A few days ago I got a forward of one of the pervasive rumor mongering letters that have been circulating about Barack Obama since it became obvious he would win the nomination and the Right Wing wouldn’t have Hillary to trash this go around. Luckily for them, Obama is an equally inviting or, some would say, even easier, target.
You know the dance: those rumors that accuse him (falsely) of being a Muslim, or take advantage of his middle name, or that play to innate racism in more, or less, subtle ways. This one claims he’s not a citizen. I presume that’s just as false as the others, but, if it’s not, I prefer to await the judgment of a court, which the letter claims is being sought and would certainly make front page news around the world, before I participate in such slander by passing on an e-mail accusing him of that flaw.
It made me especially mad, and I may have responded overly harshly to the sender. But I’m not apologetic about the response, for I think responding to this kind of crap, i.e., the rumor mongering, is absolutely essential to preserving freedom in America. And this isn’t necessarily limited to comments about Obama, although the technique currently seems to be a particular favorite of the Right Wing (has been since Nixon, in fact).
When everyone around me was telling Clinton-Lewinsky jokes I got equally mad. More so, perhaps, because it was clearly tying the hands of the President so that he dare not do anything bold in executing his office. It literally hounded the potentially strongest (my opinion) President since Kennedy into ineffectiveness, including, but far from limited to, preventing his full pursuit of Bin Laden. And the motivation for starting the harassment of a sitting President, and for pursuing the whole issue in the courts and then Congress with impeachment, was clearly nothing but political.
These things, just like politics itself, matter. I understand why people might not like politics, for a very large portion of politicians are, in fact, weasels, and virtually all, in order to succeed, sometimes have to get into the mud themselves. But, if anything, that just says you have to hold your nose and follow it. And not just during elections, when the pressure is greatest to force the fighters into the pit. If you don’t follow it all the time, how are you ever to know which politician is more apt to be an honest broker in the real-time that post-elections are?
The bottom line of democracy, however, is not “the politicians” but the electorate. There’s no way around it, in a democracy, the people get exactly the government they deserve, for they choose it. America is more guilty of creating dysfunctional governments (in the sense of actually fulfilling the “social contract,” as Rousseau called it) than any other modern society precisely because of Americans’ disdain for politics. We hardly follow it at all, except maybe during an election or a scandal. As a consequence, we can be greatly manipulated by the clever public relations campaign.
The most innovative recent twist in manipulating public opinion is the word of mouth campaign–the “crowd sourcing” of public opinion, if you like. When we forward a letter like the one I got, we’re part of that phenomenon, just as the joke tellers were in the Clinton Presidency. We all have to become aware of it to stop it.
So, please, don’t do it. And, if you know you have done, stop it. But please also be on the alert for the next time it tempts you, or you see someone else naively participating–for it seems innocent and harmless–but it isn’t.
If you receive one of these hateful, manipulative, letters, whether re. Obama or McCain or even your local Congressman, send a strongly worded e-mail as a “response to all” to counter it. Feel free to cut and paste this, if you like. We have to nip this in the bud if we hope to ever regain control of our government.