From time to time on this site, we will be posting nominees for the “Luddite of the Month” award, or as I will be designating it, the “Fritz Award” in honor of the greatest Luddite to ever walk the halls of Congress, Senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings. If this site would have existed back in the dark ages of communications technology, we would have certainly seen Fritz win “Luddite of the Month” honors many times over. If you’ve never had the privilege of seeing Fritz in action, then you’ve missed the opportunity to witness a true knuckle-dragging Neanderthal at work. Never has there been a policymaker who consistently expressed such open disdain for technological progress and free trade.
For example, a few years ago, my colleague Dan Griswold, the Cato Institute’s Director of Center for Trade Policy Studies was testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee and was asked why America imported so many cars from South Korea. When Dan suggested it was because many Americans found those autos to be a reliable and affordable option for their families, Fritz Hollings burst out in open laughter and outright contempt for the very notion that Americans might actually desire foreign products. The notion was antithetical to Fritz’s old xenophobic, managed-trade sensibilities. Not surprisingly, he consistently scores at or near the very bottom of Cato’s occasional survey of the free trade voting records.
On tech policy, things haven’t been much better. Fritz concocted a mandatory national DRM (digital rights management) scheme in the last session of Congress that would have made Soviet central planners proud. He also proposed another compete divestiture for the telecommunications sector. He also been the most consistent proponent of regulating new technologies, including broadband networks and the Internet. And on the free speech front, well… Fritz isn’t much for it. He’s always a lead sponsor on bills to impose more speech controls on television, radio and the Internet. His latest sanitize-the-media bill, which I wrote about in a recent column, proposes that the FCC begin regulating “excessively violent” programming on broadcast AND cable television.
I could go on and on, but you get the point: Fritz hates freedom! If he doesn’t get a say in how something works, well then it’s just no good in his book. He’s one of these politicians who believes that everyone should come to Washington, kiss the ring, and ask “Mother may I” before offering the public any new good or service.
And so, as he prepares to step down from Congress this fall, we name this award in his honor and simultaneously induct him into the Luddite Hall of Fame. Congratulations Fritz, you were truly one-of-a-kind. I just hope there aren’t too many more of your kind I have to deal with in the future! Regrettably, however, I know there will be, so we’ll be handing out Fritz Awards to those who follow in your ignoble footsteps.