I’ve been looking for a good reason to return to last week’s question of online political etiquette, and fortunately commenter Ron Goodwine provided an excellent excuse when he left this note yesterday on the original original e.politics Graeme Frost story:
So long as the Dems can find off limits people to fight their battles, the GOP is just SOL? You can’t be serious!
The Dems have made an art out of finding people who “can’t be challenged” to spout their talking points. Like Ann Coulter, I’ve had more than enough of it. The fact is, the Dems USED that kid and they should be condemned for it.
Now, nowhere in my original piece did I mean to imply that bad online manners were a strictly conservative phenomenon, and if it sounded that way, I apologize: I would argue that most anonymous mobs have the same pleasant tendency to veer toward the extreme. Plenty of examples of the collective gang-tackle exist on the Left, to which several Democratic Congressmembers (and a number of kings) can attest. The Graeme Frost case involved the online Right, so that’s who I called out, but the tendency to dehumanize the enemy knows no political boundaries.
Here’s what I’m getting at: when did it become considered obligatory in politics to demonize the other side? I’m so sick of the “Liberals eat babies”/”Conservatives are bloodthirsty warmongers” crap; it all too often reeks of tough talk for the sake of talking tough, with a bullying edge when it’s directed at the relatively powerless. In the Frost case, you had a family used as a political prop, something that baby-kissing politicians have been doing throughout living memory. Sure, if the people in question had turned out to be millionaires whose receipt of public funds made a mockery of the entire nanny-state concept, that’d be one thing. But look at ’em: they seem pretty middle-of-the-road, which is the entire point.
So here’s what I say: check for lies and hypocrisy, absolutely, but don’t be a jerk about it wait until at least a reasonable percentage of the facts are in before you cry havoc and loose the dogs of war. And, unless you have a legitimate reason to feel that the honest and public expression of your ideas will cost you your job, your family or a life or two (i.e., you live in Burma or work for Fox News [a joke]), public political discourse generally works better when we all stand honestly behind who we are and what we say and sign our names to it. Generally, it just doesn’t hurt to be reasonably polite even when you disagree with someone. Besides, from a cold-blooded political point of view, picking on people gratuitously makes you look bad tough is one thing, mean is another.
Of course, I’m not talking about an absolute but a rule of thumb, and all bets are off when it concerns elected officials and others whose lives are in the public realm (celebrities, wannabes, MySpace exhibitionists, porn stars, bloggers), since there’s no way a reality show contestant (for instance) can claim a reasonable expectation of privacy. In my book at least, satire just about always get a pass, and faceless institutions may be verbally vandalized at will (527s feel no pain). But otherwise, how about we agree that some punches aimed at normal people SHOULD be pulled that just as we wouldn’t push over a grandmother in the street, we ought not to write mean things online about a twelve-year-old kid who’s nearly been killed in a car wreck unless it’s really necessary. Liberal claptrap? My Sunday school teachers in Palestine, Texas would have taught it.