Saturday, October 25, 2008

Familiar story

Yesterday, the Dominion Post (via the Stuff website) published a relatively feel-good story about a 17-year-old Karori (Wellington) lad, Eddie Bowie, who put up a sign backing the Labour Party candidate for the Wellington Central electorate. His dad, John, however, is a National Party supporter and put up a competing (and much larger) sign for that party (to his credit, the dad didn’t take down the Labour sign).

The article says that the lad, being too young to vote, was trying to convince as many people as possible to support his preferred party, the Labour Party. That was very familiar to me because at 17 I did the same thing—try to convince adults to vote the way I wanted them to (though, in my case, it was the same way my parents voted).

But what happened after that was even more familiar.

Like a lot of mainstream news sites, Stuff permits comments on its stories. Completely predictably, the right wing started commenting in force. At first, it was all pretty civil, with both sides remaining relatively restrained.

Later on, right wing comments started to become ad hominem attacks on the Labour Party, Prime Minister Helen Clark or on the centre-left generally. Many sounded arrogant, smug and even somewhat bitter. Many were, in other words, completely negative. A few on the left responded in kind.

As I travel around the web, I often see the right behaving this way, perpetually portraying themselves as the victims of the left who “trash” them and their beliefs—when they're usually the most eager at such negative tactics. In this case, the centre-left wasn’t as strident as the right was. Even so, I should add that in most cases, the right was far more respectful than the right in the US is in similar situations.

However, some comments went too far, attacking Eddie personally: “Just like any young self serving leftie…”, “What a foolish kid…”, “A typical 17 year old idealist…”, “Dear dear Eddie. Lovely to be naive and idealistic”.

This all gets to the core of something I’ve been talking about lately in this blog or in podcasts: Is it even possible for civility to be restored to political discussions? I actually think that Eddie could be strengthened by the personal attacks; anyone who wants to be involved in politics, as Eddie says he does, needs to develop a pretty thick skin. But wouldn’t we all be better off if that wasn’t the case?

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