My initial reaction to finding out that Governor Rick Perry-–my governor, whether I voted for the man or not–—had blocked me on Twitter was one of bemused joy. "I WIN THE WORLD!" I tweeted excitedly, because it was such a beautiful and public fingers-in-ears tantrum thrown by a grown-ass man. There's so much that is characteristic of Perry and conservatives of his ilk that's explained and illustrated by this simple act: a refusal to engage with criticism, an ability to believe things-–like that Texas has a miracle economy–-that are demonstrably false, behavior that puts wishful and privileged thinking–even magical thinking-–ahead of actual policy and practice.
It was a little act that said to me: Yes, everything you think is true about this particular brand of asshole is actually true. Particularly because I can't recall ever being in any kind of Twitter fight or skirmish or even interaction with dear @GovernorPerry. I'm sure I must have Tweeted at or about him before, because I spend an awful lot of time Tweeting and writing about politics (not as much as I do about drinking and cats, but you know). But in terms of pitching some kind of Twitter campaign to harass the guy? No way. In fact, I didn't even follow him until today–that is, I didn't even try to follow him until today. And yet I was already on his blacklist?
Yesterday, a number of my Texan friends began tweeting at/about @GovernorPerry regarding a particular update, which he posted around 2 p.m.: "Can't beat a pork chop on a stick at the Iowa State Fair." Now look, I don't care what Rick Perry said about running for president over the weekend, Rick Perry did not start running for president of the United States until this tweet, today. Complimenting another state's cuisine is one thing for a Texan to do. Asserting that another state's cuisine cannot be beat by something even from Texas? Can't even be beat by a State Fair of Texas snack? Are you kidding me, Rick Governor-Guns-And-God Perry? The man panders with the best of them, but this was a new low.
(Oh and genuinely, nothing against Iowa's pork chop on a stick. I am sure it's really delicious, Rick Perry's greasy opinion notwithstanding. Pork chop on a stick, I have nothing but respect for you.)
So I figured I better board the Rick Perry Twitter train as soon as possible, especially if he was going to keep talking about how nothing could beat non-Texan cuisine. As soon as I did, I reckon I had an experience that is not totally unusual: I found that I couldn't follow my own governor's own personal Twitter account, because he had blocked me. In fact, I'm part of a nice little club comprised of largely liberal and progressive tweeters that was even written up in the Washington Post back in March. Hell, there's even a Twitter list comprised of journalists and bloggers who've felt the wrath of a Perry block. (To be fair, I've heard of other politicians making similar moves on social media–John Cornyn and Kenny Marchant, among others. I wouldn't be surprised if there are Democrats doing it, too, but Perry's actions are a great microcosmic example of an overall conservative philosophy, which is: la-la-la-la.)
At this point, a thought started to form in my mind, and that thought was less bemused-joy and more slow-simmering outrage. I don't know when Perry blocked me, and I suppose I don't care whether it was Candidate Perry or Governor Perry who did it. But I do know that it is deeply disgusting, and downright un-American, for an elected official to block, even symbolically, his or her own constituent. The political contract in this country is founded on the idea that citizens can and should have access to government and elected officials. Rick Perry is breaking that contract.
Sometimes constituent access costs money–-public documents, for example, or time-–parking it outside a senator's office for some face time-–but fundamentally, our elected officials do not have a right to tell us that we cannot speak to them. That's the way this whole democracy game works. Elected officials just do not have a right to tell us that they will not listen to us. In America, politicians don't just get the good half of the bargain–that you get to be elected and given political power, and then get to chunk out the crap part of the bargain–dealing with constituents who disagree with you, because it's hard, or a hassle, or hurts your feelings. You take the job of Governor of the great State of Texas because you're the kind of person who is prepared to engage with a feisty and proud public. Or so I thought.
As Alexandra Petri notes in her piece about Perry's Twitter tantrums in the WaPo, it is the height of social media illiteracy to both have a public, unlocked Twitter account and to block people, because all I have to do as @AndreaGrimes is to log out of my account (I don't even have to log into another that can follow Perry!) and visit http://www.twitter.com/governorperry. Bam! All the news about how Rick Perry feels about pork chops on a stick that I can … shake a stick at. Anyway. Petri writes:
It's like telling your mother she can't read your diary and then posting it online. It's like telling anyone he or she can't read anything and posting it online. And if you're sharing information with 30,000 followers on Twitter, well, what are you worried about?
Which is true, of course, but misses the point. Rick Perry isn't blocking me on Twitter because he doesn't want me to know how he feels about pork chops. Rick Perry blocked me on Twitter because he doesn't want to know how I feel about anything at all. Blocking folks on Twitter prevents their tweets in which your account is @'d from showing up in your feed. It means fuckall to me that I have to log out of my Twitter account to read Rick Perry's tweets. But it means an awful lot that the governor of my state has actively taken steps to silence my opinions–opinions that are, by and large, different to his own.
For example, I believe in reproductive choice. I believe it's gross to joke about your wife ironing your shirt. I believe in affordable health care and insurance, regardless of what ALEC, Rick Perry's favorite right-wing shadow group wants. I believe in the separation of church and state. Not only does Rick Perry disagree with me on these points, but he is actively seeking to ignore the valuable perspectives of his constituents by trying to la-la-la us out of his Twitter feed.
Certainly Rick Perry can ignore me and others who disagree with him. He can throw away our letters, have his staff take messages they never deliver, whatever. But he has no right not to pick up the phone when we call him, or to refuse the delivery of his mail based on its return address, or to whittle down his Twitter feed so that the only people who can talk to him are those who think just like him. Moreover, his rejection of a group of people who work in media is particularly distasteful. Of course, the entire thing is gross, but as a journalist, it's my job to listen to people's stories and tell them. Often, I tell stories about people I disagree with, personally or politically. I am a conduit through which elected officials can learn what their constituents need and want. Rick Perry has decided that's not important. If that's not un-American, I don't know what is.