WE last encountered Ms Grose's Where-else-but-Slate handiwork when she announced last spring that casual sex had lost its cachet for the under-twenty-five set, whose Voice she is (though I notice that she doesn't confine herself to tweetering and sexting and speaking in acronyms, and more's the pity). We scoffed. Naturally. But in the ensuing half-revolution of the Sun not a single twenty-something nubile has offered me an afternoon of unbridled and anonymous perversion, so I guess there's something to it at that.
And swear to God when I clicked the link I had no idea it was one of Ms Grose's pensées, or even associated with that godawful Reverse 180 post-post-feminist XX Factor thing; I'd seen some commenter say something similar elsewhere, and I thought Christine O'Donnell, (Negative) Harbinger of A New Political Age had merit as the potential Stupidest Thing Said About American Politics on the Internets Today. I just didn't realize that come January it would be in the running for some sort of annual award. And yes, you're right, it is my own fault for reading Slate.
O Lord, is there no way to put a stop to this sort of thing? O'Donnell's an idiot, and a Teabagger of the professionally religious sort. This has encouraged people who don't like Teabaggers, the professionally religious, nor the Republican party which succors them, to turn her into an icon of sorts, but that only gained traction when the GOP couldn't stop her from being its nominee for Joe Biden's old seat. Such is the glorious tradition of two-party politics in this country, which, as all good students know, is precisely the same age as Her tradition of political sleaze. But here's a certain class of people who imagine that their side of the argument is protected, not just by the free speech provisions of the First amendment, but by the Free Exercise clause as well, so that any attack on Christine O'Donnell, even one that originated with her innocent but artificially glistening lips, is an attempt to thwart God's Plan on Earth.
(So much so that Brave Indiana blogger Doug Masson finds the AP's Nafeesa Syeed explaining in a news story that the whole Witchcraft thing is Bill Maher's fault.*)
And I'll be happy to settle, if we might just stop pretending this sort of thing is new, rather than a decades-old dodge. Either it matters that O'Donnell (read: Sarah Palin) is such a religious nutcase and mental incompetent that she gives even this country pause, or it doesn't. That's the issue. It's not whether some people hate her. That's a given. Everybody in politics is hated. So is every religious nut. So's the intersection. It stopped being an epistemological question when O'Donnell filed for public office. When she says things that even marginally-sane people have to regard as iffy, then she has to answer for them. And the answer is not "some people hate me."
I was prepared for more of the same. I was ready, naturally, for that special Slate brand of If Rationality Doesn't Have All The Answers Stupidity Wins By Default. What I wasn't ready for was this:
Though certainly O'Donnell is an extreme example, I wonder if she is a harbinger of political coverage to come—by which I mean, I can foresee a media universe in which old, dumb Facebook posts and unearthed tweets become a consistent source of fodder for journalists.
Okay, one: unless there's some major threat, now invisible, that Future Journalists might come without factory-installed careerist obsequiousness toward the rich, powerful, and potentially sourceable, the risk is really low; consider, for example, what Frat Boy Bonhomie did, not just for George W. Bush, but his feloniously self-absorbed and binge-drinking offspring. Two: "youthful" indiscretion does not extend into your leaving the 18-25 demo. It's only a fractional part of the amusement over that Masturbation video that O'Donnell was a fame-whoring twenty-seven year old spouting absolute nonsense in hopes it would lead to a career; the larger joke is that she's now a 41-year-old woman who still imagines the same thing, and it's worked.
O'Donnell is 41, so her earlier transgressions were on an older media, television.
So old, in fact, that back then "media" was the plural form of "medium". Don't mind me.
However, the incredibly quick dissemination of O'Donnell's ridiculous comments is all thanks to blogs and online video. Budding candidates a decade or two younger have lived their entire adult lives with these media. They've also lived in a world where most people have camera phones and even video—so there is an even greater chance that mistakes they made in their college years and beyond will be available for public viewing. If he were 20 years younger, perhaps a photo of Barack Obama with cocaine in the background would have shown up on Facebook; or if they were 40 years younger, George W. and Clinton might have been caught red handed on camera, clutching doobies. Just look at what happened to wunderkind Obama speech writer Jon Favreau, who was embarrassed when photographs of him groping a cardboard cut-out of Hillary Clinton surfaced.
Y'know, here's an idea: if you stop congratulating yourself for being the inspiration for the Bestest, Most Technologically Advanced Era Evah, the one which allows you to be so remarkably shallow at light speed, maybe, just maybe, it'll all work out, and you and all the other teenagers will grow up to realize you're as idiotic as everyone else tells you are, just like the people who are telling you grew up in their turn. Otherwise, I wouldn't worry about it. We're doomed regardless.
* Which story included the line that "the context of the comment is not clear", despite the fact that the context, O'Donnell's anti-Halloween fetishism, was all over the internets by that point. This is the sort of due diligence and natural skepticism which saved Shirley Sherrod's job.