This post by HuffPost's own Jason Linkins got me thinking today about the single most potent force in American politics.
I'm speaking of course of trolls, the Internet's very own peanut gallery.
Trolls, of course, are the reason why Barack Obama lost so decisively to President McCain back in November. Leading up to the general election, trolls were everywhere. Even on Senator Obama's official campaign web site.
It was a troll who made a McCain-Palin man out of me. I remember it well. I'd logged on to barackobama.com. I was reading through the comments, soaking up the unity and the sense of common purpose, when I came across something a troll wrote: "BARAK OBAAMA IS A MUSSLEM AND A SOSHULLIST."
Well, this was news to me. I followed a link the troll posted. Turns out it was true. Obama was a musslem and a soshullist. Wikipedia didn't even have entries for these words. So this was clearly some fringe stuff. Just about scared the crap out of me.
To think I almost voted for this man. Thank you, anonymous troll. You saved me and you saved America.
OK, it's time for me to drop this phony persona.
Trolls never change my mind. I doubt if they ever change your mind. About the only good thing about the trolls who spent so much of their time savaging Obama during the campaign is that they spent so much of their time savaging Obama during the campaign. In other words, they squandered their time on stuff that didn't matter.
I worry that the same thing is happening today with the people Jason Linkins documented in his aforementioned post. I cringe when people who share my basic political views squander their time using Twitter to hassle the people organizing today's anti-tax "tea parties."
More important stuff is happening this week, stuff that's much more deserving of your energy.
If you need an example, please read Andrew Sullivan's post "Obama's Moment of Truth of Torture." As Sullivan writes, "The question before the president today is not whether to prosecute his predecessors for war crimes; it is simply whether to release the memos that the Bush administration drew up describing in gruesome detail the torture techniques they authorized - or to cover them up."
We seem to be hours away from a potentially defining moment in a presidency that many of us care about so deeply. I have my own disgusted opinions about the torture memos and the mediocrities who crafted them.
You may think differently. That's fine. Make up your own mind. Think hard and think fast about how President Obama should handle these shameful memos. Then send a message to the White House.
My wife, who's been pretty much tormented by what she's learned by reading and watching investigations of America's descent into state-sanctioned torture, has been sending the president a message every day. She's taken to quoting Obama's own words back to him -- especially what he said on the day the Supreme Court ruled that prisoners in Guantanamo have a right to challenge their detention. Here's the quote:
"Today's Supreme Court decision ensures that we can protect our nation and bring terrorists to justice, while also protecting our core values. The Court's decision is a rejection of the Bush Administration's attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo - yet another failed policy supported by John McCain. This is an important step toward reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus. Our courts have employed habeas corpus with rigor and fairness for more than two centuries, and we must continue to do so as we defend the freedom that violent extremists seek to destroy."
My wife simply can't square that Obama with the Obama whose justice department is appealing a judge's ruling that detainees in Afghanistan should be able to challenge their detention. So she keeps sending pleas like this via whitehouse.gov: "Where did that guy go, Mr. President? That is who I voted to have in the White House on issues of torture and detainees. I want him back. Do the right thing."
My whole point here is this: If April 16, 2009 goes down in the history books as the day President Obama didn't "do the right thing" on these secret torture memos, you're not going to want to look back and know that April 15, 2009 was the day you spent using Twitter to harass a bunch of fringe anti-tax activists.
Huffington Post blogger David Quigg's previous posts about torture, civil liberties, and the "War on Terror" are archived here. His Twitter feed, where he arguably wasted part of his day writing a 140-character version of this very post on the #teaparty thread, is here. Look at it some other day.