Does a politician’s past matter?

Will social media force professional politicians to confine their lives unrealistically?

This story of a previous relationship of Barack Obama made me wonder about this age of digital recording, when the ease of social media sharing make the whole of our lives permanent and visible.

This will be troublesome for politicians. Over the next few decades there will be a growing digital, online, and non-erasable catalog of our leaders’ relationships with former friends, lovers and confidants. What will society make of this?

Will this lead to even more interrogation of how politicians lived their lives when they were younger?

Will politicians need to be even more circumspect about their lives from the very point they think about being ‘political’. Is that even possible? The act of trying to be political results in a growth of networks, expression of formative ideas, and conflicts.

Humans are hard wired to seek patterns, and to seek new information to deduce patterns. We WILL look for online evidence of what politicians (and others) have done in the past. We think this will help predict what they will do now and in the future.

Digital media is giving us much more “real” evidence, with less of the fuzziness we introduce to our remembering of the past. We won’t have to take a politician’s word about the way they acted in the past; there’s probably video, photos and written records. 

I suspect that for the sake of our egos, we’ll find some sort of middle ground. Call it a ‘maturing’ of attitudes to the past, if you like. But it will really be driven by a kind of mutually assured destruction. If you unleash my past, I’ll unleash yours.

We’ll investigate where we think there’s grounds for suspicion. And we’ll get collective amnesia where it doesn’t seem to matter.

The general treatment and reaction to the story of Obama’s relationship with the Australian teacher is indicative of this growing ‘maturity’.

So maybe aspiring politicians don’t need to worry. That drunken party or one-night stand will either be too trivial or too important for most of us to risk revisiting.

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