Friday, October 11, 2013

The wrong lessons learned again: Revisiting the St. Charles GOP social media kerfuffle.

It's late, this will be quick and short (I hope). I went to the St. Charles GOP 'Central Committee' meeting this evening, with just a few questions in mind. One, to see who it was that made the remarks the weekend of the CPAC STL and to see if it was only the comments that were foolish and unintentionally provocative, or if it was the person who made them that was foolish. Second, I wanted to see if the St. Charles GOP approved of individual members making editorial comments in their name, upon hotly debated issues, and if not, then third, to see if they would require an apology for the slight given to the committee by the person speaking in their name, and to all of those he spoke to, and attempted to speak for.
St. Charles GOP Central Committee Chair, Jon Bennett

Well I saw who it was that made the comments, the committee chairmen, Jon Bennett. And as I watched him pepper his comments as chairmen of the committee, with

  • "Because I can",
  • "Because I said so",
  • "If you don't like it, too bad, I don't care"
, he came off, not too surprisingly, as frustrated, cornered and scared... which partially answered my first question.

He made every attempt possible to brush past the Facebook/Twitter issue (which was the reason for the crowd in the room) and not have it addressed, bristling at any hint at all that he might have acted foolishly. And it was only after a couple false starts where other committee members motioned for audience participation, and then seconded despite him, that anyone else had a chance to engage in the matter. He clearly would have preferred to 'move on' without acknowledgment or resolution.

Be all of that as it may, clearly, the members of the committee, displeased with the negative attention his comments had garnered them, decided to adopt a new media policy, but as it still allowed individuals to post their personal comments under the St. Charles GOP banner, it will still (or so their reading of it seemed, I haven't seen the actual policy) require the committee to meet later on and vote on countering any inflammatory ones. Oh, they also expect those who are allowed to post, to add their initials to their posts, when they're making any comments that express a personal opinion.

Guys, really? I kind of assumed that that was what the policy already was... that's the solution? Why would that result in anything different than what already happened? I doubt he'll realize next time, that he's stuck his foot in everyone else's mouth, any sooner than he did this time. He still thinks he acted 'with transparency', saying that
"I quickly identified myself"
, well, if 10 or so comments and insults on Facebook and Twitter later is quickly, ok, sure. But maybe if they set their page up with page moderators posting in their names on the page, maybe that would help make it clear?

Possibly a problem...
During his comments upon their social media policy, Bennett actually remarked that,
"I don't get Twitter, or care about it at all."
, apparently not grasping that that might not be the best basis for an effective policy directed towards building a larger social media following. And people wonder why the GOP (as opposed to Grassroots) lags behind in social media.

Along the same lines, he seemed unaware that his several attempts to move past the issue without allowing comments from the committee or the audience, saying:
"I'm done with this subject, if you don't like it, I don't care."
, might also be a tactical policy more likely to limit the effectiveness of GOP outreach, than to expand it. Neither was his grab for sympathy and justification for his manner very effective, when he said:
'I've... personally received... threatening email and phone calls, so I don't want to hear it from anyone!'
Any of us who've been in the fray, even on the edges, for the last few years, have had some share in both of those. And I've seen some of Dana's email... I'll guarantee you that his little flurry of poison pen messages don't stack up to a single afternoon's worth of hers.

For him to have posted his personal opinion under the banner of the St. Charles GOP, putting Dana down, accusing her of taking money to divide the party, and implicitly accusing everyone else who might agree with any part of her position, was itself extremely divisive, putting both words and silence into the mouths of those who otherwise thought to see themselves as being aligned with the St Charles GOP.

To put forth under the name of the St. Charles GOP, the idea that disagreement is bad, that one particular side of a hotly contested debate is the one that all must either agree with or else be considered 'ill-informed' , was itself highly 'divisive'. Worst of all, to do that under the misguided notion of promoting (demanding) party unity, was downright boneheaded.

That seemed to be an issue he couldn't grasp. He kept asking me if someone with millions of listeners, who called for 'defunding the GOP, isn't that divisive?!'; the issue isn't whether or not such a thing is divisive, the issue is that an individual can put their personal opinion out there without it being an issue. But putting your own personal opinion out there under the banner of representing the entire organization - that's a problem. THAT is not only divisive, but wrong and destructive to the aims of that entire organization.

The simple solution to this kerfuffle, one that should have followed within hours, would have been to acknowledge that he unintentionally put the GOP's foot in it, say he's sorry, and be done with it.

But nope, that's not gonna happen. The committee might stand up to him in the future, but not now, and there are certainly no apologies coming from either him, or from the committee, not while he's chairing it.

Learning the wrong lesson again
But one abrasive person is really not the issue, or at least it shouldn't be.  There was a far worse lesson that those present seemed to be taking from this, which was that disagreement and argument were bad and should be avoided at all costs. Several people commented to the effect that::
"If you feel angry, wait till the morning before posting."
, to which all nodded sagely.

Sorry, no. Not the case, not reality, and certainly not the social media world the rest of us are living in today, and which the GOP is being left further and further behind in.

But worse, that's the wrong approach for a conservative party which claims to be a party of principles.

To be a party of principles and ideas means, must mean, that there will be disagreement and much argument over how to implement those principles which everyone holds. It is only through discussion, sometimes, often even, heated discussion, that good plans are finally found. For those who think the Founders were of one mind with never a raised voice or dissent to be heard, they haven't looked into the matter much.

Yes, threats and insults are over the line and should be condemned, but disagreement, even angry disagreement, is not itself divisive. A party that seeks to be a party of principle is going to have to realize that there will be much disagreement and discussion, and that it cannot, and should not be avoided. Their greatest strength is to embrace that and to forcefully proclaim those ideas and their principles wider meaning and application (which is precisely what thrilled so many of us when Sen's Cruz, Paul & Lee took to the senate floor with them the previous week).

The Party leader's job is not to tell people what to think or shove them into line - that sort of 'unity' is only weakness - but to moderate the discussion, to do their part to provide a framework for that discussion and to keep it moving along, so that decisions can be made. Only then can a unified effort can be found and taken a stand upon. And note: It will NEVER be a decision which all agree with, but principled people understand that; they don't want blind obedience, they simply want the opportunity for a fair and full hearing.

That is not divisive.

Argument and disagreement are not divisive. Those are the natural, and proper, results of adults attempting to implement principles in particular situations.

Preventing discussion, argument and disagreement, attempting to co-opt the agreement of others, discounting and denouncing disagreement, THAT is divisive.

As I tried to point out during my few moments to comment last night, I'm all for disagreement and discussion, no problem there, but as individuals. The St. Charles GOP banner should be used for making unified statements, or for prompting principled discussion.

Had Bennett simply posted, as the St. Charles GOP, something like:

  • "Disagreement over Senate strategy - do you support Sen. Cruz or Sen. Blunt?"
, he could then have, under his own name, legitimately, endorsed Blunt's position and disagreed with Cruz's, and of course even have questioned Dana Loesch's assessment of the issue. That's disagreement and debate, that draws people to the discussion, rather than repelling them, and the last person that would have taken personal offense to a good argument would have been Dana Loesch.

But to attempt to put words, or silence, into the mouths of others... that's never going to end well.

But hey, the Central Committee is thinking of boosting GOP popularity by having a band for the next Lincoln Days event.

I'm sure that'll bring unity and turn things around.

9 comments:

freespeak said...

oh god

Van Harvey said...

Something I said?

;-)

Anonymous said...

Great notes and excellent editorial. ("that sort of 'unity' is only weakness"). I had heard Jon thought highly of himself but thought it was an exaggeration. :/ Btw, I didn't know he had been a state rep years ago, and lost his reelection to the Democrat (residing in a Republican stronghold!). Also, I believe an apology is still forthcoming, but we shouldn't count on Jon signing it. Most of the committee members are intimidated by Jon and I hope the ones who are will be replaced during the next election. Willing to run Van? You would have a lot of support. Annette Read

Anonymous said...

Great notes and excellent editorial. ("that sort of 'unity' is only weakness"). I had heard Jon thought highly of himself but thought it was an exaggeration. :/ Btw, I didn't know he had been a state rep years ago, and lost his reelection to the Democrat (residing in a Republican stronghold!). Also, I believe an apology is still forthcoming, but we shouldn't count on Jon signing it. Most of the committee members are intimidated by Jon and I hope the ones who are will be replaced during the next election. Willing to run Van? You would have a lot of support. Annette Read

Anonymous said...

Great notes and excellent editorial. ("that sort of 'unity' is only weakness"). I had heard Jon thought highly of himself but thought it was an exaggeration. :/ Btw, I didn't know he had been a state rep years ago, and lost his reelection to the Democrat (residing in a Republican stronghold!). Also, I believe an apology is still forthcoming, but we shouldn't count on Jon signing it. Most of the committee members are intimidated by Jon and I hope the ones who are will be replaced during the next election. Willing to run Van? You would have a lot of support. Annette Read

Annette Read said...

Great notes and excellent editorial. ("that sort of 'unity' is only weakness"). I had heard Jon thought highly of himself but thought it was an exaggeration. :/ Btw, I didn't know he had been a state rep years ago, and lost his reelection to the Democrat (residing in a Republican stronghold!). Also, I believe an apology is still forthcoming, but we shouldn't count on Jon signing it. Most of the committee members are intimidated by Jon and I hope the ones who are will be replaced during the next election. Willing to run Van? You would have a lot of support. Annette Read

Annette Read said...

Sorry for duplicate posts, long day, lol.

Marvin Stehr said...

I have been a citizen of St. Charles County since 1968 when I started 8th grade. I have been a life long Republican. I seldom agree with Jon Bennett on political philidophy. I am an active grassroots member and activist. I intend to run for committeeman in Township 11 and I guarantee you I will not allow Mr. Bennett to intimidate nor silence me. While I will defend his right to exercise his free speech, I will not defend such an action purported to be in behalf of the county GOP, when clearly it is not! His opinion on this topic certainly doesn't reflect my opinion. I supported Cruz, Lee, and Paul and the rest of the 19 senators. Sadly not one US senator from Missouri represented mein this matter. Silencing honest, healthy, even heated debate and imposing the opinion and philosophy of party establishment from top down on everyone has had disatrous results. Such policy by Republican Party from National party down to state republican parties to county republican party has lost 2 presidential elections and several thousand republican voters failed to vote St. Charles County in November, 2012. This must change. The St. Charles County Republican Central Committee has never carried out one of its duties per its own bylaws; i.e. organize at the precinct level. The committee has only recentlybegun such organizing due to urging from one of the newer members of the committee and MOOP. I have vilunteered to be precinct captain for my precinct. I have seen no effort in this regard from the current committeeman nor committeewoman from Township 11.

Marvin Stehr said...

My comment above should read "newer members of committee and MOPP" I also apologize for other typos on my android.