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by Victor Shelton
If you are a native Washingtonian, politics becomes part of your daily life. With our “Hometown” newspaper being The Washington Post, political headlines scream at you every morning -- even if you only pick up the paper to check your horoscope and the lottery numbers. Pundits are everywhere -- but do they help people understand politics and become educated in their opinions?
Not necessarily -- under our current arrangements. Pundit Mary Matalin once described punditry as the one profession that everyone thinks that they can do better than you do. I can certainly agree with her sentiments. No matter how experienced or recognizable a pundit may be, he or she is constantly being challenged and second-guessed -- and you could say that the "gatekeeper' model of punditry is coming to an end. Everyone can and should be a pundit -- if he or she wants to.
Thanks in large part to social media, platforms for ordinary citizens to engage in political discussion are no longer limited to over the back fence, the corner bar, or the proverbial water cooler. With the help of Facebook and Twitter, anyone, anywhere, and practically anytime can have political discussions - even knock-down, drag-out arguments -- whenever the mood strikes, and even anonymously.
This is a good thing. It enables us, if we so choose, to try learn from and understand the viewpoints of others in real time as opposed to waiting for the 6 O’clock newscast or for the next morning’s paper. Thanks to the 24 hour news cycle and social media, many more people are now involved than ever before in the political "opinion-making" process.
But there are drawbacks to everyone's becoming a pundit, too. The internet based social media that connects virtual strangers from anywhere in the world is also plagued by the anonymity of the discussion. Policy position distortions -- and outright lies -- can be transmitted with a click to countless recipients and continually circulated with impunity -- there are no fact-chjeckers, producers or editors to make sure that opinion has any basis in truth. Organizations such as Politifact and FactCheck do try to clarify internet faslsehoods, but many online users who pass along erroneous information may do so knowingly. Some users' purpose is not information-sharing, but simply an attempt to win political points and vilify the “opposition”.
As the Internet builds up political punditry from ordinary citizens, it risks sharing some of the charactristics that define our two-party system these days: mutual vilification, scorched-earth tactics, and an "I win, you lose' mentality that is not good for the country as a whole. Citizen punidits should take themselves more seriously -- and try to engage in civil dialogue and back up their screeds with facts and solid links. That way, we can be role models for today's more "elite' pundits -- as well as for today's politicians.
DAD of an Army Daughter with two combat tours behind her, Navy Veteran, 53. Currently residing in Atlanta, independent financial services sales consultant.