Sunday, September 7, 2008

Slinging Mud

When children fight, things can get ugly. They may call each other names, throw anything they can get their hands on, and scream so the other person can’t be heard. Responsible adults, seeing that kind of behavior, usually intervene to give the kids a little lesson in good citizenship.

But what can we do when the ruffians are allegedly adults? How can we protect our democracy when the hoodlums have the power to vote?

Since the presidential conventions, I’ve been browsing the editorials to see what people are saying. It’s the time for national dialogue about so many crucial issues that affect every one of us: the U.S. economy, jobs, education, health care, the health of the planet. After the editorials, come the comments. Some are reasonable remarks that contribute meaningful facts or insights. But all too often, they are vicious, hate-filled attacks on the person of a candidate the writer knows nothing about. Undoubtedly that’s occurring on both sides of the bipartisan debate. But it certainly seems to me that it’s people who call themselves Republicans who are doing most of the screaming and name calling.

Just in the past half hour, I found snide and sarcastic remarks alluding to Senator Obama’s religious affiliation, voting record, and occupations, as well as to Senator Biden’s ability connect with everyday people. In each case, it was obvious that the writer didn’t have the facts and was simply slinging incendiary words (like “Islamic”) and second hand rumors (like “All he’s ever done is . . .”). What about the energy problem? What about the war? What about bin Laden?

In a perfect world, all citizens who vote would be able to pass a little quiz to ensure that they at least have a few basic facts on which to base a decision. In the absence of such a policy, I guess those of us who think and reason have to work just a little bit harder to quietly speak our truth to those who don’t. Sometimes seeds of understanding can take root, even in hostile soil.


The Tarquin said...

Two thoughts:

1.) I'm reminded of Robert Heinlein's idea for a voting machine. To vote, you put in a $100 dollar bill. You then take a brief quiz regarding the platforms of the people running. If you pass the quiz, you get your $100 back and get to vote. If not, the $100 goes straight to some charitable endeavor.

To which I say, "if only I weren't morally opposed to poll taxes."

2.) For more on why people turn into adolescent hate-mongers on the internet, cf. John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory: "Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad". (Initially expressed here:

Citizen Jane said...

Dear old Robert Heinlein! I see what you mean. Maybe the idea just needs a little work . . . .

Thanks for the link! I'm sure the anonymity factor is at least a partial explanation for why some people can be so infantile on the Internet. You know what they say about character--it's what we are when nobody's watching.

Thanks for those interesting thoughts!

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