Politics and the Inhuman
by Chris Bowers, Mon Feb 12, 2007 at 06:02:04 PM EST
As a blogger, I rarely participate in the pile-ons that regular occur in politics when someone goes back on their word, says something offensive, or goes off message. This even goes for when the progressive blogosphere is on the attack. When I do join in, it is usually to point out the hypocrisy of the pile-ons, such as Donohue's hypocrisy when it comes to being outraged by supposed "hate-speech," because the whole practice just seems dishonest to me. When we attack people for going off message, for not being 100% consistent with everything they have said in the past, or for saying something that others could potentially construe as offensive, we are attacking people for doing what pretty much everyone in the entire country does as a matter of course in our daily lives. We all do it, yet somehow in our contemporary political and media world we are eager to crucify people who do so in public.
The whole thing strikes me as having impossible, inhuman expectations of our leaders in a field that is, as I noted above, ultimately about trying to find a way to live together. In this environment, it is no wonder that so many people are cynical about politics. People think that most politicians don't say anything meaningful because, well, most don't say anything meaningful for fear of going off message, contradicting themselves at some point down the road, or pissing anyone off. People can't relate to political figures because the pressure we force upon them to never go off message, never contradict anything they ever say, and never offend anyone makes the way they talk almost entirely unlike the way an actual person talks. People think that it is all just a meaningless game because everyone knows that everyone is guilty of the same charges we regularly lob at politicians and their staff along these lines. Yet we keep doing so, as though none of us live in glass houses or have no sins of our own and, as such, can throw stones at will.
I was planning to make this post since Saturday. Originally, I was planning to do so for two reasons. First, I wanted to explain why I like candidates who come off as a bit raw, which I have to admit is not a term I would use to describe any of our current presidential candidates, especially those in the top tier (although I liked that Edwards was willing to stick with staffers who do). Second, I wanted to urge people in the blogosphere to focus on the media outlets that abet this "gotcha" behavior without pointing out the hypocrisy of those involved. In other words, focus on CNN for giving a hypocrite like Donohue a platform, instead of on Donohue himself. That strikes me as far more productive than playing tit for tat on the conservative whiners who play the PC card. Those were the reasons I was originally going to write the post, which I had planned for tomorrow or Wednesday, but given that Amanda Marcotte has now resigned from the Edwards campaign, I had to bang it out now instead.
Amanda writes that she resigned because she felt muzzled at a time when the right-wing smear machine was coming after her. She didn't want to feel muzzled, she didn't want it to reflect on her friend Melissa, and she didn't want to tie the Edwards campaign down. I see no reason not to take her at her word on this rationale, and I can certainly understand the emotional impetus behind the decision. However, even though I shouldn't be, I admit am pretty disappointed in this outcome. For starters, I once again fear it will appear that progressives have given up a pound of flesh because the right feels offended by something we say. Also, she writes of feeling heartened by the loyalty the blogosphere showed to her and wanting to join in the fight. However, the goal of our fight was to keep her on staff and, as such, I have to wonder if the biggest role she could have played would have been to stay on staff of her own volition. Overall, I can't help but think that all of that work has gone for naught, and nothing will change for the better the next time this happens. And now the progressive blogosphere will look really bad, mostly for encouraging people involved in politics to act like normal humans.
I have never been in Amanda's situation. The closest I came was during the Googlebomb campaign, but what she faced here is more severe by at least an order of magnitude. Despite this, I do know that when you leave what is the relatively authentic and human world of blogging to enter what is the utterly inhuman world of professional politics, you should be prepared for some harsh changes. Considering her actions over the past couple of days, including continuing to write on her own personal blog, I'm not sure she was prepared for this change. But that is not a bad thing. If I said it was, then I would be holding Amanda to the very the same standards I spent most of this post decrying. If I said it was, then I would have slowed morphed into one of those asshole insiders who thinks the blogosphere and the netroots aren't "serious" enough to engage politics at its highest level. Honestly, I can't think of a single way to criticize Amanda without using one of the many tired angles that justify our inhuman political discourse and which are regularly used as a means of criticism against the blogosphere. That, in and of itself, makes me think that Amanda did the right thing, no matter my nagging feelings of disappointment. She is obviously correct to leave a situation where she couldn't express herself in favor of one where she can.
Despite the rise of the blogosphere, our contemporary world of politics is still not terribly welcoming of people who act like normal humans. Throughout this entire incident, Amanda Marcotte has been just about the only person who acted like any normal person would act. At some point in the past, she spoke her mind in a very open and honest fashion. Later on, when she was criticized for doing so, she apologized if those remarks offended anyone. When, even after she apologized, she was still being harassed for speaking her mind, she just withdrew herself from the situation altogether. The people attacking her were clearly being unreasonable, and she didn't want to be muzzled in the way our inhuman expectations have forced political professionals to be muzzled. In that situation, what honest person wouldn't act like she did? By contrast, the faux outrage machine and the press outlets who covered it were covered in bullshit the entire time.
Sadly, the inhuman still rules the world of American politics. We will all be a lot better off when there is a more prominent place for someone like Amanda Marcotte in our public discourse. Unfortunately, right now we still expect humans to be represented by some different sort of life form entirely. Until we start expecting our leaders to be more like the people they represent, we are never going to be happy with the leaders we have.