Want Bipartisanship? Be careful What You Wish For

Written by Chuck Gruenwald on July 13, 2013

FORD_Taunus_17M_P2(TL)_deLuxe_Two_door_1958_Radio_Blaupunkt_KölnAt some point during almost every concession and victory speech on every election night, the winners and losers usually pledge to work with the other side – the usual cry for bipartisanship. Unfortunately, bipartisanship – when used by politicians — offers the same results for American citizens as shared sacrifice. For those who follow political history, especially recent political history, the meaning of shared sacrifice is “the screwing-over of Americans a second time,” in an unsuccessful attempt to fix the damage caused by screwing them over the first time.

Two of the most obvious examples of bipartisanship in recent memory are the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the airline bailouts of 2001.

I remember the spirited outbursts from friends and family who had received their cable television bills shortly after the Telecommunications Act was passed into law. Before that first bill was mailed to the cable customers in my neighborhood, a cheery letter from the cable company had arrived. This letter described how cable packages had been “improved” to allow greater consumer choice. However, these new packages were nothing more than the old, first basic package – filleted into three smaller packages; buying the three new basic packages somehow cost much more than the original basic package.

I had noticed two other changes as well: rate increases were steeper and more frequent, and the number of cable companies had dwindled.

Back in early-eighties, northwest suburban Chicago, there were several “small” cable companies that were competing for the right to serve each municipality. Once they had won a contract, companies such as Continental Cablevision, Cablenet, Jones Intercable, plus several others would agree to multi-year, renewable leases in each city or town. In those days, it wasn’t unusual for the companies that provided questionable service to not have their contracts renewed; someone else would be given a chance to succeed where the previous party had failed.

Around 1996, these smaller companies were being merged into larger companies – and the opportunities for local governments to filter out poor service disappeared. The only cable service provider around Chicago hasn’t changed since the late nineties, unless the sale of AT&T Broadband to Comcast is considered to be a change.

As someone who listens to the radio more than watches TV, the law which allowed the cable companies to increase their rates, and seemingly dismantle the concept of competition, really didn’t affect me – at least not yet…

As someone who appreciates road trips due to the opportunity to listen to radio stations outside of Chicago, the scourge of crony capitalism that turned the cable television industry into a kind of Soviet-era Aeroflot slowly eroded the enjoyment of listening to local radio. Two big reasons for listening to small-market radio stations were the radio personalities and the music that they played; these radio stations were fortunate enough to not have the money to hire a consultant who would give them the same one-hundred song playlist every month.

While driving home from Colorado in March, 2002, a western Nebraska pop radio station aired a Saint Patrick’s Day special that featured authentic Celtic music – not the usual eighties pop songs from the likes of U2 or Dexys Midnight Runners. If I hadn’t been in a rush to return home, I would have turned around – just to listen to that station as long as I could. Unfortunately, a trip to Nebraska about four years ago had proven just how minimalist-competition media had ravaged the most obvious identity of rural America. Yes, I had heard “In the Air Tonight” on four different stations in western Iowa – within ninety minutes.

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Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for uncommonshow.com