My father has always admonished me that I shouldn’t talk about religion and how people vote. I love to talk politics, mainly because I was raised in a house that did talk politics, including my father, his father, an uncle, and my mother. My mom has always stated that if only Pat Paulsen were alive, he’d be the best candidate. I’m beginning to agree. However, despite his warnings to never talk politics, it was my dad’s favorite thing to do with his own relatives.
In the past, campaigns were fought, “in the trenches,” as any good politician would like to say, or rather, on campaign stops and fundraisers. William McKinley was famous for his porch speeches, and so many candidates put towns on the map simply by delivering famous speeches quoted for years to come. The voting public and curious onlookers would travel to hear the politicians. It was a social outing and took us out of our comfort zones to go out, stand, wait, be seen, and put our views out on display. I remember putting a bumper sticker on my car, worried about what my parents would think about me driving around town with that on. They supported the same candidate, but to them, well, it was a private affair.
Today, the campaigners work on social networking sites, mainly Facebook and Twitter, and instead of driving 20-50 miles to hear a candidate, people simply “like” or “friend” candidates and incumbents. Then their followers can “share” their postings, all in a matter of seconds, thousands of times a day. A system, I think, that would be much more cost-effective than traveling in a fancy coach across the country, shaking hands and kissing babies.
This efficient electronic system, which sets precedent in this 2012 presidential election year, is also our undoing as responsible Americans. I’m as guilty as the people I rail against. It’s so easy to click and share a negative and misinformed quote, condemn those who must be agents of the devil to support the opponent, and we can stand in relative facelessness on our soapboxes and click away in disgust at the opponent and the idiots who must support him/her. We have, to the chagrin of my father and his generation, taken the private and personal side out of political beliefs, and slammed them down the throats of anyone within eyesight or earshot.
I have several Facebook friends, and friends in real life, who have warned about political comments upsetting them and unfriending those who do so. I commend them. Each day that I log on to Facebook, I wait, almost as a dare, to see which “friend” insults my intelligence, makes a racist or off-color (dirty) joke, spreads misinformation and lies, and generally just makes me angry. Those who set out to create a political chasm in this country have succeeded: we have more hatred and anger toward the opposition than any sense of what is right and best for all Americans.
We, the electronic media and social networkers, have let politicians do their dirty work. And we’ve let them willingly turn an election into a smear campaign beyond all belief. We have allowed ourselves to be the pawns of Washington and Columbus, and our own communities. It’s true. There’s no interest in common ground or really fixing the problems in our nation; we have dug the ditch between us and the Other Guys, one Facebook post at a time. Any politician who says he or she laments the chasm and division in this country is either a liar or too afraid to admit why we are the way we are: we’ve been molded by our own government and more importantly, we’ve been molded by their campaign advisors. I’m sure the late Lee Atwater or James Carville couldn’t even fathom how much the electronic instant messages and posts of the Internet that call the shots, not their minds of genius.
Those on either side of the debate do the old “duck and run” bit, throwing stones at a glass house, ducking down and then running away, hoping to escape the fallout for what they’ve stated in their social media posts. After all, they are asked, “What’s on your mind?” It seems only natural to stand up and proclaim the same skewed rhetoric with the same slippery slopes and lies over and over and over. This cuts down on the need to actually think, making it, in our minds, not only our God-given “right” to speak out, but time-saving and effective.
I have often wondered over the past two years, since the gubernatorial election, if I can actually stand to communicate with some folks, in person, on the phone, or electronically, based on the garbage they sling. I am sure some would say the same about me. Again, America becomes divided and we are none the wiser.
Since this is a precedent-setting election year, I think what’s going to happen is that no matter who wins, the backlash against them will only continue to grow on social media sites, as will the unquestioning support. In the past, it was said that people voted with their wallets; if it was fat, they kept the incumbent. If it was thin, the challenger was a shoo-in. I think we still vote with our wallets, but we are bombarded with posts and videos and comments that defy logic, reason, and downright civility. The rest of the world is watching us sling rotten eggs at ourselves, declaring our own friends, neighbors and family members the enemy in a Civil War-style mudslinging.
“What if I don’t have Facebook or Twitter?” my sister asked, as I wrote this blog. “Would I not be allowed to vote?” I looked at her and said, in all honesty, “If you don’t, well, maybe you should be the only ones voting.”
Published: August 31, 2012