Having somehow avoided the fate of being born a prude I am troubled by reports that the incoming Obama administration intends to subject its employees to a truly demented level of background checks.
Obviously some level of prudence is necessary but the Obama administration isn’t just looking for examples of corruption but such minutia as have you ever had a traffic fine more than $50.00. Let us hope none of Obama’s new team take a vacation here in BC where going a mere ten kilometers above the posted speed limit will cost them not only hundreds of dollars but apparently their job back in Washington as well.
Most interesting of all applicants must provide a history of their activities on the Internet, including copies of any emails which might embarrass President elect Obama, links to social networking pages, blogs, and the usernames under which any of them were written.
Employers are also getting in on the act, sacking anyone who is caught saying or doing anything that may be deemed embarrassing to the company. Couple that with the universal presence of cell phone cameras and it doesn’t take long before Cathy’s decision to have a few drinks one evening with friends, despite her having a bit of stomach flu, results in a “hilarious” picture of her puking being posted on facebook by one of her friends. This in turn leads to Mrs. Harrison calling Cathy into her office the next day at work and informing her that her services are no longer required.
The paradox of the Internet is that with various social networking sites and Wikipedia it is a great way to keep in touch with distant friends and to quickly gather information. The problem is that none of this information ever goes away. Thus any ill thought out statement or embarrassing photo that is posted to the internet will always be there.
A colleague of mine has come up with a hypothesis. She gives it a much ruder title but for her sake and yours, I will refer to it as “the crotch shot hypothesis.” Her hypothesis is that by the year 2040 everyone in the world under the age of 65 will have an incriminating photo of themselves posted somewhere on the internet.
That brings us to an interesting democratic dilemma. In a democracy we elect people that represent us. They are not saints but people with the same foibles, miscues and embarrassing moments as the rest of us. Having worked as a political consultant for the better part of twenty years I can certainly tell you that candidates at both the provincial and federal level face a much higher level of scrutiny than they did when I first started out.
As we have seen here in Canada, this trend towards bland colourless politicians is creating increased public disenchantment with politics and declining voter turnout. The real problem is not just the Internet but our own hypocrisy as voters. Perhaps in the future when everyone has dirt on everyone else then politics will lose its all too tiresome hypocritical and moralistic tone.
But in the meantime power will continue to devolve away from our elected officials and towards unelected bureaucrats, political staffers and even freelance political consultants like myself. As an ardent fan of democracy I lament this trend as the day is rapidly approaching where only the blandest people will be deemed fit to hold public office. We will all be much worse off for it.
Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who lives in Victoria, B.C. He can be reached via his website at www.mgcltd.ca