People didn’t used to talk about politics. It was one of those things, along with religion, you just didn’t broach in public. At least, they didn’t used to talk about politics as vociferously and as obviously as people do now when they talk on political websites. You know that old New Yorker cartoon with the caption, “On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog”? Well, on the Internet, everyone knows you’re a liberal — or whatever you are. Mostly because you won’t stop telling them.
The internet gives us a sort of free reign that we don’t practice in everyday life. It’s unlikely you’d walk up to the host at a fancy South of Broad cocktail party and announce exactly what you thought of George W. Bush. (Well, maybe you would after a certain number of G&Ts, but I wouldn’t — not without fearing for my life, anyway.) It’s just not the done thing; we all know to steer away from politics and religion when chatting to people we’ve only just met, just as we all know not to get onto the topic of swinging or back hair or how much we paid for our houses.
But get us online and we can’t hold back. We include our political preference on MySpace and Friendster and Match.com the way we include our musical preference, our marital status, our favorite books. We blog about the election. We log on to Wonkette.com for “all the D.C. gossip.” (Who knew there was so much D.C. gossip?) We leave scathing comments in political discussion forums, typing things we’d never dare say in public. We buy Christmas cards from sites like CardCarryingLiberal.com that say things like “May we overcome fear, embrace hope, and save our nation from morons.” (Well, I bought them. Though I’ll have to be careful who I send them to.)
And that’s just the paradox; for a nation of people still too polite to disclose to acquaintances and coworkers which way we voted — I mean, come on, in Charleston, we don’t even like to ask which dry-cleaner a friend goes to — we’ve come a long way, baby.
Obviously, I’m not talking about political commentators, people who make a living from blathering about their opinions in various news outlets they’ve been ranting on for eons. I’m talking about everyday people like you and me, people who’d likely have to delicately test the waters at a dinner party before bringing up the subject of Iraq in case it caused an embarrassing argument over the crème brulée. You wouldn’t want to accidentally offend your wife’s new boss by spouting off your political opinions, would you? But if we get you home to your iBook, you’ll leave a complex comment on The Huffington Post or RedState.com faster than you can say “enforced military draft.”
Which makes me wonder about people — older people, mostly, who don’t understand the internet — who don’t have that safe, anonymous outlet in which to discuss their political views without worry of having their car keyed in the night. Do they only hang out with people who agree with them? (Likely.) Do they just not care? (Also very possible.) Or maybe they’re dying to give their opinion of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal — have been dying, in fact, since 1998 — and yet they just don’t know that they can. In which case, we need to get them to a library, stat.
Holly Burns goes to Arrow Dry Cleaners on Calhoun and she’s not afraid to say it. You can find her on the web at www.nothingbutbonfires.com.