By David Leibowitz, GSN Columnist
It was one of those stupid social media fights that remind you afterward of two boys scrapping on a schoolyard for the entertainment of a few grade-schoolers.
The whole thing encompassed maybe an hour, a few snarky sentences. It would have been unremarkable, except the guy I was brawling with happened to be Frank Riggs, the Republican who on Election Day lost the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Thus, we made the news on Veterans Day, beneath headlines referencing Riggs’ Twitter “meltdown.”
It could have been worse: At least Riggs, 68, didn’t challenge me to a fistfight. I probably would’ve driven over, pronto. There’s something about being called a “gutless punk” and having a politician attack you for “physical and moral cowardice” that brings out the worst in a guy.
Of course, to be completely honest, I didn’t need to tweet my opinion about Riggs’ multiple campaign failures, labeling him another “narcissistic partisan who mistake(s) self-serving campaigns for public service. That’s why you lose when you run – voters sense your self-importance and need to self-aggrandize. And thank goodness they do.”
Rereading that, I’m disappointed in my behavior. I’ve watched Frank Riggs run and lose and run and lose these past four years.
Still, that shouldn’t have provoked me to have fun at his expense. It’s exactly what I despise about social media – the name-calling and vitriol – yet still I typed furiously without a second thought about the thing we all miss online: There’s a human being on the other end of the Internet, someone who represents more than a keyboard and a few cheap insults.
I was reminded of that the next day when an email arrived from a man named Mitch Mulanix. Three decades ago, he managed Riggs’ successful campaign for a California congressional seat. He later worked in his legislative offices.
Although Mullanix told me he hasn’t spoken to Riggs for probably 10 years, “I spent nearly every day with him for many years so I know his background, and more importantly what drives him.”
The Riggs described in Mulanix’s email, “didn’t come from money. He was a regular guy who worked his ass off to get where he is. He is extremely idealistic. He has a clear mindset about right and wrong and he feels a moral obligation to personally get involved and make things right.”
In other words, someone motivated not by self-service, but by public service. Or, as Mullanix explained it, “I suspect what set Frank off was your allegation that he runs for office based on his own self-aggrandizing motives.”
He went on: “For most politicians you would be right. … But I can tell you with certainty that Frank isn’t that type of politician.”
The moral to the story? Maybe I was wrong about Frank Riggs. Maybe what I interpreted as ego or a bad impersonation of Clint Eastwood feels to Riggs like leadership. Maybe we both owe each other a sincere apology. Maybe social media arguments become no one.
Here’s what I know for certain, post-fight: Frank Riggs got in the ring. He put himself out there – and took another whipping. He served his country. For that he has my respect. And the deepest apology I can put to paper.