Jessica , I totally agree with you that Christine O’Donnell’s facing something that’s going to become the norm in politics. It’s the let-it-all-hang-out era in a way that even the biggest hippies in the ‘60s couldn’t have imagined. Still, even as someone who’s been there in the worst way, I can say that I welcome the new social media era in politics. Once the learning curve is over, the benefits for the voters will be tremendous.
I predict two simultaneous trends: 1) People will find it harder to hide their true selves from the voting public, and 2) the standards for personal image of politicians will lighten up under all the pressure. In a decade, the hysteria over jokes Melissa McEwan and I made on blogs will seem completely ridiculous, but on the flip side, truly nutty folks like Christine O’Donnell won’t be as able to put on a bland suit and a bland smile and hoodwink the public into thinking that they’re not the kind of people who think Halloween is a Satanic conspiracy . In other words, I think that putting more information out there about everyone will adjust expectations until they’re more realistic, both in terms of being more forgiving of minor slights (like doobies or dirty jokes) and more alarmed at the genuinely unsettling. The current unrealistic expectations are the product of a political system where candidates have way too much power to micromanage their image. To quote the immortal words of MTV, it’s time for people to “stop being polite, and start getting real.”
Hey, and maybe at the end of the day all this honesty will mean that it’s that much harder to build policies aimed at restricting ordinary vices, like smoking pot or screwing around. One of the major reasons that we have laws restricting drug use and reproductive rights is that the people who support these policies can count on the public not knowing about their own indiscretions. Once that’s not an option anymore, hopefully it’ll be that much harder for politicians to score points with moralistic grand-standing against widespread but closeted behavior.