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writing for godot

The Governor Sucks

Written by Thomas Magstadt   
Wednesday, 30 November 2011 09:40
When a senior at Shawnee Mission East in Prairie Village, a close-in suburb of Kansas City, tweeted her friends that she told Kansas Governor Brownback to his face he sucked it created quite a stir. It was the lead front page story in yesterday's KANSAS CITY STAR ("Tweet tiff stirs views far and wide").

It's a story about a teenager's opinion of this Republican state's Republican governor, whose name, inevitably, will now and forever be associated with a Hoover. And I'm not talking about a former president; I'm talking about the appliance.

Here in Kansas, the tweet heard round the world is big news. It's even bigger in Johnson County, home to Emma Sullivan's high school, Shawnee Mission East, where I happen to live. One of my sons graduated from Shawnee Mission East two years ago, so naturally I've followed the story with particular interest.

A quick recap for anyone who isn't familiar with the story: Emma was in Topeka with other class members on a tour of the State Capitol last week when she Tweeted: "Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot." The Governor's staff then contacted an unnamed Johnson County School District administrator, whereupon Ms. Sullivan was called into the principal's office.

The principal demanded that Emma apologize to Governor Brownback. She flatly refused.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Well, not really. But it would be if the Governor had anything to say about it. It's turned into a major embarrassment for him. Emma stands by her Tweet. It's the Governor who has now done a public mea culpa, hoping the whole thing will go away: "My staff overreacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize." That's commendable. "Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms," he added. That's true.

In the meantime, Emma Sullivan is a celebrity here in Johnson County, Kansas. Apparently, her fame now extends well beyond the Kansas City area. To her peers, she's become a kind of folk hero.

For its part, the local media has milked this story for all its worth. Which begs the question: is it really worth all the fuss? I think so, but for reasons that the press coverage has largely glossed over or ignored altogether.

First, it's a textbook case of how not to deal with criticism if you happen to hold a high elective office, or even if you don't. The governor's overzealous staff has turned an insignificant non-event – an 18-year-old's spur-of-the-moment tweet – into a cause célèbre, namely freedom of speech. At last count, Emma had 15,141 followers (@emmakate988); Governor Brownback had 3,409 (@govsambrownback). Emma Sullivan had about 60 followers when she tweeted the tweet that has now gone viral.

Second, one wonders: why does the Governor monitor social media sites for messages that mention his name in the first place? And why would they admit it unless they really, really don't get it? People don't want the government watching everything they (we) say and do.

Granted, if you put something out on the Internet it's not private, but bullying a high school student tweeting her friends (however inappropriately) – c'mon on. That really sucks. And it certainly creates the impression that Emma was right.

There are some fundamental issues involving technology, privacy, and domestic spying that require serious attention on the part of the Congress and the President. Unfortunately, Congress is broken beyond repair and President Obama, to the chagrin of his liberal base, has come down squarely on the side of expanding rather than constricting the surveillance powers and activities of the federal government under the PATRIOT Act.

Third, there is Emma Sullivan, the student who bravely spoke truth to power. But only after she had first told a lie. She said she had told the Governor that he sucked. She gave the impression that she had made "mean comments" which suggests that she had actually exchanged words with the Governor. That was a lie. It wasn't a Platonic "noble lie" told for some supposed higher good. It was just a lie – cheap, self-serving, and, yes, mean.

Why is it so difficult for columnists, politicians, talking heads on television, and the general public to say – or see – that what Emma did wrong was to lie? She has every right to express her opinion about anything and everything, including her view that Governor Blowback sucks – an opinion, incidentally, this writer happens to share.

But if it's wrong for our elected officials to lie, it's also wrong for the rest of us.

Having said that, I'm inclined to cut Emma some slack. I'd be willing to bet that even the Bible-thumping Governor Blowback - oops, there I go again - Brownback did a few "bad" things in high school. your social media marketing partner


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+3 # pernsey 2011-11-30 15:46
Well, I guess her lie proved Gov. Blowback really does suck!

I notice the right wing constantly cries freedom of speech until its against them.


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