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Is political discourse now reduced to dueling memes on Facebook?

Date: 9/4/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

I've got a fair number of friends on Facebook, many of who are readers and a significant percent are people whose political views are different than mine.

I try not to talk too much about politics there and I try not to be meme-happy and share whatever political graphic is bashing a point a view to which I'm opposed.

I don't mind that my friends do post such graphics, but what I do mind is that they — on both sides of the issue — don't seem to check if what they share is accurate.

I've seen liberal memes that are not true and conservative ones that are also just fabrication.

In 1984, when I was on WREB radio, I interviewed Paul Boller Jr., a history professor who had written a great book titled "Presidential Campaigns." Boller went from Washington to Reagan detailing how the campaigns were run and highlighting just how nasty they could be.

We often think that our founding fathers were a bunch of genteel guys discussing ideas with high-mindedness and civility. That assumption, thanks to Boller's meticulous research, would be wrong.

The candidates, their supporters and sympathetic press tore each other up. Here is what The Connecticut Courant in 1800 predicted if Thomas Jefferson won the presidency: "Look at your houses, your parents, your wives and your children. Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames, hoary hairs bathed in blood, female chastity violated to children writhing on the pike and the halbert? ."

This is Thomas Jefferson, our third president, a man whose quotes pop up frequently these days — a beloved thinker, inventor and man who is still admired today.

Really? Alexander Hamilton viewed him as an "atheist" and a "fanatic in politics."

In an era during which mass communication was at its infancy, Jefferson's opponents even spread a rumor that he had died, according to Boller's research.

Now I would like to think we had progressed in the last two centuries and on paper, at least, we have. When Jefferson was seeking the presidency, women couldn't vote; Native Americans weren't considered citizens; and the majority of African Americas in this country were simply property.

But sometimes a quick look at my Facebook home page indicates that perhaps we've not made all that much movement forward in being more enlightened.

I saw this week a "parody" of the famous Obama campaign poster — the one with his portrait and the word "Hope" — only the new version shows the president lynched and with the caption "Rope."

A quick search showed there are several versions of this image floating around the web and apparently people believe it's acceptable to reference the murder of a sitting president.

This image left me speechless with anger.

Focusing on the president's race and that murder is a way to move political change forward is despicable. It's not satire, either.

On the other side, do I think the memes about Mitt Romney are acceptable?

I don't care if Mitt Romney is rich. Let's face it most of us would like to have his dough. How we earned it and what we would do with it might differ greatly, though.

I don't care that he is Mormon. It's a free country. Practice your faith as you see fit.

What I do care about is his past business practices, whether or not he has been consistent in his policies, his four years in elected office here in Massachusetts and what he plans to do if elected. That is how I judge him.

I would hate to see political discourse reduced to a few lines on a graphic circulated on Facebook or the chain emails that are endlessly forwarded that wind up in my inbox. On whatever side of the aisle you sit, I would like to think we could all be interested in reaching some common ground and working toward that slippery concept of the "truth."

If American history is an example, I'm probably deluding myself, though.

Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.