I met Mike Matthews at a State Board of Education meeting back in 2014. At this time, I believe Mike was the President of the Red Clay Education Association. He was cutting decorations for his classroom at Warner School. I met him again at a 22nd State Rep debate a few weeks later. And then Governor Markell announced the Priority School debacle in Red Clay and Christina and public education exploded in a day.
As a result of that, along with many other education matters, Mike and I became friends. We didn’t always agree but I knew his heart was in the right place. I read bits and pieces about what Mike wrote about in Down With Absolutes. Little pieces scattered around the internet. What I read in the WHYY article today was new to me. It was beyond inappropriate but shock blogging was the thing back then. Heck, if you look at many tv shows and movies around that time and even before then, they could never be made today.
Frankly, it shocked me it took nine years for this to come up. The fact that it came out now speaks more to those who wanted to bring Mike down. Let’s see- election season combined with someone who claims to be in it for the kids but runs the Delaware chapter of an organization that HATES public education? That math isn’t hard to add up. Especially since the former was quoted in the WHYY article.
I’m not condoning what Mike wrote. Mike certainly isn’t. He regrets it, no doubt. He isn’t hiding from it. The Mike from Down With Absolutes certainly isn’t the Mike I met in 2014. Far from it. I would have never dreamed Mike was capable of typing certain things like he did back then. I believe Mike when he says he was outrageous with what he wrote. Doesn’t make it right, but that’s how blogs were back then. And people didn’t care like they do now. It was a different time. I have been outrageous in my own way on this very blog at times. I once wrote a satirical article about Mark Murphy dressing up like a cross-dressing Kate Winslet. It was all in fun. That was in 2014. I wouldn’t dare write that today.
But this instant crucifixion fixation for the mistakes of the past is getting tiresome on Facebook. Even on my own Facebook post some folks commented with their pitchforks out who have said some pretty outrageous things on social media.
Since I wasn’t around in the “Golden Age” of Delaware blogging, I am copying what former blogger Steve Newton wrote on Facebook about the whole thing.
So let’s think about Mike Matthews for a few minutes. Not only is he my friend, I can say that I am one of the people currently around who knew him well “way back when” his blog “Down with Absolutes” was among the first half-dozen edgy political blogs in Delaware.
In publishing DWA Mike said things that nobody today would ever think about saying and expect to keep a job or a public position of trust, let alone leadership. As a 22-year-old radical literally blogging from his basement he was the enfant terrible of the blogging world.
I know better than almost anybody else (with the possible exceptions of the entire Delaware Liberal crew, Dave Huber, Dana Garrett, Dave Burris, Kilroy’s Slower Delaware, David Anderson, Nancy Willing, and the anonymous kavips) about what he published. I read it, laughed at some of it, winced at other parts, argued with segments, and even agreed with him at least in substance.
Blogging back then would have curled your hair today.
Flame wars filled with profanity and just plain disturbing images reigned supreme. Anybody remember the time Delaware Liberal gleefully published a picture of a Hillary Clinton nutcracker in 2008? I do. Anybody remember the blogger who called for all of his political opponents to be stood up against a wall and shot for treason? I do. Anybody remember the ones who ran obituaries for prominent people with tag lines like “I’m glad he’s dead,” or the prominent Delaware blogger who said all Catholics who didn’t leave the church had just admitted they were child abusers? I do.
(And a reasonably well-crafted Google search could find all of that–except that I didn’t give anybody but an old-timer quite enough information to do it.)
I’m not defending those times, I am remembering them. I ran a blog (with several partners on and off) in which the all-time most highly viewed posts were on Thai “ladyboys” and the civil liberties of the Missouri Militia. (I didn’t write the first one, which has to date 230,000 hits, but I did write the second one that actually ended up anthologized in a series of college Political Science readers.)
And then, one day, Mike decided to walk away from it.
He wanted to grow up and get a job. He wanted to teach kids, not just any kids, but special needs kids. He wanted to get out of the basement, lose a ton of weight, and get into the game of actually doing something positive for society instead of … whatever happens to people who blog too long.
His past was no secret. Red Clay was fully well aware of it when he got hired, and it is not especially confidential to say that a lot of people in power did not want Mike hired (his online faux-love-affair-from-afar with Christine O’Donell didn’t help), but his passion and his skills convinced them to give him a chance. That probably wouldn’t have happened today.
(Side note: Mike took down his blog not because it might harm the future of the political career he’d never thought of having by that point, but because it wasn’t something he ever wanted his students to stumble across. He was in deadly earnest from Day Zero that if he was going to teach kids, he had to become a role model for them. So he set about, systematically, becoming that person.)
Even Mike’s political enemies will have to admit he’s one helluva teacher. There are dozens if not hundreds of kids out there today (I know some of them personally) who are out there today in jobs (or went to college) who would never have made it to–let alone through–high school without having been in his class. Mike won’t tell you about them, even if that costs him everything, because it’s their lives and their privacy, and he wouldn’t compromise that to save himself from a lynching.
Down with Absolutes was never a secret as his career, first as a union grievance officer, then as RSEA President, took off. Anybody who was around back then who tells you they didn’t know about it is, frankly, either lying or at least suspiciously amnesiac. Having DWA in his past was, in fact, one of the reasons that he did not rise to prominence faster.
At every step of the way he had to prove himself, at each point he had to live down his irreverently misspent youth.
By the way, in case you doubt me, the bloggers who were trading insults with Mike back then today include senior Democratic and Republican Party officials; elected legislators and city council members (Dem and GOP) from around the State; and prominent attorneys.
At least two current bloggers who go back that far who seem to have mysteriously forgotten that they were not only there at the time, but that they participated avidly in the mudslinging of questionable taste. Both of them know exactly who I am talking about–I won’t “out” them because bloggers from that era never did that.
And he did. I am on record as not agreeing with a lot of Mike’s politics, but then I am the original iconoclast. But I cannot fault Mike for the courage of his convictions; his work ethic; his genuine concern for the welfare of everybody’s children; his push for good government; his outright advocacy of LGBTQ issues long before it was cool.
He has knocked on doors and carried signs. He has attended meetings and fundraisers, and gotten out his own checkbook time and again. He and his husband have dedicated their joint life to the causes they believe in.
Nope, he ain’t perfect. DWA aside, Mike can be pompous, overbearing, and self-righteous (sorry, guy, but we both know it’s true) and that makes him the kind of person that people want to go after.
They’ve tried it before.
Delaware’s right-wing social media attempted to crucify Mike as an enabler of child molesters (if not worse) over his stand for transgender rights for students.
One Delaware blogger (who’s at the movies) allowed himself to become the unwitting tool of a national right-wing smear campaign against unions to take some of Mike’s correspondence out of context.
There are certainly members of DSEA who resent the fact that he will not check his progressive credentials at the door, and continues to criticize President Trump, march for a $15 minimum wage, and stand up for LGBTQ rights.
He’s withstood that, and–as a person–he will withstand this, even if it costs him the DSEA presidency. Because you can’t really defeat a man like Mike Matthews, you can only kill him.
I will not stooge for forgiveness of his writings back then–I don’t think he wants that, and I think that to do so would disrespect both the young man he was, and the man he has become. He wrote some pretty horrific shit by today’s standards, and if you want to go back through all the blogs from the 2007-2010 period (that are mostly still actively archived) you can still find a lot of that, and a lot of responses in kind from many of our current political leaders.
(Is that the sound of scrubbing archives I hear? I truly hope not. I thought better of all of you.)
The difference between Mike Matthews and, say, a judge who now sits on the highest bench in the land, is that Mike has never lied about his youthful errors, and has lived a life that makes clear his atonement and growth.
So take your best shot at the man.
If you miss, you’ll probably hit me, because I will be standing beside him. I hope–and expect, damnit–to find a lot of other people who were part of that raucous conversation also willing to get into the line of fire.
Don’t make me have to go all Around-the-Horn on your asses to get you into the fight.
As I wrote on my own Facebook account earlier (before I went to the movies with my son), Mike is a friend first. And friends are there for each other when the chips are down. I remember a few nights where I needed a friend and Mike and others were there. They might not have been aware that I needed friends those nights, but they were there nonetheless. So Mike, if you need anything, I’m only a phone call away! Like Steve Newton said, if you take that best shot at Mike and miss him and Steve Newton as well, you might hit me cause I’ll be standing next to Mike as well.
For some of you throwing their dull darts at Mike, I would first look in the mirror and see what you have said on social media. I have some screenshots of some of it buried somewhere. Bottom line- what you write has a damn good shot of being saved somewhere by someone. It is very easy for someone to judge others but it is much harder to be accountable for your own actions. Mike Matthews did that today. But even in the midst of all this, I see many Democrats and Republicans alike sticking up for Mike. Even some of those who vehemently disagreed with Mike over the years. I respect the hell out of that!
For the kids in school these days- be careful! Always keep your eye on the future and don’t write words that may one day come back to haunt you.