Friday, November 25, 2011

Teenager Reveals Brownback's Real (Lack of) Character

It has become something of a specialty of this blog to highlight stories involving controversies with no good guys. This is another one. Almost.

Attending a Kansas Youth in Government event in Topeka this week, registered Democrat Emma Sullivan (pictured here), a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School, tweeted “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

Had she actually engaged in the conduct she describes, one could reasonably criticize her for vulgarity but, considering what a disaster Governor Sam Brownback is for the citizens of my former state, not for inaccuracy. He does indeed suck. She hadn’t actually made those comments, of course, but she’s 18. There are two types of people who claim to have never engaged in a little adolescent braggadocio: those who aren’t yet adolescent, and liars.

Moreover, her Twitter account has (well, had) only a few dozen followers. So what’s the problem, right? Ah, Gentle Reader, you’re forgetting the Twin Towers of contemporary GOP politics: paranoia and hubris. What happened, you ask? Well, according to the Wichita Eagle,
... Brownback’s office watches Twitter for comments about him. Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag told the event organizers about the comment, “so that they were aware what their students were saying in regards to the governor’s appearance…. We monitor social media so we can see what Kansans are thinking and saying about the governor and his policies…. We just felt it was appropriate for the organizers to be aware … because of what was said in the tweet.”
OK, so it’s perfectly reasonable that the governor’s staff monitors the ‘Net for commentary on his performance. But to call up event organizers to complain about what a high school kid says to a few friends on Twitter suggests a level of perceived entitlement that is staggering even by the lofty standards of Republican politicians. One might have hoped that the governor’s staff might have something more constructive to do. Engaging in this kind of petty strutting might, after all, suggest to those of a cynical disposition that Gov. Brownback is more interested in throwing his weight around than in actually listening to his constituents. Oh, yeah, that’s right: he is more concerned with suppressing dissent than with responding to Kansans’ concerns. Sorry.

Still, the pomposity and arrogance of the terminally officious Ms. Jones-Sontag would have had no real-world effects had not those event organizers capitulated rather than, as they should have done, telling the pushy politico to take a long walk on a short pier. But they’re craven idiots, so they contacted the principal at Shawnee Mission East. They needn’t have bothered, of course. Turns out another Brownback minion, scheduling secretary Niomi Burget, had already e-mailed a screenshot of Sullivan’s tweet to the SME Youth in Government sponsor, sniveling, “I don’t know if this was someone with your group, but thought if it was, you might want it brought to your attention.” Really? Why? And while we’re on the subject, what the hell business is it of the scheduling secretary? And does it really take two different staffers to whinge that a post-adolescent has the audacity to say something unkind about your sorry-ass boss?

Here’s the thing. For the past seven years, I administered a One-Act Play Festival which brought as many as 400 or more high school students to our campus each year. During that time, I contacted teachers about student behavior exactly twice: once when a group of students were disruptive during another school’s production, once when a school pretty well vandalized one of our dressing rooms. I didn’t call the principal; I talked to the responsible teacher directly. More to the point, I’m willing to bet that some kid tweeted something unkind about our facility, our people, whatever. But you know what? I don’t care. I’m a grown-up. I have more important things to worry about. Apparently the Governor of Kansas isn’t thus encumbered with actual responsibilities, however.

Once again, of course, we’re at another crossroads. All that had to happen for this not to be an embarrassment for all concerned would be for the high school officials to respond to the political interference with a politer version of the following: “We’ll handle it. Fuck off.” But that would pre-suppose a high school principal somewhere in the country who isn’t a gutless moron. Karl Krawitz is not such an exception to the rule: far from it, in fact. He complained that he was expected to do his damned job he had to do damage control, and insisted that Sullivan write apologetic letters to everyone this side of the Easter Bunny. “Censorship” isn’t quite the right word, but “repressive self-importance” sure seems apt.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to portray Sullivan as a hero: her tweet was inappropriate, after all, although I do give her credit for not bowing to pressure to remove it from her account, and she appears to be considering not writing those apologies. Still, she’s not guilty of anything in particular, either. She’s 18, and sometimes she acts it. Stop the presses!

On the other hand, the adults in this story—Jones-Sontag, Burget, Krawitz—all come off as boorish, self-entitled, authoritarian jackasses. It’s unclear whether Gov. Brownback didn't know what his staff was up to (one set of problems) or if he endorsed their pretentious meddling (a different set of problems). Any way you slice it, though, the lesson learned by Ms. Sullivan and all the other high school students in the state had a lot more to do with the way the political system really works than anything the Youth in Government folks ever offered.

[By the way, I just found a good post on the subject on that noted left-wing rag, Forbes. Not bad, Alex Knapp!]

UPDATE (11/27 @ 8:15 pm): Ms. Sullivan has decided not to apologize, saying that she in fact isn't sorry, and that any letter suggesting that she was would be insincere. Now she's a hero.

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