Lior Hirst: Profiles in politics

Commentary

I have a big decision to make. I’ll confess, I’ve been putting it off for quite some time. I want to accept her as my friend, but I’m not sure how often I want to hear from her. I’ve kept her in limbo for the past two years — she friended me during the Democratic Primary. I can’t say it was love at first sight, but there was definitely a connection. Or at least her invitation said we shared some “mutual friends.” Her name is Hillary, and I don’t know what to do.

We live in a world in which even Hillary Clinton has a Facebook page. Of course, her staffers run it. But that won’t be true of the politicos of our generation, who already run their own.

So it’s worth asking: What will happen to our politics when candidates’ Facebook profiles replace fan pages and campaign Web sites as primary sources of information about a candidate?

There’s no reason to think it will not happen soon. Campaign Web sites and fan pages serve to tell us about the candidate — what relevance are they when she has a profile page that includes her views, interests, photos, relationships and anything you might or might not want to know? The presidential election of 2004 was not the first won by a candidate who appeared a better beer buddy. The one of 1992 was not the first won by a candidate who “felt your pain.” A profile would make a candidate seem affable and approachable.

In addition to any logical reasons Facebook spells the end of campaign Web sites, there is also this: Facebook is more fun. Who wouldn’t want to procrastinate by stalking Bill Clinton photo albums? Would any Eli have the audacity to reject a friend request from Barack Obama’s children? Who wouldn’t post the YouTube link to Miss South Carolina’s wall with a note that read “THIS IS YOU!” while half of the Northeast comments in agreement (and another quarter deigns to click “Like.”)?

Some — the “forward thinking” among us — have already taken this into consideration. The 2022 midterms are right around the corner, and those DKE pictures from the other evening may prove unsettling to the constituents of California’s Fourth Congressional District. For them, a Sunday morning consists of detagging scandalous photos, defriending potential blackmailers and deleting wall posts from Snooki look-a-likes.

Ward 1 Alderman Mike Jones ’11 has a profile page that hints at this political end. His available pictures are benign — many from prom or graduation, a few with friends at Yale and of places he’s visited.

This decision makes sense for Jones and those who see themselves in politics. Like democrats since the time of Periclean Athens, we judge candidates on the basis of their private lives. We want a candidate who is both our equal and our better, who embodies our hopes and dreams for our country and ourselves. We want politicians who are both everyman and superman. We vote them out of office when they fail to live up to our expectations of their comportment. In the age of Facebook, Obama’s cocaine snort would have showed up in an album. So too, the brawls and drinks of George W. Bush ’68. And graphic gaffes might have made a difference.

But the rest of us in Generation FB live in the present, and a risqué profile page is a badge of honor, future prospects be damned. We would rather enjoy Feb Club than worry about who will find the pictures in four years. But with Facebook as a record of our collegiate activities and interests, of a person we were in college but aren’t 15 or 20 years from now, would we ever be able to win?

We have a big decision to make but no good choices. We can abandon Facebook and other Web sites with an online, recordable presence. We could be more like our “forward-thinking friends” and commandeer Facebook for our own political ends. Or we could do nothing different and hope that moral standards would change, though we know they won’t.

In having to make that choice, many will make an easier one — not to go into politics. We lose the Alexander Hamiltons, who make a lot of mistakes, but are still good statesmen.

My name is Adam, and I don’t know what to do.

Adam Lior Hirst is a senior in Branford College.

Comments

  • Egalitarian

    This is not an issue specific to politicians. What you put on the Internet has consequences. Many employers now google their applicants names and check what’s on their Facebook pages. Applicants with posts or photos about how drunk they got at last night’s party probably aren’t getting hired! You have control over what you post on the Internet. Use it wisely.