His long track record of doing so with journalists like the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel and Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal manages to be endearing instead of annoying because of what it reflects in hindsight. It was a less caustic era on the internet, when social media’s original novelty hadn’t yet worn off and such earnest conversational interjections were treated less skeptically — I can send Shaq a message, and he might even respond! Ossoff’s Twitter feed differs from that of fellow very online politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Donald Trump because its trapped-in-amber quality, rare for a public figure, gives us a real-time generational record of how our relationship with social media has changed.
To that end, here is a curated and annotated selection of the young Georgian’s early tweets, chosen for what they tell us about his generation aging into national prominence. Ossoff is the first Twitter-native senator, but surely not the last. At this very moment, scores of ambitious, young, would-be Ossoffs are undeniably scouring their own social media histories to present, as he did, just the right image.
On election night, as it became obvious that Ossoff would eventually pull ahead of David Perdue and Twitter’s garbage-pickers duly descended on his feed, this one went viral for obvious reasons: Everybody loves “Star Wars.” But Ossoff’s comment belies a deeper, richer knowledge, one going back to a time when the franchise wasn’t quite the uber-global, Coca Cola-level monolithic “brand” that is today, but still just a series of blockbuster sci-fi films obsessed over by, well, nerds.
Specifically, Ossoff referenced the fictional character “Grand Admiral Thrawn,” an antagonist not from the movies, but from a series of beloved spinoff novels published in the early 1990s that were familiar to any kid with both a pre-“Phantom Menace” thirst for more “Star Wars” and a Doubleday Science Fiction Book Club subscription. Twitter users seized on this because it displayed a cultural currency far older than social media itself: Ossoff was into the nerdy thing way before it was cool.
It’s 2012. You and your friends are sitting around the pool, listening to a mix CD that’s just perfectly transitioned from Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” to MGMT’s “Electric Feel” as the sun starts to go down. Someone mentions a news story that they just read on their Blackberry about Mitt Romney saying something embarrassing about the “47 percent.” You swirl around the last few sips in the bottom of your bottle of Miller High Life, wondering if it’s worth ruining the moment to get up and grab another. Nate Silver, to your knowledge, has literally never been wrong about anything. It’s all downhill from here.
It’s an imperfect comparison, but one could reasonably describe Imagine Dragons as the 2010s version of Nickelback — a world-conquering, zillion-selling, nigh-ubiquitous rock band who are ignored at best and reviled at worst by America’s tastemakers. Jon Ossoff is a policymaker, not a tastemaker. As such, he’s a big fan (in addition to apparently being a schoolmate of the group’s drummer, Daniel Platzman). Ossoff’s persistent and earnest affection for the band is perfectly in line with his genial, middle-of-the-road, nice-young-man appeal. The kind of millennial who would roll their eyes at Imagine Dragons (this writer included, admittedly) is over-represented in national media, but Ossoff’s fellow fans proliferate through, well, the electorate.
It’s unclear to what Ossoff was originally referring here, but one thing is crystal clear, and maybe more revealing than anything actually contained in his social media paper trail: As the top comment says, the man knew he had a future.
It’s common practice for millennials and Gen Z-ers to have a private, incognito account for the content they want to share away from the prying eyes of potential employers, so while it’s possible Ossoff did the same, even as a graduate student at the London School of Economics, he clearly knew this one might come under scrutiny. Whether or not he knew that would be by reporters such as myself after his surprising victory in a Georgia senate election, it’s obvious he self-consciously kept his feed squeaky-clean and, as many have marveled, absolutely cancel-proof — from the window to the wall.
“Not the Onion” has been invoked so frequently at this point to express disbelief at absurd news as to become cliché. Back in 2012, it still made us titter with delight and Andy Rooney-like “what-is-this-world-coming-to” disbelief at the inevitable news of the weird. Here, Ossoff deploys it to share a clickbait-y NPR blog about a historic cave discovered in North Korea, a sign of the times in its own right.
There’s as much temporal distance between this tweet and today as there was between it and the gleefully offensive, never-in-a-million-years-would-be-produced-today marionette portrayal of Kim Jong-Il in Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s “Team America: World Police.”
I’m going to need a statement from every U.S. Senator on whether or not they’re into anime. Yes, even Chuck Grassley.
Ossoff first entered the national spotlight with an out-of-nowhere 2017 special election bid to represent Newt Gingrich’s old congressional district, losing by a little more than three points to Republican nominee Karen Handel. That race took on outsize significance as the first congressional election of the Trump presidency, putting the fundraising and media structure that sprouted around the newborn #Resistance into action — including “Pod Save America,” the popular liberal podcast co-hosted by the comedian and former speechwriter Jon Lovett, cited admiringly here, years before “Crooked Media” was formed.
Ossoff is a quintessentially “Pod Save”-ian young Democrat, smiley-face professional with just the right amount of style to seem hip while not alienating Georgia’s swing voters. It’s no wonder he gravitated to Lovett long before the latter helped set that paradigm.
For those not intimately familiar with early 2010s internet culture, the Oatmeal is a now-long-running humor site and webcomic created by cartoonist Matt Inman. Back then, it felt like the future, exemplifying a particular brand of absurdist, whimsical humor that dominated the early years of social media — think “LOLCats,” the “doge” and “Epic Bacon FTW.” In other words, it’s the exact kind of thing Ossoff — a dorky, web-obsessed guy in his early 20s — would have found a “great comic.”
Today, its particular brand of humor has become somewhat passé online, but to imagine a young senator-to-be stumbling upon it in delight reminds one of a time-worn lesson, immortalized by his generational predecessors: The cutting edge is always blunted by time, and it’ll happen to you, too.
Ah, that most millennial of social media behaviors: anxiety over the extent to, and fashion in which, one actually uses social media. Ossoff has tweeted several times about his dissatisfaction with Twitter, the sure sign of an addict.
Hang in there, buddy. We’ll all probably have figured this out together by the time the Gen Z-ers come along and invent something completely different which both horrifies and enthralls us in new ways that we’re objectively much less equipped to deal with by then.
Call him the Senator from Grantland. Here, Ossoff outs himself as a reader of the short-lived but highly influential ESPN spinoff website, which featured both prestigious longform reporting and then-cutting-edge blogging and podcasting. The Grantland spirit is upon you whenever you’re surprised that your otherwise bookish or pretentious-seeming co-worker, or classmate, or niece or nephew is really into professional wrestling, or “The Bachelor,” or an obscure European sub-regional soccer league. It’s hard to overstate how refreshing it was in the early 2010s to read sharp young (and some old) writers opining and reporting intelligently on such topics, like voice given to an unspoken or misunderstood passion. Such things are par for the course now, and Ossoff is likely part of the last generation to feel actual guilt over their “guilty pleasures.”