There was probably a time, back in the day of William Borah, say, when there was almost a certain amount of above-it-all classiness to say that you didn't drive a car - as it's said he did not - and maintained a bit of elevated distance from such things as traffic signals, speed limits and road conditions. And if you were a senator at the time, that could probably work. But when almost everyone began to drive, and we all were exposed to road rules and conditions every day, and the federal government was in the middle of building the interstate highway system, that kind of stance really didn't cut it anymore. You wanted a senator who had the same kind of awareness of road traffic that most of us have. If he'd lived another 20 years, Borah might have appreciated that, and learned to drive.
It comes to mind this week with the unfortunate situation Idaho Senator Jim Risch is in over the newly deceased Protect IP Act, of which he had been one of the sponsors.
The Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert noted in a post today that "When he began campaigning for the U.S. Senate in 2007, Jim Risch was proudly computer illiterate. After spending the better part of three decades in public life — and making a small fortune as an attorney — Risch all but boasted about being unplugged from e-mail, the Internet or the blogosphere."
Which wouldn't matter much except that after getting into the Senate, Risch is in the position of having to help make policy concerning the Internet. After hearing about intellectual property theft over the Internet - a problem that is quite real - Risch signed on to what was billed by Hollywood interests and others (and, it should be noted, these are among the biggest and most effective lobbies in the Beltway) as a solution. Except that it was more problem than solution.
Seen from the outside at least, Risch seemed taken by surprise - seemingly becoming aware just in the last few days that problems with the bills have cropped up. In a statement out today, Risch's office said that "At the time of introduction and at the hearings, there was no opposition to the legislation (you may recall the Internet community was all on board with this, then a big split happened" - except that's certainly not our recollection. A Google search will turn up opposition not only from the blogosphere but from Tea Party and many other sources going back for months, not to mention Senator Ron Wyden's once-lonely stand promising a filibuster if necessary. The problems have been evident to many computer-savvy people for a long time - since introduction.
The Congress need not consist of 535 computer geeks, but the people we send there should be conversant with these new rules of the road if they're going to make policy about them. A suggestion for Senator Risch, who (and I sure wouldn't say this of every member of Congress) is more than smart enough to program a computer were he to devote himself to the task: Get online. Surf the web. Leave comments. Get on Facebook. Get on - God help us all - Twitter. Drive the information superhighway for a while. You'll be better prepared when these issues come around next time. Which they will.