Just before Barack Obama took to the stage for his acceptance speech in Grant Park, he emailed his supporters with a personal note of thanks and a promise: “I’ll be in touch soon about what comes next.” That promise came after months of a campaign whose ultimate strategy seemed to be keeping in touch: with emails, text message and a comprehensive website.
But now that he’s been elected, it’s more important than ever for Obama to keep in touch with a citizenry lost in the technical jargon of a recession and increasingly unaware of the world around them.
The political climate isn’t unlike that of the 1932 election, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt beat the incumbent Herbert Hoover for the presidential spot. Like Obama, Roosevelt inherited a depressed economy, a massive unemployment rate, and a public on the brink of loosing hope. I believe that, like Roosevelt, Obama has the potential to massively change our country for the better.
But in order to do that, he must keep in touch.
Roosevelt’s fireside chats, a series of thirty radio programs directly addressing American citizens and explaining the complex financial issues surrounding the Depression, were massively popular and greatly affected his influence as president. Roosevelt faced a Republican-dominated legislator, and the massive amount of letters that poured in to senators’ and representatives’ offices after a fireside chat were enough to pressure those legislators into passing some of the president’s more radical measures.
Obama will enter the White House with a Democrat-dominated legislator, and so he will not need help in passing legislation. Obama, instead, will need help in keeping face. That is to say, he may need to keep the public on his side in a war against the media.
The media has been anti-Bush, and anti-conservative, for so long now that we are apt to forget that the media isn’t naturally inclined to be anti-conservative, but rather anti-authority. The Watergate legacy of news media has left it with ample reason to doubt those in power, regardless of who they are.
And the media may have only been energized by the audacity of the Bush administration. The amount of news dedicated to politics and the amount of excitement concerning that news has only increased in the Karl Rove, WMD, wire-tapping era. And the outrageous Sarah Palin impersonations and other election news only elevated that level of elation.
That excitement regarding anti-authority political reporting isn’t likely to die down once Obama sits in the Oval Office.
In fact, because the 24-hour news networks admittedly pander to public interests, the amount of political coverage may increase given Obama’s popularity. And as long as Obama remains popular with the public, we may see and increase in favorable coverage of the White House.
But should Obama lose the trust and faith of the public, should he fail to deliver on his message of change, or should he abandon his message of hope, he could lose the favor of the public and the media will, no doubt, follow.
Thus, it is integrally important that Obama follows through on his promise to “be in touch.” He must do as Franklin Roosevelt did to win the affection of his supporters and his opponents (for fear of Fox News) and he must keep the trust of the American people.