The R-Word: When Politics and Social Media Collide
On November 6, 2012, most of the USA was either standing in line to vote, voting, or Facebooking / tweeting / Instagramming about the race between incumbent and Democrat, President Barack Obama, and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. This was a landmark election not so much in its outcome (incumbents usually go on to a second term—only 10 in our history have lost a second-term election race)—but in the fact that social media played an integral part of the candidates’ campaigns and our engagement as a nation.
Twitter—and social media in general—have come a long way since the last presidential election four years ago. Twitter, with its very public face, was still a largely misunderstood new paradigm for communication, trailing behind personal and private Facebook in total users. Since 2008, a hell of a lot has happened: Twitter exploded; hashtags infiltrated traditional media; your mom and grandmother joined Facebook; iPads were born; and iPhones, smartphones, and Instagram seized the nation. As a result, the way we consume news and communicate with each other changed forever.
Politics and Social Media: An Irritating Combination
As bloggers and Americans, we’ve found ourselves at a crossroads in the last few weeks, at that awkward and uncomfortable place where our private beliefs and public personas meet, and not necessarily successfully. Political jokes and innuendo are no longer confined to email for distribution to a “safe” list of addresses maintained by like-minded people. With Facebook now the preferred medium for personal photo sharing and interaction, it was inevitable that status updates would eventually become clogged with political imagery and ballyhoo, now being delivered to an audience of friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances—who may or may not subscribe to your beliefs, or appreciate you vocalizing them.
I should know. I am not one to post or email political jokes; I’ve always found those irritating “FW: …” subject lines/emails passé and insipid. So I’ve taken particular offense to updates in my Twitter and Facebook feeds that are nothing more than insults aimed at the candidate not liked by the person making the update. It’s one thing to show support, tweet a #TeamObama or #RomneyRyan2012; it’s quite another to beat the “binder full of women” soundbite to death. I become “47%” more likely to remove people like that from my list of favorites every time I read a snide new comment from them. I don’t unfollow, but I will disengage. I don’t mind a differing opinion, but I do mind irrelevant, personal, and juvenile attacks—don’t hate, appreciate.
Despite my mounting level of frustration, I’d never attack someone verbally or bully them because their beliefs don’t match mine, and that includes attacking candidates publicly—POLITICIANS ARE PEOPLE TOO, remember? You can debate and disagree, but bagging a candidate’s wife or implying as a designer that you absolutely did not dress her (like she’s some horrific, child-molester-ax-murderer)—that’s just ridiculous. No matter what you think about a candidate’s views and policies, it takes guts and dedication to throw a hat in the ring; I have tremendous respect for anyone who has the fortitude to run for political office.
Like all of you, I have my thoughts, but attacking a buffoon because they can’t shut up would make me no better than the buffoon who attacks me. So I’ve sat through weeks of offensive commentary and tried to pretend I still liked some of the more politically vocal people I know after witnessing the inner workings of their minds. Judging from what I’ve read on Twitter and Facebook, I am not the only one who found social media irritating and anxiety-inducing in the weeks leading up to the election, and in the days after. But anyway.
Coming Out of the Closet
Then Election Day happened. Feeling passionate about the race and how close it was, I decided that if everyone could broadcast their support, well then, so could I. I am who I am, and I would no sooner deny my political beliefs than I’d deny my religious ones.
On election day, I sent this tweet:
— Grit & Glamour™ (@gritandglamour) November 6, 2012
As you can see, it’s a simple statement of support, not an attack on any other party or candidate. I admitted publicly that I not only voted for the Republican candidate, when pressed on Twitter, I also divulged that I am a registered Republican, and have been since Clinton’s second term.
Truth be told, I knew that as soon as I mentioned the R-word, there would be consequences. Somehow over the years, being a Republican has become “uncool.” I believe that social media—and Hollywood celebs, bands, and singers (who are overwhelmingly Democrat and have the audience and opportunity to share political beliefs)—are probably largely responsible for this shift in view. Since Republicans are often conservative in more than just their beliefs, they tend to take a quieter—and often completely silent—approach. That said, there is a healthy way to engage in political discourse, for example this exchange, in which I was asked why I supported Romney:
Gay Rights and School Bonds
So back to Election Day. I voted, I tweeted that I voted Romney/Ryan, and made no comments whatsoever about Obama. Later that day, some girl on Twitter I do not know mentioned me in a tweet to someone else, pointing out that I voted Romney, and she “couldn’t follow that,” or something like that. She then proceeded to lambaste me for voting Republican, saying I wasn’t voting for gay rights, how I couldn’t have gay friends and do right by them by voting Republican. She was extremely condescending and inflammatory, and I basically told her I didn’t have to justify myself to her or anyone, then blocked her because she was so nasty to me. Here are some tweets from others who witnessed the exchange:
I’m sure if I had attacked that girl who felt the need to give me a dressing down, she’d have gone straight for the jugular. But I never would. It’s stupid and narrow-minded to belittle others just because they have a different point of view. Regardless, after I admitted where I stood, over the course of the night I watched my Twitter followers decrease by around 30. Some tweets on the unfollow phenomenon:
— Katie C (@SheLikesRuffles) November 7, 2012
This is what gets me: while I do have gay friends I would absolutely go to bat for, why is she holding me responsible for ensuring their rights? That’s like moms across my state holding me responsible for a working mother or public school initiative. Or me holding her responsible for ensuring my right to own a gun. I am not gay. I am not a mom. I do not have children. So I’m not especially concerned about issues related to them. Doesn’t mean I don’t care. But let’s be real here: we vote for the candidates, bonds, and referendums that mean something to us. Very personally and very specifically. What matters to me, and why I voted Republican is I believe very strongly in the right to bear arms. Outlawing guns just keeps honest citizens from being able to legally defend themselves—it doesn’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals. I believe in drug testing welfare recipients and welfare reform. In ensuring that more of my money goes in my pocket, and less into taxes that support programs I don’t believe in and that do not benefit my family. And in reducing our national debt, not our military spending.
The Other R-Word
I vote the way I want to vote because I can, because this great country affords me that freedom and privilege, and our military helps ensure it. I’m not voting “against” my wonderful gay friends with my choice any more than they are voting “against” me with theirs. That’s why we vote. So everyone has the chance to make their own decisions about what really matters to them. In the United States, we experience freedom that is unparalleled. Freedom to engage in debate, to live where we want, vote as we’d like, or complain and protest for legislative change. The whole point of this post was said better by non-Republican blog friend, Kevin, than me:
So here’s another R-word: RESPECT. Respect that others are entitled to their own beliefs. Live and let live. Whether we are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, we are all Americans.