news that Sen. Hillary Clinton is, with Sen. Lieberman's help, introducing the "Family Entertainment Protection Act", which will impose fines on retailers that sell "M-rated" video games to minors.

Stuff like this is a perfect example of why I will never feel excited about Sen. Clinton as a politician. This bill's wrong for all sorts of reasons. First, and most obviously, it infringes on people's First Amendment rights, or at least skirts perilously close (because it subjects video games to legal restrictions that don't exist for any other expressive medium, and are therefore not content-neutral). Second, the problems it addresses can be also solved by technological measures, like parental control interfaces on game consoles, which the industry's already implementing. Third, the law will waste the resources of Federal law enforcement agencies, which have plenty of real crimes like fraud and terrorism to deal with. Fourth, even if enforced, the law will probably do little to reduce the incidence of children playing violent video games.1 Fifth, it's ridiculous to have a Federal law about this when local community standards about acceptable game use may vary widely. Sixth, it's ridiculous to suppose that sixteen-year-olds and eight-year-olds need to be "protected" in the same way.

Finally, even if none of the above were true, the bill would still be a waste of time and energy. There are about ten thousand more important issues that Clinton could be acting upon, and it's a sign of her extraordinarily misplaced priorities that she's choosing to insert herself into the news cycle with this one.

But none of this matters to Sen. Clinton. Sen. Clinton thinks she can buy off "values" voters by offering up this bill, and so the bill gets offered. The Lieberman co-sponsorship is telling, because I think it reveals the proper way to think about Clinton: she's basically a slightly more mediagenic version of Holy Joe. Whenever the going gets tough --- and even when times aren't tough, but she just wants some attention --- Clinton will instinctively tack rightward on culture issues and national security issues2, because she fundamentally believes that's how Democrats win elections. If Clinton has failed, thus far, to equivocate on Intelligent Design, it's only because she doesn't think it's a big enough vote-earner.3

And the kicker's that this particular element of the ploy, at least, probably won't even work. Are suburban parents really going to vote for Clinton because she came out against violent video games? If so, then I weep for our nation.

1. When I was a kid, I didn't have the cash to buy video games on my own. My parents bought them for me. Even if I got a game through other means, like borrowing from a friend, it was never a big secret what my siblings and I were playing: the cases were lying around on the floor, and the gameplay was right up there on the television screen, for anyone in the den to see. The problem (to the extent that any problem exists) is not that stores are selling mature games to little kids. The problem's that parents aren't paying attention to the games that they buy for their kids, and that they permit to be played on the family television. Legal penalties for selling to kids are just a non sequitur.

2. Speaking of national security, let us also contemplate the irony of Clinton's bill in light of her consistent support for, you know, actually real violence on a massive scale, in the form of the Iraq war.

3. Incidentally, McCain has already made the opposite calculation w.r.t. Intelligent Design. Why this man gets credit for having greater integrity than, say, Rick Santorum is a freaking mystery to me. I hypothesize it has something to do with the fact that Santorum's obviously a bigot, which is an unforgivable media sin, whereas McCain's merely incredibly bad on civil liberties, women's rights, and labor rights, which all fly right under the radar for well-fed pundits. Don't get me wrong --- as long as the Republicans remain a band of plutocrats, theocrats, and criminals, McCain's a useful guy to have around in the Senate. But I've got no particular affection for him, and I certainly don't want him to be President.


  1. I have friends who are looking forward to working in Clinton’s campaign, and I cannot talk them out of it. It is always dangerous when politicians who have an undeserved reputation for being liberal start to run for president. There is always this incentive to “inoculate” themselves against right wing attacks by giving in without a fight. If her campaign continues to develop, there will be plenty more of these cheap ill-conceived give-aways.

    McCain running against Clinton would be a sorry race. I hope it doesn’t come to that.

  2. McCain gets his props because 'slightly less than rabidly right-wing, religious conservative' has been recalibrated to mean 'loony liberal.'

    If it comes down to McCain v. Clinton in '08, I may go back to voting 3rd party 'till Obama is seasoned enough to make a serious run.

  3. The problem is that we live in a society with arbitrarily defined moral values (whether there is another kind is, of course, a matter of personal belief). We allow our children to witness violence, torture, and murder on prime time television every single night, yet if a woman's breast is exposed in any visual medium, it is considered perverse and unnatural, and we cover our children's eyes.

    I think Cicero had the right of it when he layed the groundwork for a non-ethical state (in "de officiis"). There is no possibility of universal morality, and therefore the state should occupy itself with the more important matters of peace, equity, and protection of private property.

    Hell, if the state could guarantee peace and equity, I would probably submit to its confused sense of morality. First things first, though!