Barack Obama Speechwriter Jon Favreau, the Hillary Clinton “Grope” and Scenes From the Surveillance Republic

Lighten up everyone.

By + More

By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Bonnie wrote about Obama chief speechwriter Jon Favreau's recent unfortunate encounter with the perils of Facebook, joining a chorus calling for Favreau's professional head.

Well, no. The Favreau kerfuffle certainly holds broader meanings, but they have little to do with the character of the next president's head wordsmith.

In case you missed it, Favreau, 27, had a few drinks at a party at some point and, with another staffer, got juvenile with a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton. In administrations past (like, as recently as the start of the outgoing one) this behavior would have remained in the realm of bleary memory, perhaps illustrated by the inevitable ill-advised photograph. But Favreau forgot that we live in the Age of Facebook and someone—I still haven't been able to figure out if it was Favreau himself or a frenemy—posted said ill-advised photo on Facebook for about two hours, which is roughly one hour, 59 minutes and 59.9999 seconds longer than it takes for incriminating pictures to be forever captured on the Web.

Let's pause here and take stock. Was "groping" a facsimile of Hillary Clinton juvenile and crass? Yup. Was it politically dumb? Sure. But is one photograph, out of context (there is some difference, for example, if it was taken in the heat of nasty primary or, say, shortly after he finished penning Obama's remarks introducing Mrs. Clinton as the next secretary of state), from a party indicative of a deep-seated misogyny or other career-ending character flaw? Are we joking?

Well no, and that's part of the problem.

Kathleen Parker had a smart take on L'Affaire Favreau and its resulting reactions in the Washington Post:

All of the above would be nonsense except that almost nothing any longer is. Nonsense is the new standard for controversy; and even party shenanigans qualify.

Puritans and prohibitionists would adore our brave new world of shutterbug infamy. The fact is, no one's having fun anymore, especially in the nation's capital, where one can't afford to let the tongue slip or risk being caught in the cross hairs of a cell camera.

Political veterans have learned, sometimes the hard way. This new generation—the Obama cohort—needs to review The Rules. Smart grown-ups in Washington don't get drunk in public. A glass of wine is a prop that rarely gets drained.

Parker's column is worth a full read because almost the only thing she gets wrong is that Favreau wasn't drunk in public. He wasn't stumbling through the Washington Metro, or even the Cap Lounge, with a bottle of Jack in one hand and the cardboard Clinton in the other. He was in the privacy (or what we used to call privacy) of a party.

But we increasingly exist in a surveillance society. Not a 1984-style, Orwellian world where one Big Brother is perpetually watching, or a Soviet-style nation in which we report on one another to a central police organization. Rather we're a surveillance republic all reporting on ourselves and everyone else to everyone else, through blogs, Tweets, Facebook, and Gchat status updates, photo-sharing services, LinkedIn, YouTube . . . etc.

Even a private party is a public space when someone has a camera and a Facebook account. (See also: Obama, guns, religion, and clingy bitterness.)

The trifecta of a lack of privacy, a disappearing sense of humor, and a zero-tolerance attitude regarding offenses real and perceived will leave us dysfunctional: We're all human, after all, and make mistakes. Show me someone who has never in their life done something embarrassing, inappropriate, rude, or regrettable and I'll show you someone either too inhuman to work in a position of power or someone who was fortunate that a camera phone wasn't around when they erred.

As for Favreau, he reportedly had to apologize to the incoming Secretary of State—surely a sufficient sentence, at least as far as we have to know (punishment can take place in private too). The aggrieved party herself made light of the whole situation: "Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon's obvious interest in the State Department, and is currently reviewing his application," Clinton adviser Philippe Reines said in an email to the Post.

  • Read more by Robert Schlesinger.
  • Read more from the Thomas Jefferson Street blog.
  • Read more about Hillary Clinton.
  • Read more about the Obama administration.
  • Read more about privacy.