First it was Lt. John Pike of the UC Davis police, whose fast draw with the pepper spray relegated him to a lifetime of knowing everyone he interacts with secretly regards him as lower than a tapeworm in Satan’s colon. His nationally viewed thuggery, and subsequent transformation into a national icon of E-vill, was a wakeup call for the entire police culture — probably the first lesson to really sink in deep that things are different now.
Now it’s Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. His little walk of shame began when Emma Sullivan, a Kansas City high school senior, tweeted disparaging remarks about him during his appearance at the Youth in Government program. Brownback’s communications director, Sherienne Jones-Sontag, found the tweet in a vanity search for Brownback’s name, and whined to the folks at Youth in Government. Youth in Government, in turn, whined to the principal of Emma’s high school.
Her principal, like bureaucrats everywhere allergic to controversy — especially when it offends the people who control their funding — went ballistic. After chewing her out, he ordered Emma to write a letter of apology. He even provided talking points.
Even if the story stopped right here, this would be a perfect illustration of the narcissism and sense of entitlement of people in authority. Here’s a guy in a powerful office, surrounded by bootlicking sycophants and yes men who themselves wield enormous power, who makes more money than God. And when a high school girl taunts him, he goes running in tears to sob his little heart out about it — like a little Sunday School girl in Mary Janes who’d just seen some hobo expose his private parts at the park. Oh, you poor, poor man!
In the old days, it would have stopped there. Nobody but Emma and her immediate circle would have known, and she’d probably have wound up writing the letter.
But it didn’t stop there. Her story hit the blogs, wire services and news aggregators like a tsunami, and her Twitter account went from thirty to (as I write) 14,220 followers. A couple of days ago, it was just 5,000. The story broke over the long Thanksgiving weekend before her apology was due. Encouraged by the explosion of public support, and with the proud backing of her mother, Emma refused to apologize. “I would do it again.” That’s the difference between a weasel politician and a brave young woman.
Now Brownback, in the face of all the ridicule, is stumbling all over himself trying to walk it back. As is typical of his ilk, he reacted like a cockroach scuttling under the refrigerator when the kitchen light got turned on. But, weasel to the end, he’s apologizing — not for himself — but for “his staff,” who “overreacted.” Hoo, boy! I wouldn’t eat any food my staff brought me, if I were him. But if this is the way he normally treats people, he’s probably been unknowingly consuming bodily fluids for years.
The Little Eichmanns in the local school district, no doubt resting securely in the belief they’d uneventfully moved l’Affaire Sullivan from in-box to out-box and kept the machinery of state in smooth operation, got a nasty surprise. And like bureaucrats everywhere, they launched into full damage control mode. Here’s their official statement:
“The district has not censored Miss Sullivan nor infringed upon her freedom of speech. She is not required to write a letter of apology to the governor.”
Um, you mean now that you got caught, right?
Jones-Sontag, in subsequent comments to the KC Daily Star, said this was a “teachable moment” for students about use of social media. It was important, she said, for students to learn “the power of social media,” because the stuff stays out there forever.
It was a teachable moment, all right, but not the kind she thinks. For students, it was a teachable moment that conveyed the direct opposite of the lesson Human Resources Processing Factories have been trying to impart all these years: They learned “the power of social media” to expose wickedness in high places. They learned that such exposure is a big freaking club they can pick up and beat powerful institutions over the head with, to even things up a bit. And the fact that social media “is lasting … on the Internet” was more a lesson for public officials than for students: We’re watching you, and there’s no place to hide.