September 28, 2008

Fwd: Off the chain

It's pretty astounding -- and a little frightening -- how much of our political discourse has been happening, unfettered and un-fact-checked through peer-to-peer channels like chain email over the last decade. You end up with whoppers like those questioning Obama's religious identity and "Americanism" that have seeped insidiously into public consciousness via deliberate plants by Republican operatives -- and have largely succeeded in otherizing an otherwise unstoppable candidate.

It's rare that I'm included in one of these forwards, but (shocking!) I find it hard to resist responding when I am, and I try to do so in a way that's inclusive and doesn't alienate the sender -- not always an easy task when you're faced with Islamophobic or anti-immigrant blather.

Last week, I had the pleasure of getting an entirely grassroots email forward generated by pro-choice progressives who were soliciting donations for Planned Parenthood "in honor of" Sarah Palin. It was a pretty welcome change from the standard stuff I usually get from the gun-toting conservative uncle/spooked former music teacher from Alabama conting. Then this morning I got this one:

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, right? .....

I'm a little confused. Let me see if I have this straight.....

If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you're 'exotic,

Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers, a quintessential American story.

If your name is Barack you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.
Name your kids Willow, Trig and Track, you're a maverick.

Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.
Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you're well grounded.

If you spend 3 years as a brilliant community organizer, become the first
black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration
drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a
Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator
representing a district with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the
state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, spe nd 4 years in the
United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while
sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the
Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs
committees, you don't have any real leadership experience.

If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council
and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, 20 months
as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you're qualified
to become the country's second highest ranking executive.

If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2
beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you're not a real

If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your
disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you're a

If you teach responsible , age appropriate sex education, including the
proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.

If , while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other
option in sex education in your state's school system while your unwed teen
daughter ends up pregnant , you're very responsible.

If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a
prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city
community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family's values
don't represent America's.

If you're husband is nicknamed 'First Dude', with at least one DWI
conviction and no college education, who didn't register to vote until age
25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska
from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.

OK, much clearer now.

It was surprisingly well-informed (suprising not because of the sender, but because of the fact that typically these things lack any substance and are just vessels for fear-mongering), and it laid bare the hypocrisy of the Republican ticket's talking points.

I wouldn't gone on with my day at that point, but then I saw this response attached:

You already know how I feel about politics and therefore politicians. You know I don't consider myself Liberal or Conservative. I hate labels, so I define myself a Constitutional Protectionist. Neither side seems to concern themselves with that or what's really wrong with this country. They spend too much time worrying about the personal lives of the opposition. While some of the things that go on, or have gone on, in ones live may be considered a window into their lives, we've all seen that it does not necessarily effect one's ability to lead though it obviously affects our opinion of them as human beings. The problem is both sides lie long enough to get your vote, then do what they want anyway. So, folks please forgive me if I choose place my focus on other things regarding these people and their ability to lead us out of the mess all the previous "leaders" regardless of party, have gotten us into. But, having said all that, I do vote, always have and will, and have never advocated not voting despite seemingly always having to deal with the lesser of two evils. That responsibility as an American citizen is the only thing that gives any of us the right to complain. In all honesty I am not really enamored with any of these people, finding some good and some not so good in all of them. I'm not confused, just annoyed. I don't get caught up in what the media says because I have the same opinion of talking heads that I do of most all politicians. Thanks for the opportunity to read and respond to this but I won't be spending any more time reading or responding. I really do hate politics and the media.

...and I thought, alright, I'll bite, because if no one responds, the debate is DOA. And then why not use it as an excuse to post, since it's been a while since I've written something that was purely for the sake of politicking and intellectual masturbation:

The response to this forward was a bit disturbing to me...especially since I think many Americans share this disillusioned, disenfranchised attitude. Not that there isn't plenty to feel disillusioned about, but a less than surface examination of the candidates' policy positions would reveal that the decision isn't between two very similar candidates or the lesser of two evils. Neither are perfect in my book, but there are very clear cut differences here, ones that you'd discover upon circumventing mainstream network news media, instead of withdrawing from the dialogue.

Pat's forward is exposing the distortions we're getting from talking heads and from campaign spin -- it's essentially affirming those cynical frustrations that many express about opportunistic politicians and sensationalist talking heads. Only the response misses the key point that the distortions are originating from one side in particular.

Rather than just writing off "politics and the media" -- without which, we wouldn't have a democracy or a Constitution -- if you're a self-described Constitutional Protectionist, you'd want to be certain that the next adminstration we elect isn't of the same ilk as one that's shredded the Constitution as gleefully and with as much reckless abandon as the current one.

It's this kind of misplaced -- though understandable -- apathy and surrender to the worst elements in American politics that landed us with the last 8 years. The more that intelligent members of the reality-based community throw up their hands, the easier it will be for these forces of distortion to capture the minds of the more impressionable folks who are more susceptible to the kind of fringe viewpoints that seek to priviledge the very few at the expense of the rest of us. It's our civic duty to prevent that from happening again.

I really think it's important to engage these folks and meet them where they're at, so I 'spose if if this conversation happens to be via email forwards, then I'm game.