Recently, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's office took on an 18-year-old high school girl - and lost.
It all started when Emma Sullivan, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School, went to the Capitol and heard Brownback, a right-wing hero and failed presidential candidate, speak.
"I don't agree with a majority of the things that he is trying to pass," Sullivan said, citing in particular Brownback's doing away with all state support for the arts. So, like many a bored and/or disgusted young person, she pulled out her smartphone and got on the online service Twitter.
"Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person," she sent, followed by a "hashtag," or topic identifier, reiterating in somewhat saltier terms her opinion that the governor was fond of performing a certain sexual act.
Now, here's something you need to remember: Twitter messages, or "tweets," go only to people who "follow" you. You have to choose to follow someone. Sullivan had only 60 followers at the time the message was sent. She did not actually say to the governor that he "sucked."
Unfortunately, Sullivan hadn't yet learned just how thin-skinned and belligerent right-wingers can get. Somehow, the word got out that she had dissed the governor to her online buddies, and Brownback's office decided that this expression of opinion could not go unpunished, even if it had not been conveyed directly to them, to the governor himself, or to anyone save the 60 or so friends, acquaintances, and admirers who'd chosen to "follow" Sullivan.
The situation blew up into a major national story after Sullivan's sister contacted the media. Her Twitter "following" grew from 65 to more than 15,000 people. Finally, an embarrassed governor's office realized that trying to intimidate an 18-year-old girl who'd insulted them on Twitter made them look stupid. Brownback issued a statement apologizing for his staff, who he said had "overreacted" to the tweet.
Despite Brownback's red-faced admission, the usual pearl-clutching and hand-wringing about how "uncivil" discourse has gotten (but only if it's done by liberals) followed. For example, columnist Ruth Marcus in the allegedly liberal Washington Post wrote that Sullivan should be glad she's not her daughter
, because Marcus would make her apologize, then take her phone away.
I'll agree that Sullivan's tweet to her friends was rude. But it was, after all, to her circle, and not to the governor.
When I start hearing the same disapproval from the right for things like that, maybe I'll reconsider. Until then, peddle that Twitrage somewhere else. I'm not buying it.