Monday, December 13, 2010

MAYBE THE PROBLEM WITH OUR POLITICS IS FACEBOOK

Harry Targ

The other day a friend came in my office to ask if I had a blog. I said that I did. He then asked if I was interested in expanding my readership. I said “sure.” He then said that he knew I was on Facebook. Had I thought of putting a link to my blog on my Facebook profile, he asked.

Well this proposal seemed to be a good idea so I went on Facebook. After fumbling around I found the page with information about my age, residence, interests, and other data. My daughter helped me set this stuff up a year ago when I joined Facebook. Since that time I have signed on a large number of “friends.” I knew some of them. Others I think share common political views with me.

I don’t really use Facebook very much but I do read what my daughter is doing (what used to be called parental supervision). But I figured that adding a link to my blog might lead to dramatic increases in my readership. (I don’t know how to check how many folks actually read it but I fantasize that it is in the millions, at least).

At any rate, I went to my profile page on Facebook and typed in the link to my blog (which incidentally is www.heartlandradical.blogspot.com). When I was typing in the link I noticed that there was an empty box labeled married. I figured that my daughter and I had failed to fill in that box when I originally registered. So I typed “yes” in the box.

This is an aside but I must relate here that my wife and I got married on August 2, 1964, the day of the first alleged incident in the Gulf of Tonkin. We were driving off to our honeymoon and heard on the car radio that the North Vietnamese had attacked two United States vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin, of course in international waters. As you know a second attack was claimed to have occurred two days later and as a result President Johnson asked Congress for authority to make war on the Vietnamese people. Later we all learned that these North Vietnamese attacks on the two vessels, which were not in international waters, had not occurred.

However, driving off to our honeymoon, I declared with all the political science knowledge I had gleaned from undergraduate and graduate study, “President Johnson is too smart to get involved in a land war in Asia.” My new wife, who had only taken Political Science 101 responded: “You just wait and see.”

So I remember that I have been married to the same woman, who only had one political science course, for a long time. Just a further aside: On the morning of August 2, 1990, I was driving back from the florist with roses to present to my wife for our anniversary. I heard on the radio that Saddam Hussein had sent thousands of Iraqi troops into Kuwait. So with wars in Vietnam and Iraq as a backdrop, political husbands are not likely to forget marriages and anniversaries.

But back to Facebook. After I filled in the link to my blog and indicated that I was married I started to get congratulations messages. A few Facebook friends wrote: “Why did you wait so long?” At first I did not understand why I was getting these silly messages. Then it dawned on me that the marriage box I filled out probably referred to changes in marital status.

When I went back to my profile page on Facebook I could not figure out how to correct whatever it was that I had done wrong. Nor could I figure out how to tell my Facebook friends that I indeed was married and had been so since the first Gulf of Tonkin incident. (Incidentally I don’t care if people are married or not or who their partners are. I was just interested in clarifying what my status was). In fact, I was afraid that if I changed that box on the profile page it might suggest to Facebook friends that I had gotten a divorce, which would seem particularly weird having occurred just two days after getting married.

Well, fortunately after I wrote my daughter for help she was able to send a message indicating that I had been happily married for a long time (even though my wife’s prediction about the Vietnam war was correct and mine dead wrong).

Then I got to reflecting about how easy it was to send an erroneous message via Facebook or other social network sites. What flashed across my mind were the various policies pursued by President Barack Obama that I disagreed with. I supported single payer and he didn’t. I was for a vast jobs stimulus package, particularly a green jobs agenda. I support climate change legislation. I want significant immigration reform and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. I surely oppose renewing tax cuts for the rich.

Then I asked myself whether it was possible that President Obama, during times when these issues were debated in Congress, made the same mistakes on Facebook or other forms of electronic communication that I did in the marriage box of my profile page. In other words, maybe our President has in fact tried to support a progressive agenda but because of the ease with which errors can be made communicating on the internet, he has been sending the wrong messages to Congress and the American people. Frankly, I hope this is true because it would make policy change a whole lot easier.