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John Edwards and Feminist Bloggers: Politics of Hyperbole February 9, 2007

Posted by publicpolitics in Uncategorized.
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After hiring  Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan as members of his campaign staff, presidential contender John Edwards discovered that both the women had some notoriety for personal blogs that were a bit out of the mainstream toward the direction of “liberal feminism.” Edwards could have fired them , and thus incited the wrath of one group of critics, or he could have kept them as they were and opened himself to gleeful and relentless quotations from days past from conservative bloggers. According to the New York Times (2/8/07) :

Mr. Edwards could keep the women on his staff and have to answer for the sometimes vulgar and intemperate writings posted on their personal blogs before he hired them late last month. He could dismiss them and face a revolt in the liberal blogosphere, which is playing an increasingly influential role in Democratic politics and could be especially important to his populist campaign. Some bloggers saw the controversy as manufactured by conservative groups.

Or, as Mr. Edwards did Thursday, he could keep the two bloggers on staff, but distance himself from their views.

Source: nytimes.com

Edwards’ solution shows consummate political skill in solving a problem that is bound to come up , particularly in our age of nearly free speech.He decided yesterday to keep the bloggers and not allow his campaign to “be hijacked by conservative Christians”. In a spirit of giving the women what he called a “fair shake”, Edwards then distanced himself from their more extreme views and reminded them that as campaign workers, their speech was expected to contain a little less vinegar.

It is hard to see how Catholics and conservative Christians could have failed to be quite offended at some of the bloggers’ more acerbic statements. McEwan has referred to Christians as “Christofacists”, while Marcotte asserted that the Catholic stance on birth control serves primarily to produce more “tithing Catholics”.

Both writers have said that it was never their intention to malign anyone’s faith, and McEwan has said that her vote for John Kerry in the last election is evidence that she is not categorically anti-Catholic.

 The Times goes on to report that Wiliam A. Donohue, whose call for the dismissal of the two helped the whole controversy along, was “stunned “to learn that the women were not immediately dismissed. The president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights now says that the bloggers are “no longer the issue. Edwards is the issue.” But had the women been dismissed, would Edwards still be the issue? Put another way,. is there anything short of endorsing the League’s agenda that would have satisfied Donahue?

If there is a moral to this story, it is a mixed one. Blogging , being conversational, and if it is any good, a work in progress, is not subject to the same degree of careful discourse and measured expression as are other registers of argument about public policy.

Perhaps the lesson for politically minded bloggers is to choose their hyperbole carefully, and to realize that once one has called an opponent a fascist ( a nearly exhausted word that is almost devoid of meaning, except to indicate something vile), any further discourse is -well, over. While one can say anything on a personal blog, that does not mean that one must.

The rhetorical equivalent of spitting will have consequences, and in matters of public policy, it might be better to go not lightly, but rather to speak precisely, with judicious doses of hyperbole and vitriol and a large sprinkling of facts. Speak truth to power- but speak it as exactly as possible.

Edwards has made a reasonable, fair decision, taking into account the difference between speech delivered in the service of his political campaign and the views of his campaign staff operating in a new medium, where the rules are different. From that point of view, Edwards has demonstrated , during this smallest of controversies, his ability to be fair and at the same time firm about his own beliefs.

Mr. Donahue is wrong. John Edwards is not the issue, and neither is his personal virtue or lack thereof. What is at issue is his political ability to be fair, to lead, and to offer an alternative to a  swift and and often ill considered decisiveness that has characterized much of our political life over the past several years. His way of dealing with this issue shows both nuance thinking  and an ability to deal with ambiguity. Just now, we urgently need leaders with those qualities.

Tags: deliberation | Learns | Staff | presidential | liberal | campaign | blogs | bloggers | Ways | Washington | thursday | Politics | Edwards | DEMOCRATIC

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