Are campaigns and conversation incompatible?

The hiring and then mufflling of bloggers by the Edwards campaign has to make you wonder whether whether campaigns and conversation are incompatible. Or perhaps we just better get used to honesty — in the form of bluntness and transparency and frankness — as a new phenomenon.

When you hire a blogger, you hire someone who lives — thinks and speaks — in public. You hire someone who responds to conversations without the veils of spin and PR and plastic discretion that politicians must learn.

In other words, on our blogs, we all say things that might offend someone. Truth is, in life — in bars, in restaurants, in offices, on the phone — we all do that, only now there is a public and — usually — permanent record. So now when a campaign hires such a person, it has to gird its crotch for the inevitable finding-of-the-offensive that will occur in this, the age of offense. And then, as the Times points out this morning, it has to figure out what to do. Firing people because they once said something that might have offended someone won’t work; there’ll soon be no one left to hire except people who have nothing to say and have never said it. Censoring them post facto won’t work; it violates our ethics in blogs to try to erase your old words; it is a lie of omission. What the Edwards campaign tried to do was hold onto the bloggers but make them choke on crow to satisfy the chronically offended. That trick won’t last for long.

Why don’t we just get used to the idea that people say things that might offend others and that soon we will all — campaign workers and campaigners alike — have such things on the permanent record. Blogs, Facebooks, MySpace pages, YouTube videos — you might say that they will haunt us. But I prefer to think that they will force us to be more open, more honest. Maybe then we’ll have no choice but to have a real conversation.