POSTED ON JULY 7, 2010:
Conspiracy on the Web?
Unfortunately, citizens allow the Internet to be a central place in political arena
Towering Babel. I’m absolutely astonished that so many buy — hook, line and sinker — the malarkey, fraud and venality making the rounds on the Internet these days, especially when it involves politics and political figures, such as President Obama
With all due respect to the late Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking is far less important in these challenging times than The Power of Critical Thinking.
I'm absolutely astonished that so many buy -- hook, line and sinker -- the malarkey, fraud and venality making the rounds on the Internet these days, especially when it involves politics and political figures.
If you're like me, my inbox all too often includes chain e-mails from friends or relatives who think I need to be informed that President Obama isn't really a citizen, hates the military or is scheming to seize your guns.
The problem is, too many accept this bunk as gospel, automatically giving it credence because it was forwarded by someone they know, love and respect or because it fits their worldview, unhinged though it may be.
It doesn't require extraordinary critical thinking skills to immediately recognize that much of the skullduggery doesn't pass the smell test.
It takes even less computer savvy to determine the accuracy of the claims -- just visit snopes.com, urbanlegends.about.com or factcheck.org, independent groups that research everything from chain e-mails to political advertising.
I mention all this because the Internet is more central to Oklahoma politics and campaigns than ever before.
For example, gubernatorial hopefuls Mary Fallin, Randy Brogdon, Drew Edmondson and Jari Askins keep folks abreast of their campaign activities with daily Tweets. More money is being raised -- faster -- than ever before via e-mail appeals. Campaigns post their commercials on the Web.
Unfortunately, the 'net also is being used to attack, discredit or otherwise spread misinformation about public figures, candidates and their families -- and it's often accomplished on message boards that allow posters to disguise their identities.
Sometimes the information is accurate, but it's being spread by political opponents -- hiding behind the equivalent of an old-style CB "handle" -- playing to voters' baser instincts. Wouldn't voters judge the information differently if they knew its source? At least it would give context, ensuring more informed decision-making about the candidates.
There's a maxim in politics that no charge should go unchallenged. The reason? If it isn't swiftly refuted, too many people assume it's true, no matter how preposterous.
The message boards and chain e-mails, though, often churn out fiction or slime at such warp speed that it's difficult, if not impossible, for campaigns to investigate the claims and respond.
An all-too-common attack these days -- especially in Bible-belt Oklahoma -- involves sexual preference. In a state where Rep. Sally Kern is celebrated in some circles for asserting that homosexuality is more dangerous to America than terrorism, an openly gay candidate often faces insurmountable odds, no matter how well qualified.
Example: Jim Roth, who proved himself to be a bright, capable, honest and effective public servant as an Oklahoma County commissioner. Appointed by Gov. Brad Henry to fill a vacancy on the state Corporation Commission, Roth sought re-election to a full term but was wiped out in the 2008 Republican tidal wave that hurt Democrats across the board.
There is little doubt, however, that Roth's homosexuality was unacceptable to many voters, especially in ultra-conservative rural and suburban areas.
Other candidates -- some gay, some not -- have been victims of whisper campaigns, made easier by the Internet's vast reach and immediacy.
Here's how the stealth attack is being executed this year: I visited a message board recently and spotted an innocuously titled thread about a Democratic congressional candidate in central Oklahoma.
When I clicked on it, the page opened to a scanned article from the Metro Star, an Oklahoma City newspaper that bills itself as "the premier source for GLBT Oklahoma." The headline: "Gay Man Elected To Oklahoma County Democratic Party Secretary's Office."
Someone identified as "Rusty" posted the article without comment.
At the risk of sounding positively Darth Cheney, I must confess my first reaction was a defiant, "So?" This is the 21st Century, isn't it? We're supposed to be shocked that a candidate could be gay? Who cares?
I'm well acquainted with this candidate -- an accomplished, generous man who was orphaned at an early age and bounced around foster care before he was fortunate enough to be adopted -- but until that moment, I never gave his sexual preference a thought.
Here's what I care about: I want to know about candidates' worldviews and their politics. I want to know what they regard as their priorities and how they propose to tackle our most intractable problems. I want to know who their political supporters are and how much money they're giving.
It's a free country, of course. It's your constitutional right to obsess about whatever you like. If you want to be puritanical and condemn homosexuals to hell, that's your business.
As for me, I'm keeping my nose out of other people's bedrooms. I'm going to leave the judging to God. I'm not going to worry about the speck in my brother's eye until after I remove the log from mine.
We have far more serious concerns as a state and nation than a candidate's sexual preference. And the cynical politics of personal destruction won't help us solve them.
-- Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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