Disposing of Roberts's arguments is a tiresome task, because they aren't in fact arguments. He whines about how another election would be expensive, and presumes that the burden of covering those costs should fall on the At Large itself, or at least on its advocates. He kvetches that there's "no leadership," and that the ratio of active contributors to lurkers in the At Large Study Committee forum "is not popular democracy." And he announces, on the grounds that "[t]here is no statute for ICANN to enforce ... no legislation ... no governmentally imposed taxes," that "the legitimacy argument comes up short, way short."
ICANN's critics have been through these issues so many times, and in such numbing detail, that Roberts's tiresome repetition is quickly devolving into the rhetorical equivalent of a denial-of-services attack. In order:
Expense: Where there's a will, there's a way; but when it comes to elections, ICANN staff have no will aside from the will to whinge about how there's no way. If ICANN's staff wanted to find the money, they could (for starters) rein in Jones Day Reavis and Pogue's fantasmagorical legal bills, impose cost controls on "reimbursements" to gravytrain-squatting boardmembers, forgo hiring their croneys at $80-130K a pop, and be a little more appropriately finnicky about the sponsorships they accept (hint: skip the rubbishy "gala" receptions and get the Getty to pony up some cash).
Leadership: Mr. Roberts knows very well that under his "leadership," ICANN staff engaged in the purest form of divide-and-conquer by vigorously obstructing any and every proposed method for At Large members to contact each other. Now he grouses that there's "no leadership." Venal or stupid? You decide.
Not popular democracy: And the alternative to an At Large is democratic? When it comes to the At Large, Roberts champions fundy democracy; but when it comes to the At Large-free alternative, his criteria suddenly shift, three-card-monte-style, to pure pragmatics:
ICANN doesn't need a self-organized, self-sustaining worldwide At Large organization to do its job. Names will get registered, root entries will get made, new DNS technology will be deployed - all without the participation of an individual users organization. As the ALSC and others have said, the existence of an ALSO makes process for ICANN harder, not easier. It would be noisy and it takes time and energy and dollars to separate signal from noise and balance it against other stakeholder interests.
Legitimacy: If At Large advocates fall "way short" when it comes to legitimacy, At Large antagonists fall way nano -- nay, pico. If there's nothing more than "a four year old cabinet agency policy paper" at the root of this all, then ICANN dangles from a slender thread indeed. Effective and open public input, as opposed to pay-to-play interest-mongering, would provide ICANN with a more substantial reason to exist.
But the scum de la scum is to be found in Roberts's perverse pimping of John Gardner's sad death:
John Gardner died this weekend on the Stanford campus just over the hill from me. He was an idol to young Americans like my wife and myself in the idealistic '60s. He got us into public sector organizations to help make democracy work, and some of us stayed there the rest of our careers. He wrote books like "Excellence" and "Self-Renewal" that energized students and adults alike. He had an eye and an ear for the art of the possible. He was the author of the famous phrase that a society without plumbers is a society that won't work. When he thought that the political process was becoming corrupt, he founded Common Cause, which has 200,000 dues paying members who care about effective democracy and are willing to pay to help make it happen.
Somehow, I doubt that Mr. Gardner would be pleased to learn that his lifetime of work is being invoked as a sanctimonious bludgeon to score a cheap point about paying dues. But don't take my word for it -- let's take a look at Gardner's obituary in the New York Times:
[Gardner] was perhaps best known as the founder of Common Cause in 1970. The organization spawned a grass-roots nonpartisan movement that opposed the Vietnam War, pressed the causes of civil rights and voter participation, campaigned to make national and state governments more accountable, and strengthened laws to require open meetings and full disclosure of lobbyists' gifts and favors.
Antimilitarism, civil rights, public participation, active outreach, accountability, openness and full disclosure, high ethical standards ... to hear ICANN's former CEO and current stalking-horse invoke this legacy to justify his tawdry agenda is a bit like listening to "Singin' in the Rain" -- as sung by Alex in A Clockwork Orange.
Common Cause, he said, would lobby not for special interests but for the people, seeking greater public participation in government and greater accountability by national and state officials. It would lobby for campaign finance changes, civil rights and higher ethical standards for public officials. It would stress the need for greater voter turnouts, and seek to restore public faith in government.
"Everyone is organized but the people," Mr. Gardner said as he began a huge direct mail and advertising campaign aimed at the "middle 80 percent" of Americans who were not liberals or conservatives, but "who want the system to work, who want to do something effective for their country."
"When Americans attend open meetings or read their government's documents, or take part in our battered but resilient public finance system for presidential elections, there is a memorial to John Gardner," Scott Harshbarger, the president of Common Cause, said in a statement yesterday. "When we turn on public television, or when government insures no senior or poor person goes without health care, we take part in programs John Gardner initiated."