Imagine, if you will, young men like Stephen Harper or Jason Kenny (gasp!) growing up today in our present atmosphere of technology. Try to picture what such mens' internet profile might look like. Take Jason Kenny - an angry, sexually ambiguous, Catholic, college drop-out. Just imagine what sorts of angry highschool and college tweets and Facebook posts would come from this social misfit's hands. It is relatively easy to hold back one's angriest and offensive opinions once you are in power. Loose mouths, as they say, sink political ships. And the pleasures and comforts of power are often instinctively protected once they are enjoyed. Not so youthful anger and angst. Some people are naturally discrete and reticent to say too much. Not men like Jason Kenny or Stephen Harper. Given an open forum to vent their youthful acrimony and annoyances, many such men (and women) would be hard-pressed to curb their enthusiasm, so to speak.
This brings us to the oddly 21st century political dilemma. Let's call it 'The Facebook Problem.' If the election in Canada that we are now going through is an historical indication, The Facebook Problem is the most pressing new dilemmas facing political parties. Most people who have grown up in the last fifteen years have a significant internet profile, and angry young people doubly so.
Few young people are they types who are thinking carefully ahead concerning their career. Only the most cautious and reticent young person is going to hold back their political and social passions because they think that they may have a public career in the future. And do we really want these kinds of people to be our leaders? We want passionate and inspired people in public life. Some of the things from peoples' past clearly makes it difficult to see them becoming elected officials. Pissing in cups or making racist rants are difficult things to get past or forgive, even when the person apologizes and says that they are 'reformed.' Other issues are much more subtle. When someone has simply expressed a legitimate political position but done so carelessly or even offensively, that is not something that shouldn't preclude them from public office. More importantly, The Facebook Problem (as well as the wider issue of media and technology) is making political parties extremely sensitive to any kind of dissenting opinions. The extreme lengths to which Harper has gone to muzzle nearly everyone in his party demonstrates the danger of this phenomenon. Meanwhile, in the US the Trump phenomenon demonstrates the potential backlash against overly rehearsed and controlled politics.
I see no ready solution to the Facebook Problem. Obviously encouraging people to express the worst kinds of offensive opinions is not the kind of solution one would want to promote. Where we go from here is anyone's guess.
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