Political dialogue is important, which is why I am Facebook friends with a variety of politicians and “like” a lot of political parties and organizations. I try to maintain ties with a variety of Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Constitutionalists, and independents. You shouldn’t simply surround yourself with people who agree with you all the time, as doing so places you in a very small circle and doesn’t allow much room for thought and the possibility of change. However, I do insist that my contacts treat each other civilly. For example, several years ago a fellow Ron Paul supporter I knew got into a heated argument with one of my Republican friends and ended up declaring that it would be better if his mother had aborted him. Regardless of your political affiliations, such a remark is totally over the line. One can have disagreements about policy without delving into personal attacks.
I appreciate my Facebook network of friends who are elected officials, but have discovered that several have gone missing. After doing a bit of digging I determined that they have blocked me. I believe Delegate Dickie Bell (R-Staunton) blocked me first. Delegate Bell and I got into a scuffle on my blog back in late 2013 after he crafted a bill that would have drastically changed the opt-in program for organ donation. I had argued that making this change would, in effect, mean that your body would be assumed to belong to the state unless a citizen declared otherwise. As you might imagine, this article generated considerable negative press and he ended up pulling the bill, which I praised him for doing. Since that time Delegate Bell and I have not really communicated (even though we posed for a photo earlier this year) and at some point in 2015 he took the step of blocking me. I believe it was around the same time I wrote a piece chastising the Augusta County GOP for releasing an ad telling voters to vote Republican in order to “preserve our Christian heritage“.
Next was Marshall Pattie, a Republican Supervisor from Augusta County. I first met Pattie as we were both running for office. I was seeking a seat on the Harrisonburg City Council while he sought the Republican nod for the Virginia Senate in the 24th district. Over about the next year and a half we had several conversations. Although I did my best to remain objective about the race on this site, I discovered that sometimes he would tell me one thing and then later do or say something totally contradictory. Here are two examples: On June 30th, 2014, I attended Marshall Pattie’s official campaign kickoff in Waynesboro. After the event, he came up to me and told me that he wanted to help my campaign for council but was worried that the Republican leadership would be upset if he did, especially as he was a recent convert to the party. I explained that I appreciated his support but understood his situation and didn’t ask him for any public help. However, the next time I saw one of his posts on Facebook, it was a photo of him wearing stickers of my opponents and going door-to-door on their behalf. Shortly after the November 2014 election, I was told that he spoke at the local Young Republican meeting and declared that Harrisonburg would have elected two Republicans to council if only I had not been in the race. I asked him if he actually said these words and he confessed that he did, but promised that he would not say it again because he did not believe it to be true. I didn’t really communicate with him further as I felt these two events had amply proven him to be untrustworthy. I am not alone in this sentiment, as I know other activists (Republicans and Democrats) who have had similar experiences with him and have drawn the same conclusions. If you closely examine the figure in the middle of the photo from the 2015 July 4th parade in Staunton, you will see it is Marshall Pattie. If looks could kill, eh?
The third, believe it or not, is the Republican Party of Virginia. About once a month or so I would comment on something they posted either offering a factual correction (if they posted something in error) or urging them to actually adhere to the principles found in their creed. I was also very troubled when the Virginia Republican Party recently took what I thought was an extraordinary step, kicking Delegate Mark Berg (now I-Winchester) out of the party. I still believe that action was unjust. However, on the evening of December 12, 2015 I discovered that the party had blocked me from commenting on anything else.
I’ve gotten into disagreements with just about every elected official from time to time. Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) and I have had differing opinions on what constitutes an isolationist. I supplied a local paper with a photo from the announcement of Delegate Ben Cline’s (R-Rockbridge) Democratic opponent. I believe Delegate Cline is one of the best delegates and I was not trying to hurt his reelection chances. Instead, I did it because I felt the paper had fallen down on its responsibility to provide important news to their readers concerning their political choices. I successfully lobbied the General Assembly to defeat Delegate Steve Landes’ (R-Augusta) party registration bill. However, in none of those cases did either the elected official or I rush to block the other over these issues as they were, in my opinion, all political fair game.
In full disclosure, I have blocked four people on Facebook. Three were Republicans staffers and one was a Libertarian (or perhaps better labeled as a former Libertarian). In each case these people attempted to threaten me into silence. Whether you agree or disagree with a position or an individual, the use of coercion, be it either through physical or emotional threats, is completely unacceptable. There is a certain line I will not allow anyone to cross and therefore terminated all further interactions with these individuals.
After I discovered the RPV block I was reminded of a moment at the end of the first season of Game of Thrones. In the episode a bard had performed a song that King Joffery found offensive. Acting as Joffery often did, the king presented the bard with a choice, for his insolence he would either lose his fingers or his tongue. In response, Tyrion Lannister offered this thought on censorship: “When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar; you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”
Yes, we all have differing opinions and sometimes these differences can strain or even destroy relationships. I have not kept track of how many Facebook friends I have both gained and lost due to political conversations. And, although unfortunate, that is fine. However, the act of blocking a person, not because they are intentionally nasty, but due to disagreements does make one wonder if a person or group is simply afraid what would happen if other people knew this information and adopted these viewpoints.
Anyway, I want to thank the vast majority of elected officials and political parties who have not blocked me or anyone else simply as a result of posting something they didn’t like. In the long journey ahead there will be times when we agree and times when we disagree. However, I hope we can always remain civil and never sever the lines of communication without reasonable cause.