Facebook as Catalyst for Improving Thoughts about the Candidates

Sen.'s Obama and McCain

Introduction

In this class, we have discussed the idea of weblogs as a “two-way street” that promotes the aims of democracy by fueling healthy debate. Positions are stated by blogs’ authors, and then comments allow readers to question the positions, poke holes in the arguments, and make counterpoints.

We have also looked at blogs as “citizen journalism.” The goal of citizen journalism is to “read between the lines” of mainstream newspaper and magazine articles. The mainstream media provides a starting-point for bloggers to reflect and analyze what is going on.

I’m centering this project on how Facebook has served as a catalyst for me to develop my own thoughts about the candidates in the 2008 elections. Several of my Facebook friends have used their Facebook pages over the past few months as a kind of personal blog, including a blogroll filled with articles about the candidates and their positions. As you will see, I have undergone a personal evolution in my thoughts about the candidates — including two important stages.

Born Alive

The first stage was when I was debating for John McCain, as the more acceptable pro-life candidate. I wasn’t so much a supporter of Sen. McCain as I was an opponent of Sen. Obama. I debated hotly, mostly parroting existing allegations against Obama that I now regret, and generally embarrassed myself! I used external articles as support for my pre-conceived opinions (no pun on the word “conceived” intended!).

Sen. Obama had voted against the Born-Alive Bill in the Illinois State Senate. This bill, to my understanding, would have given protection and rights to babies who are born alive in abortion clinics after failed abortion attempts. This disturbed me greatly. I linked to an article about this on my Facebook page by a Catholic author named Robert George. This article, and I, interpreted Obama’s vote to mean only one thing: that Obama was more than merely a pro-choice candidate; he was decidedly guilty of supporting infanticide. This was an incredibly weighty charge to make or believe.

Then I began to sense, through debate with one particular Facebook friend who is a pro-life Democrat, that there were holes in my argument — or at the least, that Obama’s vote on the bill did not support the sweeping conclusion I had drawn. I was shown evidence that there were other considerations for Obama’s vote against the bill. First, the bill might have been a deliberate set-up by politically organized pro-lifers to smear Obama as a “pro-abortion” politician.

The bill’s wording was more complex than I had realized, and included a redefinition of fetal viability, criminalizing any doctor who did not provide life support for what he judged to be a non-viable fetus. Some pro-lifers may indeed support this kind of criminalization, but they should admit that it goes beyond merely providing rights to born-alive, viable babies. To vote against the bill, then, is perhaps only a vote against criminalizing abortion doctors, not necessarily a vote to kill born-alive babies.

Secondly, there was a 1975 law already in place to protect born-alive babies, and Sen. Obama thought at the time that this other law was sufficient. Third, I learned that Sen. Obama has since changed his mind and stated that were he to vote again, he would have supported the Born-Alive bill.

Spreading the Wealth

A second plank in my opposition to Sen. Obama was a statement he made on the campaign trail about “spreading the wealth.” A believer in free-market economics, I saw the idea of redistribution as incompatible with economic growth and prosperity. Debate ensued. I was given the opportunity, by the Obama supporters I debated on Facebook, to learn more about progressive income taxes and what they are intended to accomplish.

I was offered a link to an article by blogger Andrew Sullivan making the serious, Aristotelian argument that a free-market democracy requires progressive income taxes to balance outcomes and keep the poor from revolting. Here I was faced with a pro-Obama argument that was based on support for the capitalist system of economics. My friend was not only a pro-life Democrat, I found out, but a free trade Democrat. To make matters even more difficult for me, I was presented with the following words from Adam Smith, the father of free-market economics:

The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. . . .The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. . .It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.” [italics and bold text mine]

Now I was in a real pickle! With the 700 billion-dollar financial bailout spear-headed by McCain only a few weeks behind us — a clear example of spreading the wealth from the people to huge corporations — I began to consider, for the first time in my life, that, no matter what the usual rhetoric is about the Republican and Democratic parties and their respective ideologies, the Democrats may be — in a very practical sense — doing more than Republicans to promote the values of market economics that I believe in!

So my thoughts circled and swarmed, and I began to doubt for the first time that I was on the right side of the debate — given my own conservative ideals! To top it off, the online version of the free-market British magazine The Economist came out the next day with a cautious and balanced endorsement of Obama. This gave me even more food for thought.

Conclusion

I have tried to highlight in this story how virtual interactions centering on Facebook but branching out to blogs and the mainstream media allowed me to improve and sharpen my understanding of each candidate, especially of Sen. Obama, getting rid of some irrational biases I held when I started. Specifically, I can now see a believable argument for considering Obama to be the preferable candidate from a traditional, conservative standpoint.

The potential problem with using the internet to research a candidate is that you will amass an army of partisan articles and blogs only to support your pre-existing opinions. There is nothing wrong with partisan articles and blogs as such, especially in politics, where nothing is really neutral. What is a problem is looking at them as a weapon, rather than as an opportunity to learn something new. The hope and promise of internet debate — the two-way street of blogs — is that each person may arrive at a more nuanced, factually-correct understanding of the candidates.

3 Responses to Facebook as Catalyst for Improving Thoughts about the Candidates

  1. Kennedy Elliott says:

    Bobby,

    I admire your very candid account of how Facebook has helped shape your perceptions of the 2008 United States Presidential candidates. This is a great story, and you portray your metamorphosis very clearly in your posts. It is a fascinating read, and thank you for sharing it.

    In regards to your ‘Born Alive’ section, it is very true that noting how a candidate votes on a particular bill shows only the end action – not the process, rationality, debate inside the candidate. I often wonder when candidates throw out statistics (“Person X voted against ‘Very Important Bill #3!’”) what the back story is. And I think many people, including me, would be surprised to see what the mitigating factors were for a particular vote. Thank you for bringing this to light.

    I think your post also demonstrates how tricky it is to categorize one’s political thoughts by labels. For example, you seemed to initially side with a Republican stance, and are pro-life. However, your Democrat friend is a pro-lifer as well. Is this an impossible anomaly – an oxy moron? No, I think it is actually a lot more detailed than that. A label can be a catch-all for many philosophical doctrines, as illustrated in your example of diverging views on criminalizing doctors for performing abortions. Perhaps it would be easier if we could identify with each other based on concepts – not labels, which tend to quarantine concepts into black and white categories that do not make sense. Perhaps this is why you concluded that Obama was supporting infanticide when he voted against the Born-Alive bill. If A and B are opposites, and C is not A, C may not be B either. Incendiary campaign ads and heavy-handed debates do not make it easy to deduce this, however.

    Overall, I am very impressed by your character that you did not ‘devolve into emotional reactions’ as you continued your Facebook debate. That is a hard feat to accomplish for anyone. You clearly pulled off the impossible – you were patient, kept an open mind, and actually gained knowledge that changed your perceptions of a Presidential candidate. This hardly happens with NY Times or CNN, let alone Facebook!

    You make a great point about leaving a traceable digital conversation behind. It’s easy to get wrapped up in dialogue online, but the remnants are permanent. You are right on to address this in your essay.

    I’m wondering how Fear #4 pertains to your issue – are you saying that Facebook (and other digital tools) enhance a person’s “celebrity” feel? If so, I completely agree. Anybody on the Internet can have a “fan base” – and do!

    Great job with this. I’m looking forward to hearing more on this topic.
    Kennedy

  2. […] chose as his topic, “Facebook as a Catalyst for Improving Thoughts about the Candidates.” I appreciated Bobby’s openness in describing his approach to the EOTO project. He revealed […]

  3. Rhonda says:

    Thanks for tagging me on this, Bobby… I think this self-examination is pretty thorough and right-on.

    One comment: How does O’s supporting FOCA fit into point number 1?

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