One issue that has begun to define this current election season has been the use of anonymously funded political ads. This is largely the result of the Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations to fund political ads, a renewed commitment to free speech that should never have been restricted to begin with. As a result those who are most concerned about such ads tend to be on the Left as their ideas are often the targets of such speech.
My personal feelings on this are mixed. I made the choice sometime ago to append my name to my political opinions via this blog. I did so because I have a strong sense personal responsibility and integrity regarding my beliefs and opinions, and tend to see those who write anonymously as being unwilling to own up to their opinions.
However, my experience writing a blog has opened my eyes a bit. The reality is there are very unscrupulous people out there – people with personal vendettas that make it their mission to personally attack others, destroy reputations, make false accusations rather than debate and discuss issues in a reasonable and intelligent manner. They are often people with nothing to lose – loners with no families, jobs of significance or friendships that are impacted by uncivil behavior. And so an ordinary person expressing his or her opinion runs some risk that such people may glom onto them and smear their reputations in such a way that affects their life outside of their online presence. It is chilling to the civil discourse critical in a democratic society, but it is the reality of the web. If I weren’t secure in my own life outside of this blog, the decision to post online would be a much more difficult one.
And it is important to remember that some of the highest discourse in or own country’s history was anonymous. The writers of the Federalist Papers used the pen name ‘Publius’, homage to a founder of the Roman Republic. Those writing on the anti-Federalist side used the pseudonyms ‘Federal Farmer’ and ‘Cato’. These writings represent the best of American rhetorical and political writing, perhaps some of the best in the history of the world. In many ways they benefit from anonymity of the authors, as it focuses the reader’s attention on the ideas being presented rather than on the personalities or interests of those writing – which is where the focus should be in good political discourse.
Indeed, the tactics of the New Atheists and the Alinskyite Left may increasingly make the anonymous expression of opinion a political and civil necessity, as such groups focus on the corruptive practice of vituperative personal attacks. A recent initiative by the ultra-Leftist Daily Kos site utilizing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) seeks to bring the personal attack to a whole new level. The group is seeking to ‘Google Bomb’ Republican candidates by getting sympathetic associates to enter searches in Google with damaging search words. The result of this is to cause the most damaging stories to rise to the top of the list of Google results and cause mindless voters (whom the Left obviously disdains) to unthinkingly accept the top searches as fact, and so be moved to think poorly of those candidates. I think the electorate is increasingly savvy to such technical shenanigans (especially now that the strategy is getting a lot of press) but it exemplifies the cynicism with which the Left operates in our political system.
And it exemplifies the reasons why some would choose to operate anonymously – in an environment where corporate or personal reputations can be damaged by a rogue writer with a computer and grudge or a radical organization intent on manipulating elections, anonymity may be one of the greatest protections of free speech we have.